December 1, 2011

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Co-Founder, creator and artist of A Dozen Roses, Sandy Cataldo, signing bottles
Sage Advice From A Professional Gift Giver
Well, the holidays are upon us and stores are filled to the brim once again with people wishing to create a bit of magic in their lives through the time-honored custom of gift giving! Many of my readers may not know that I spent many years in the luxury gift industry, more specifically my family owned a very beautiful specialty store referred to all around the world as the Tiffany and Company of Cleveland. We carried all of the finest lines of porcelain, crystal and sterling silver, gorgeous jewelry, candles and perfume. I learned over the years that choosing the right gift for someone so dear to them was often intimidating and confusing for my customers so we worked very hard to to create a shopping environment such that all who came through my doors were thrilled and inspired by what they saw. When I saw the economy begin to crash in 2003 I closed my business and continued on as a personal shopper, corporate branding and lifestyle consultant with a never-ending passion for perfume! 

I’ve discovered most recently that the hunger for experience is back, that tactile experience of walking into a beautiful store and purchasing just the right thing for someone that you’ve become enchanted with. The reality of the the internet and online shopping has become such a pleasant experience and the world has gotten smaller because of world wide web and I love that, yet I don’t want to overlook the very personal experience of being well served in a beautiful store filled with gorgeous gifts and salespeople who know you by name.

In either reality customer service IS the magical ingredient and the very spice that allows us to really feel thrilled by the gifting experience. In my world it’s all about the way I make you feel when you’re shopping in my store. Yet sadly, the thought of shopping during the holidayseason fills many a heart with dread, but I truly believe that gift giving during the holidays can be the most fabulous fun of all! The stores are filled with beautiful displays of gorgeous gifts, fabulous scented candles and beautiful fashions designed to entice and delight but the vision of any great store hasn’t been fully expressed unless it’s customers feel cared for, understood and related to in a way that satisfies the heartfelt desire to create the gift of an experience, through the giving of a present, whether the recipient is a business acquaintance or a close intimate companion.

By Beth Schreibman Gehring
I know that my choice of the word “experience” in relationship to the practice of gift giving may be confusing for some and yet for me that is precisely what my customers are craving. I always felt that the most precious opportunity that I had was to be able to serve my customers through the simple act of bringing elegance into the world through the presentation of gorgeous gifts!

It is my desire to create for you the possibility of a new “experience”, one that is based on the quality of service and the nurturing of sensuality, beauty and uniqueness, key ingredients for the sustenance of our creative lives. We are living in a society that is starving for substantive experiences and joyous moments. The very act of purchasing a wonderful gift for someonethat you love is an act filled with a sense of renewal for the relationship and an opportunity for excitement and creativity!

Really great stores (both brick and mortar and online) have beautiful gifts at prices to suit every wallet! There is something quite exquisite about a personally selected gift from a fabulous store, chosen with care, then beautifully wrapped and delivered. Whether the package has been handed to you personally or shipped UPS by a wonderful online merchant the experience CAN be the same. The fabulous perfumers and other merchants hosted on Etsy are a perfect example of just how personalized the online shopping experience can be.  I have been amazed over the last few years just how quickly I’ve received my purchases and the beautiful service that they’ve been able to provide from start to finish featuring fabulous presentation, gorgeous gift wrapping and sheer enthusiasm and knowledge of their products. 

I truly believe that walking into a beautiful store should be a sensual and exciting experience regardless of what is being sold there. Beautifully scented candles burning, soft music playing and a warmly smiling salesperson who offers you a steaming mug of something warm or at least the equivalent in time and service is what’s of value in this world. It’s easy enough to provide the bare minimum, but what’s really amazing is when you’ve walked into a store who knows and respects the value of your dreams.

For instance, when a young man would come into my store to purchase a piece of jewelry for his fiancé, he really wasn’t the least bit interested in the cut, color and clarity of the diamond that he was purchasing or the weight and carat value. Those are simply the facts and any GIA trained gemologist can produce those facts in an insurance appraisal.

Selling that diamond as if those were the values that matter just cheapens his experience. What’s really at stake for him are the tears in her eyes as she opens his gift and the possibilities that he’s created for their life together. He’s got it all planned. He’s asking her to marry him at Christmas, her favorite time of the year and he wants to pick the piece of jewelry that really reflects his feelings for her and his dreams of her response.  If he doesn’t feel as wonderful purchasing it as he does giving it then he’s missed out on an important part of the whole experience. I always felt that if every customer that came into our store didn’t feel as wonderful through the act of giving as they do receiving that we hadn’t done our jobs.

It’s my goal to convince you to only be shopping with merchants that make you feel precious because you truly are. Your time is precious, your feelings are precious and your money is precious. I knew most of my customer’s names and made sure that my staff did too. I knew how they wanted their coffee and made sure that I knew what their wives and daughters lusted after, no easy feat because I had thousands of customers, but that was our job and we did it well because we wanted to.  Every gift would be wrapped in beautiful tissue and the box covered with exquisite paper and then we would hand it back to the man who purchased it, thrilled to see a look of pride in his eyes as he left knowing how happy she was about to be. That’s how we knew that we’d done our job well. That’s how you deserve to be treated. 
Beth Schreibman Gehring
Vintage Vouge Cover
I have heard it said that the specialty gift store is outdated, a relic of the past from a lifestyle that exists for few anymore and yetpeople flock to Europe, hungry for this sort of shopping experience! The gorgeous boutiques on the streets of London or Paris continuously give us wonderful examples of merchandising. They are lovely to explore, and their seasonal merchandise, always beautifully presented, is a feast for the senses; a truly engaging experience for the customer. Maybe what we enjoy so much about these stores is that they maintain a natural relationship to the rhythm of the seasons, not the artificially induced shopping cycles that we have created in this country. I really believe that this is the way that a store offers the most significant value to its customers. By keeping the atmosphere relaxed and closely aligned to the natural patterns of our lives, we stay happier and less frantic, andmore able to enjoy the true essence of the holiday season!

This holiday season, I hope that you’ll be able to shop in stores that care about you and the experience that you’ll have sharing yourself with people through the gifts that you choose!  Remember, that the gifts that you choose this holiday season or anytime will always convey the essence of you, the gift giver! Gift giving in its purest form is artistically inspired by love and the desire to provide for the recipient a special moment of beauty and timelessness. It is my wish for you this season that your needs for a truly relaxing and wonderful gifting experience are met with elegance, beauty andenchantment, through stores that continue the tradition of providing for you, the customer, all of the quality and expertise that you desire, along with LOTS of fun!

Request the service and style that you deserve and you will help any merchant create a shopping experience where the exceptional can occur and remember when you’re shopping for many presents simple things like a list can really help. I learned a long time ago to create a list and was thrilled when I discovered that there was indeed an app for that called simply “The Christmas List”, I’ve used it for years because it helps to make a few notes. You can assign prices and even make notes.  I spend a lot of time interviewing my clients and finding out about their friends and loved ones. The most common mistake that people make is to give a gift that they’d want for themselves. It’s an easy trap to avoid as that usually happens when you’re feeling pressed for time.

Negotiating a large gift list is a bit like planning a dinner party and takes a little bit of visualization. Create the guest list and then look around the table. Everyone there is unique and yet the common thread is the relationship that they have with you. Stop for a moment and give yourself the pleasure of thinking about each person sitting at the table. Who are they? What really means something to them? Imagine your table with a place for each and the present on their plate. Now visualize the delight they are experiencing, the anticipation. Then allow yourself to see what each is opening and mark it down in your notes, even if it’s just a feeling. I discovered over the years that it wasn’t the money spent that purchased the most precious gifts, but the time and feeling behind that purchase. I’m all about the extravagant gesture when it is appropriate, but oftentimes it’s not nearly as meaningful. My customers would spend way more then they needed to on gifts when they were feeling stretched for time and inspiration. Take the time to enjoy the process yourself and you will get as much enjoyment out of the act of giving as they will receiving.

What’s on my wish list this year?  Well, I’m hoping that Santa brings me a set of Annick Goutal “Noel “ Votive candles and a jar of Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia Body Cream. A bottle of Tom Fords delectable Violet Blonde would be just so very lovely and so would Jo Malone’s delicious Roasted Chestnut candle as well as that seductive little boxed “Discovery” set from Kilian with 10 travel sized bottles of his luscious perfume. Last but definitely not least I’m begging Santa to give me the opportunity to sit down someday with Christopher Brosius and have him create a beautiful perfume just for me! I’ve been a good girl this year…really I have, even when I’ve been very very bad! Please, if you see him will you please put in a good word for me?

Beth Schreibman Gehring