Some people say "thank you" with flowers. But Jill Patton has found a better way--with gift baskets. After acquiring separate specialty shops in 1992 and 1995, Patton combined the two to form a mail order business, Essentially Chocolate and the Basket Gallery.
The company specializes in gourmet gift baskets full of fine imported chocolates, cheeses, smoked Pacific salmon, crackers, coffees, cookies and fresh fruit. Waterman pens and fine crystal such as Waterford and Mikasa are also sold. Clients, including the Marriott Corp., Hilton Hotels, Paychecks Corp., Coopers & Lybrand and Ernst & Young, pay from $35-$40 for the baskets. Last year's revenues were more than $374,000. This year the company, which has three full-time employees, anticipates sales of $500,000.
Gift basket making was a hobby Patton, 31, enjoyed while working as a computer consultant in real estate. But she soon realized she could turn her passion into a profitable full-time venture. "I went out and got industry trade publications, and found out the gift basket market totaled nearly $800 million in sales with food baskets leading the way," she says.
Initially, Patton made the baskets and sold them to family members and friends. In 1992, she noticed a Washington Post ad for the sale of a company called the Basket...