A Business Plan For Custom Gifts

Nora O. Capper is co-owner of A-1 Awards, Inc., an award and recognition company that began in 1958. Nora’s field of study as a business major has been a benefit to A-1 and has helped her to achieve success in many other fields. She became actively involved at A-1 in 1972, thus a veteran of the awards industry of 33 years. Nora has received countless awards for outstanding achievements nationwide for her sales and management ability. Nora may be reached for comments or questions by phone at 1-317-546-9000 or by e-mail at nora@a-1awards.com.

A business plan defines what you are doing and will keep you centered on your goal. At the same time, it gives written information in an analytical form for easy reference. Reading and rereading information allows it to become a part of your daily performance schedule. Your business plan can help to uncover any flaws in your start-up plans. Most of all, it gives you leverage when communicating with your most important clients and your financial partners.

Creating a business plan for your personalized gift business is essential as it is with any other business. You cannot possibly know where you are going without details that are defined and readily available for your reference. If you are just thinking about starting up a new business, before you forge ahead, why not go to work in a similar business and learn the pitfalls firsthand? However, if you have worked in the gift industry and love the personalization gift items, go ahead, but do so with caution and some well-defined plans.

First, consider researching your competition. Why not get a blank sheet of paper before you go any further? As you continue to read this article, I suggest you make notes outlining your business plans. Second, be reasonable in your expectations for growth. Be sure you have long-term projections. However, I would suggest you use some short-term goals in the beginning.

You can modify these projections as your business progresses. Don’t be so hung up on your written plan that you can’t change as your business grows. In other words, if you plan to just do embroidery work and clients come in asking for products other than embroidered merchandise, it might be more lucrative to your bottom line to incorporate these additional items, even if they were not in your initial business plan.

When writing your personal business plan, be sure to include the following:

  • A complete business description.
  • How will I market my business? (Do a test market before actually proceeding in full swing.)
  • Where and how will I finance this venture?
  • Who and how will management function?


Your mission statement will be the outline of exactly what the purpose of your business is going to be and how and when you wish to obtain these goals. Visualize a staircase and set your mind on the different steps. Let’s assume you are starting on the bottom step. Climb the steps with me.

We sell personalized as well as custom gifts through the awards business that we have operated since 1958. We now combine more effectively the custom gifts with our awards. We have an unusual situation because we are in a manufacturing area not a retail sales area.

However, we do have walk-in business, even though we ship approximately 90% of our sales volume. Many of our showroom clients have come to set up award and premium buying plans. It might not be economical for you to start a new business in this type of setting. However, with the right ingredients, businesses can develop regardless of your location. It has worked for us for over 47 years.

My vision for my custom gift business is like yours. I want to be successful. Success is not achieved by merely wanting to succeed, but by taking one day at a time, and therefore, we need to take one step at a time. My mission statement for the gift industry division is as follows:

A-1 Awards, Inc. will provide unique, personalized, quality products with on-time delivery to our clients. This will be accomplished by research and development of products and processes within the gift industry. Whereby A-1 Awards, Inc. can obtain a reasonable profit for our endeavors.

The above vision is our mission statement in a very simplified form of what we wish to accomplish for the custom gift segment of our business. We will now look at how this will be accomplished. Using our gift business as an example: How can we get more people to come into our showroom located in a manufacturing area?

Direct mail, advertising, catalogs, involvement in community projects, and using every opportunity to familiarize each contact we have with our product line. We are currently working on upgrading our web site. Great! This is one step toward the goal of additional business. We need product that can be placed on this web site that is different and that can be personalized.

In about one day of this writing, I’m on my way to a trade show in China. I hope this will enable us to have some products currently not available to our gift business. We have researched our travel destinations and the availability of items that we plan to add to our business far in advance of this trip. I’m giving you this information to indicate another possible step in product development.


If this is a new business, people will make the difference. Let’s start with resumes on each person involved in our new venture, starting with ourselves. Are we qualified to take the necessary steps to make this venture work? Focus first on yourself and ask, “Why am I even considering this step?”

What experiences have you had in your past that you can use for the stepping stones to grow a custom gift business? Who do you know that can help with this new venture? In sales and business we depend on people in every aspect of our plans. Therefore, people must be foremost in your business equation.


Ask yourself why this business and not another one? My reason for wanting to keep on growing my custom gift business is simple. I love buying gifts for people I know. I enjoy watching how delighted they are that I thought of them. I have the equipment available to use for imprinting, and of course, it is a natural to add something I already enjoy purchasing myself.

I know people through various clubs and associations, and everyone in these groups likes to advertise that they belong to their association or club. This is good; however, after you’ve sold everyone you know and sold the merchandise you have available, what’s next? Can you take your marketing to the next level to achieve the success that your business plan indicates? Write your thoughts down. Make it happen on paper first. There will be all kinds of issues to resolve on a daily basis. Decide to take care of them as they arise, so you can let them go for now.


Competition can be the best motivator to help us develop our businesses. It can keep us forging ahead. Just don’t let anyone else set your prices. Your prices should be determined by cost of product and overhead. If your competitor and you have the same item and the same overhead, that probably is a very unusual situation. The best thing to do is to develop a better line items being unique, displays better, friendlier sales staff, better delivery, unique packaging, and the list goes on and on to make you different.

Taking a good look at your competition is a must step. You must understand what your competitor does and how they do it. Make a list of your competition and be sure you know their personalization methods. You should check out their showrooms and displays. This will give you ideas. Not to copy but to help you improve your own. I’ve never had an idea that someone else could not develop further. That’s what makes business and our lives so fascinating. View your competitor as one of the people you need to know. You should know them better than anyone. Know how they think and what motivates them.

You should now have the description of your business plan, as well as the marketing steps, and you know your competition. Let’s make a plan of how our business will operate. What hours are you open, and who makes what decisions and when? Do you have the personnel to accomplish this? If not, write down how you will find the personnel necessary to make your business grow.

Who will provide your business insurance? What are the finances needed to cover these important points of your business plan? Do you need a loan, and what assurance do you have that you will have the business to pay back the loan? Make a list of the capital equipment and a supply list.

Complete your list of steps that you need to take. Get phone numbers of people you need to see and make your appointments. Secure each step but be ready to change as change occurs. You will be working with people on two sides of the counter. Be prepared for every possible situation.

How can you be prepared? You can’t, but of course, your own written plan will help. You have a business road map, and it defines your journey. Just mentally know that people make errors and storms arise. If a storm is broadcast, then you know that a storm may come, and you are better equipped to manage the storm. Do take an umbrella. Use the umbrella of calmness and a smile, and hold onto your vision.


Check out the internet under business plans for additional information. One internet address is www.sba.gov/starting. You may wish to consider one of the 450 different types of software available to help you create your plan. You can write to Business Resources Software, Inc., 2013 Wells Branch Pkwy #305, Austin, Texas 78728.