Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.
Last year turned out to be a soft holiday corporate gifting season, as the weak economy and superstorm Sandy put a damper on spending. But this year, early signs point to a stronger season.
A little more than three-quarters of companies said corporate and business gifts are part of their incentive programs this year, compared to less than two-thirds last year, according to a survey by Incentive, a trade publication.
"We're seeing some pretty good signs of a healthy gifting market and one that's coming back to a certain extent," says Leo Jakobson, executive editor of Manhattan-based Incentive, which targets corporate incentive planners and executives.
Survey respondents also said they were planning to spend more. The number planning to spend $50 to $299 this year rose to 49.9 percent, compared to 34.5 percent in 2012.
"I think the economy is getting better and companies are feeling a little more secure about themselves," says Jakobson.
A shift after recovery. Much of the region has recovered from the devastating aftereffects of superstorm Sandy.
"There was definitely so much uncertainty last year," says Lisa Chalker, president of Family Affair Distributing in Massapequa, which specializes in imprinted promotional gifts. Companies were holding charitable benefits and tending to the primary needs of clients and employees who had been displaced, she says.
"A lot of people lost their homes. To start giving a Maglite or coaster set was ridiculous."
This year, Chalker's already seeing signs of a stronger gifting season, with more orders coming in early.
Food is always popular. Interesting items include S'mores kits that run about $15 each for a minimum order of 25, or tins of logoed cookies that cost about $30 each for the same size order, says Chalker.
Personalized gifts. The key is knowing your customer, she adds. Give them something useful, memorable and, if possible, personalized.
"People can never throw anything away with their own name on it," agrees Timothy Andrews, president of the Advertising Specialty Institute, a Trevose, Pa.-based media and marketing organization serving the promotional products industry.
He's getting feedback from distributors and suppliers that there's a pickup in corporate holiday spending this season.
Calendars remain popular, and tech-oriented gifts such as logoed cases, microfiber cleaning cloths, USB flash drives and car chargers are hot. "Everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop," says Andrews.
John Doerrier, president of PaveMaster in Bay Shore, a paving and pavement maintenance company, is still sizing up his corporate gift budget, but he thinks he may go with a mini Maglite, which he's given to clients before.
"People loved it," says Doerrier, who sends out between 100 and 200 gifts to clients.
PaveMaster has gotten creative in past years with gifts such as a squeezable mini stress-relief traffic cone and a small candy container that looked like a bucket of blacktop tar.
"We want to show our appreciation and also hope there's some staying power," says Doerrier, who works with Chalker and estimates he'll spend about $5,000 on client gifts this year, consistent with prior years.
Check budget, limits. Monitor how much you spend, experts advise, and be aware if recipients have gift restrictions. The Incentive survey found that 27.5 percent of respondents had seen an increase in the number of organizations that put restrictions on gifts that employees may accept.
"More and more companies have rules on the value [of the gift] someone can receive from the person they're doing business with," notes Andrews.
Companies giving gifts are planning to spend an average amount of $33.92 per client, up from $26.48 last year and the highest in four years.
Source: Advertising Specialty Institute Corporate Gift Giving Survey