- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Businesses big and small are keeping an eye on their budgets and their manners as they spread holiday cheer with clients and customers. "For small businesses, it's really important to thank the customers and clients that keep them going," said Alice Bredin, a small-business adviser for American Express.
More than 40 percent of small businesses plan to buy holiday gifts or cards for clients and customers this year, according to Open: the Small Business Network Semi-Annual Monitor from American Express. The average budget for holiday purchases is $945, which is a significant investment for a small business, Ms. Bredin said.
That investment hasn't changed. More than 70 percent of the small businesses that plan to buy gifts this year are keeping the same budget they had last year. Only about 8 percent said they intended to cut their budgets, while 15 percent plan to increase them.
"Holidays are a tremendous [opportunity] for business owners to reach out to customers," Ms. Bredin said. "You want to make sure the gift works for you and not against you."
Whatever the size of the business, gift-giving etiquette rules apply.
"Appropriateness is the key word," said Dianne Mayfield, founder of Netique (www.netique.com), a Herndon online corporate gift site with more than 1,000 products. "The gift should not be so expensive that the recipient feels uncomfortable."
Traditional gifts like pen sets, bookends and travel alarm clocks are among the most popular gifts on the site, she said.
Fruit and food baskets, donations to a charity in the name of a client, and sending a personal note of appreciation top gift-givers' lists this year as well as fall under the category of "appropriate" gifts.
Small businesses will send holiday cards and calendars as the most popular gifts this year, followed by fruit and food baskets and chocolate, according to the American Express survey.
Gift certificates and gift cards also are gaining popularity. Many retailers are pushing them as business gifts.
For example, Linens 'n' Things is advertising its gift cards as a replacement for some of the traditional corporate gifts like buckets of popcorn or pens.
Miss Mayfield noticed this year companies were spending slightly less than last year, so she added less expensive items to her product mix, which ranges in price from $15 to $500. Corporations typically spend between $30 to $70 on each gift, she said.
E-corporategifts.com has had an influx of orders for relaxation items like desktop waterfalls and sound soothers that play digital recordings of sounds from different environments, said Terry Keating, vice president of business development.
Mr. Keating said companies have not cut their gift-giving budgets.
"Despite what's going on in the economy, it doesn't seem to affect the amount of spending," he said.
One thing that's likely not on clients' wish list are logo-happy gifts.
"When it comes to clients, it's a little cheesy to send a gift with your company logo on it," Mr. Keating said. "You want them to know you cherish their business and that you're not necessarily [making] a sales call."
Now more than ever, ethics play an important role in gift giving, said Marjorie Brody, president and founder of Brody Communications, a business communications training company in Jenkintown, Pa.
Ms. Brody said corporate gift-giving is waning partly because of the economy and also because of the ethical issues and scandals popping up in business currently.
Companies are afraid their gift might be looked at as bribery or have a hidden motive behind it.
"It's unfortunate that it looks like that, but it often is that," she said. Some companies have strict policies on gifts and even send letters to clients to reiterate what is acceptable and what is not.
Every company's policy is different.
"You want to keep it politically correct," Mr. Keating said. "You never know when you are going to offend someone."

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