Rienzi — When her husband was stationed in the military, Sonya Kerr read an article about a woman who started a gift basket business out of her garage.
“I just loved the novelty of it,” said Kerr, who established Rienzi-based K&A Corporate Design, makers of creative gifts and gourmet gift baskets, in 2000. “I’d had this in the back of my mind since 1989, when we were stationed in Fort Campbell. Four years ago, the timing was right, and my mother and I decided to do it together.”
Kerr, a former legal secretary, and her mother, Mary Ann Abshire, began whipping up gift baskets for a few corporate clients on a part-time basis. “I started out knowing there was a need I could fill with corporate orders,” said Kerr. “There was really nothing else like it in the state except Mississippi Gift Company, and I wanted to expand past Mississippi-made products.”
By this spring, Kerr was filling orders full-time for special occasions ranging from wedding, honeymoon and spa packages to birthday surprises to bereavement baskets. “It takes a lot of money, time and effort to build a company this way because it takes time to build relationships,” said Kerr. “When we felt comfortable with those relationships, we went full-time.”
The most popular year-round request is for baby-themed gift baskets. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is by far the busiest time of year. That’s when her mother, who is semi-retired, travels from Texas to help Kerr.
The duo and Kerr’s two teenage daughters sort, assemble and wrap baskets. Kerr’s husband serves as the company’s shipping manager.
“I absolutely love it,” said Kerr. “We’ve had a really good time doing this as a family.”
Even though K&A offers a variety of pre-designed gift baskets, their best ones are custom made.
“Most customers will tell us how much they want to spend and we’ll build the best gift basket possible,” she said. “Someone wanted to send a fun country gift, so we made a Bubba basket with pig’s feet, pork rinds, sausages, a custom-made card and quite a few other things. It was such fun!”
Kerr’s client list includes accountants, attorneys, bankers and furniture industry executives, and even trucking companies. “The absolutely most popular business gift is the Sweet Magnolia basket filled with cheese straws, a fancy magnolia mug, a magnolia note card set, two packages of coffee, some cocoa and premium silks (flowers) that can be used in a vase,” she said. “We try to put something in every basket that people can keep.”
Even though the typical gift basket starts at $25, Kerr puts together “leave-behind” promotional items for $5 to $10 that have been very popular with sales representatives.
“We make every effort to keep overhead low,” Kerr pointed out. “We don’t spend much on advertising. We don’t carry much inventory. When you call and ask for a $30 basket, it should be well worth it to the customer and the recipient. Our intention is to make the customer look good and the recipient feel good.”
Kerr started two new gift programs this year: for college students and the military. “We wanted friends and family to have a way to send care packages to students on birthdays or holidays or once a month, if they’d like,” she said. “Our orientation care packages are quite popular. The program concept is the same with the military except delivery is on an individual, not recurring, basis.”
The Female GI Pride gift basket, for example, includes essentials specially made for women serving in the field.
“Several people have sent care packages to families left behind while their spouse is serving in Iraq,” said Kerr. “I know from first-hand experience how much these families appreciate it. When my husband was in Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Iraq the first go-round, I was the parent that suddenly had the whole shebang to take care of. It’s tough!”
Kerr delivers gift baskets along the 50-mile stretch of U.S. 45 North between Tupelo and Corinth. “I used to travel it every day when I worked in Tupelo and I still consider it my territory,” she said, with a laugh.
K&A gift baskets have been sent to nearly every state in the nation, but Kerr has declined shipping them to foreign countries. “I looked into it, but it wasn’t cost effective,” she said. “The shipping and handling would have cost more than the gift basket.”
Kerr unveiled the company Web site, www.kacorpdesigns.com, in 2001, and recently had it overhauled to include a quarterly newsletter and to show an expanded list of products, including an online promotional products catalog. She hopes to expand the business to include a retail showroom and a warehouse “and to be able to hire people locally,” she said. “That would thrill me.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.