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SMALL BUSINESS | BUSINESS MAKE-OVER: A Year Later

Advice to Firm Worth Its Weight in Gold

A Redondo Beach gifts company focuses on the corporate market and finds itself moving out of the red and into the black.

November 18, 1998|CYNDIA ZWAHLEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The secret behind a doubling of sales at GOLD Gifts of Lasting Distinction this year was the decision to move beyond the safety of the company's gift basket origins to tap the corporate market for everything from chocolate logos to company golf tournament awards to table gifts for business banquets.

The new focus revitalized the Redondo Beach company, which has wrapped up sales of $200,000 this year, with the lucrative holiday season still ahead.

"It's more exciting now because we are seeing results," said owner Sandy Libby. She's hoping that holiday sales will push the company from the break-even point firmly into the black. Next year she may even get to draw a salary.

A year ago, Libby was in the red and muddling through various marketing efforts, wasting scarce dollars on misfires that did little to communicate the message she was anxious to get across: That GOLD Gifts is a classy company that could meet almost any need for corporate gifts or awards.

When she contacted The Times for a Business Make-Over last fall, Libby cheerfully acknowledged that marketing was not her strength and said that when it came to her company products, "it was hard to explain so many different things."

Her goal when she moved to a retail showroom on Torrance Boulevard last year was to shift the part-time holiday gift basket business to a broader, year-round enterprise. She just wasn't sure how to go about it. The tips and recommendations from make-over consultant Paul O'Reilly of the Valley Economic Development Center gave Libby the tools to make a serious bid for corporate clients, she said.

"We knew that there was going to be a new focus for the company, we just weren't sure what it was," Libby said. "Now we have one, and that makes an entire world of difference to us and our clients."

The company's biggest successes have been with fast-growing companies, she said. Companies in this niche don't have the infrastructure of their larger counterparts. They rely on GOLD Gifts to set up gift and award programs, as well as to supply the products.

As she pitches to her clients the importance of creating a suitable image, Libby has found herself talking about the need for continuity in design and execution, the very thing she learned from O'Reilly a year ago.

"It's the same thing we've done with our business," she said.

The company has worked to ensure that its own image is consistent on everything it sends out, from promotional postcards to invoices, faxes and labels, she said.

An expensive brochure the company mailed out last month is already paying off through higher sales, she said. It was designed with O'Reilly's lessons in mind, including his advice about bartering for the creative services of top-notch professionals the company would otherwise be unable to afford.

Libby traded company products for part of the cost of the brochure photography and design. Even the electrician was open to a barter, she said.

Higher sales have enabled Libby to hire her first full-time employees--an office manager and a director of marketing. The new marketing director initially contacted Libby after GOLD Gifts was featured in the Times make-over in October 1997. The women worked together on a few projects before Libby decided to hire her full time.

Bigger clients with bigger orders have begun to stretch the company's cash reserves, Libby said. Finding the money to pay for the larger orders has been difficult. Once the holiday season sales are on the books, Libby expects to apply for a line of business credit early next year. Until then, the working capital she needs to get through the holidays is likely to come from her own credit cards, she said.

"Financing is probably the downside of growth," Libby said. "It's the biggest struggle we have."

Not that she'd give up the higher sales. "It's just working out really well," Libby said. "We just want more of it."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Make-Over in Review

* Company name: GOLD Gifts of Lasting Distinction

* Headquarters: Redondo Beach

* Owner: Sandy Libby

* Number of employees: 2 part-time in 1997; 2 full-time, 6 to 8 seasonal workers now

* Revenue: $87,000 in 1997; $200,000 year-to-date 1998

Main Business Problem

The owner, a former flight attendant, had just moved her part-time gift basket business to a storefront on Torrance Boulevard and wanted help in creating, on a shoestring budget, an effective marketing plan that would attract year-round business.

A Year Later

The company has focused on landing corporate clients that have a wide range of gift and award needs. "Actually being focused on a certain type of market has really helped a great deal," Libby said. It "makes an entire world of difference to us and our customers."

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