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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Giving thoughtful holiday gifts

Thinking of sending a gourmet basket of nuts to a client this holiday season?

That can be a corporate gifting no-no if the recipient is allergic to the contents.

Even the most well-intentioned gift can strike a sour note if it's ill fitted, too personal or sends the wrong message, making the selection process that much more critical, say experts.

"You need to give a lot of thought to the corporate gift that you give, because it could affect your relationship with your client," says Lydia Ramsey, a Savannah, Ga.-based business etiquette expert and author of "Manners That Sell" (Pelican Publishing; $18.40). "The more time you spend creatively working on this, the better off it's going to be."

Finding the right fit

To start, it helps if you know enough about your clients to send them something that might fit their line of work or their particular industry. For instance, Ramsey's webmaster, who has a lot of clients who are speakers, sent out mini-flashlights one year to assist them in case the lights ever went out at the speaker's podium and they couldn't read their notes.

That was a generic, across-the-board gift, but if you're looking to do a bit more for your top-level clients, you might tier your gifts accordingly, she says.

It helps to make a list and break it down by not only customers, but also prospects, notes Timothy M. Andrews, president of the Advertising Specialty Institute in Trevose, Pa., a media and marketing organization.

Gifts should be targeted and appropriate for that individual or relationship, advises Andrews.

Some of the more popular corporate gifts this year include iPod and Kindle cases, accessories for high-tech items, designer totes, laptop bags or sleeves and, of course, food, says Andrews.

Lisa Chalker of Family Affair Distributing in Massapequa, which specializes in gourmet gift baskets and imprinted promotional products, says demand for food gift baskets is strong this year. Clients started ordering even earlier this season, she said, noting, 'This is our best year" in three years.

Planning

It pays to plan in advance and make sure gifts are given by the second week of December, because many people go on early vacations or companies may shut down right before Christmas, says Chalker. If you want to differentiate, you might even gift for Thanksgiving or right after New Year's, she adds.

Steve Schwimmer, regional sales manager for Renaissance Merchant Services in Syosset, has done that. He's planning to send out about a half-dozen gift baskets the first or second week of January.

"I send a New Year's gift as a celebration of the future," says Schwimmer, whose firm provides credit card processing services.

Others, like sales consultant John Sena, president of JAS Consulting Inc. in Port Washington, will deliver baskets to select clients the week before Christmas.

"Everyone's getting excited," he says. "It will add to the excitement."

Just always be sure to check whether the recipient is allowed to accept corporate gifts, cautions Andrews. Some industries prohibit this, and in those cases you might instead make a donation on their behalf.

For more than a decade, Coffee Distributing Corp. in Garden City Park has been purchasing cards on behalf of clients through Citymeals-on-Wheels (citymeals.org/support/holi day_cards). Each card represents one meal to a senior in need. The company will purchase 1,500 cards this year, in addition to sending out about 1,200 corporate gifts.

"It's very well received," says chief executive Bob Friedman.

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