Lavish gifts? Not in our city Trends: Businesses elsewhere may be giving costly gifts this holiday season, but Baltimore companies know what's appropriate and what's too much.

December 22, 1997|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Encouraged by a booming economy and a surging stock market, this holiday season many businesses nationwide are giving more gifts that are more expensive to customers and clients. Baltimore businesses appear to be moving more cautiously, however.

Financial services companies have benefited most from higher stock values, and therefore they are the ones giving crystal bowls, for example, instead of pens and coffee mugs.

But T. Rowe Price, Legg Mason and BT Alex. Brown Inc. are not spending lavishly.

In fact, Alex. Brown is giving pens -- metallic gunmetal pens in a suede pouch. Last year, the firm gave spiced pecans.

This year's gift is not more expensive, but it is more individualized because departments are allowed to give what they want, said corporate gift buyer Jane Bennett.

Most, though, chose the pens, she said.

"There is a budget here," Bennett said. The company also held a Christmas party for clients at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel last weekend.

At T. Rowe Price, "we don't really do a whole lot on gifts," said spokesman Edward Giltenan.

The firm sent out cards, and some large corporate clients received tins of popcorn.

"We try not to go overboard because our main goal is to provide superior investment performance, and keeping expenses down is pivotal to that goal," Giltenan said.

Legg Mason does not have any official gift for clients this year. However, individual financial advisers can give on their own.

Some businesses are just sending cards.

Eisner & Associates, a Baltimore-based advertising agency, is sending cards announcing that a donation in clients' names will be made to the Family Tree, a nonprofit group that strengthens family relationships.

Eisner has taken on the Family Tree as a pro bono client and is creating an ad campaign for it.

The firm is dedicating about $200,000 worth of time to the group this year, said Abe Novick, vice president for new business development.

"We think it's a worthwhile thing to do as an expression of what the holidays are all about," Novick said.

Donation to fight leukemia

The W. B. Doner advertising agency is making a donation to the Leukemia Society in the name of every client.

And, for the first time, the Gray, Kirk/VanSant agency is making charitable donations instead of sending out gifts. The agency is donating to St. Vincent's Children's Home and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

A card sent to clients announcing the donation said, "If you were counting on a fruitcake this year, you'll just have to make it yourself."

According to Phyllis Brotman, vice president for public relations, there have been no complaints about missed fruitcake.

Still, Baltimore companies that provide corporate gifts are seeing an increase in business this year.

Executive Sweet, a Baltimore company that furnishes gift baskets to businesses across the country, is sending out more ** baskets and more expensive baskets this year, said owner Mitzi Weingarden.

The average cost of a basket this year is $45, more than in previous years, Weingarden said. Baskets include gourmet food, candy, chocolates and cookies.

Some companies are even ordering $100 and $200 baskets. And one company ordered more than 1,000 baskets.

At MacKenzie Limited, a Baltimore gourmet food provider that specializes in smoked salmon, sales for corporate gifts have increased at least 20 percent this year, said marketing director Dawn Kennedy.

The company has been so busy this month that it hasn't had a chance to figure out exactly how much business is up.

Gifts average about $40 each, about the same as last year, but there are a lot more orders this season, Kennedy said. One company ordered $20,000 worth of gifts. Several companies have ordered hundreds of 2-pound sides of salmon, which cost $70.

More catered parties

Classic Catering People, the largest off-site caterer in Baltimore, is catering 10 percent to 15 percent more parties than last year, said CEO Edward Dopkin. In the 15 days before Christmas, he said, he'll do almost 150 full-service parties. And about 10 percent of those are for companies that haven't had parties in the past but have experienced huge growth in the past year.

Nationwide, Godiva, Cartier and Coach leather goods are seeing corporate purchases increase as much as 50 percent over last year.

When it comes to gifts, it makes sense that no one should be better at it than those who do it for a living, such as, say, Greetings & Readings in Towson, considered one of the best gift and card stores in the area.

This year, when Greetings & Readings gives to its corporate clients, it's not settling for pens or paperweights. It's giving out Swarovski silver crystal, pieces valued at $35 to $300.

"It's a very unique product," said director of purchasing David Adler. "As opposed to porcelain figurines or clocks, with this particular gift, there are no similarities."

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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