Perfecting the present

CAKE, CAROLS, candles, Santa Claus, ugly combination clocks and pen stands — characteristics of Christmas and New Year, the last being the commonest of gifts received for the season. Corporate gifts can either make recipients weep with horror — if they're strangely shaped pieces de art — or smile in pleasure if they're pretty crystal figurines.

"Gifting has definitely changed over the past few years. There's a whole gamut of products that can be given as gifts — home store products, glassware, wrought iron stuff, diaries," says Jai Subramaniam, Landmark. "Companies are always looking for gifts that are different but cost little," says Usha Suresh of Shresha Enterprises. Shresha has been in the business of sourcing, packaging and supplying gifts to companies for occasions for the past 21 years. "When we started in 1984, there were just four companies in this line of business. Now there are over 400, corporate gifting has exploded into a big business in Chennai."

However, the usual clock-diary-pen-stand gifts are no longer what people want or what companies want to give. "Clocks and diaries have become very common, people don't want to give or receive them as gifts. Now that there's more to choose from, people prefer unusual things," says Govind Nivas Chowdry of The Elite Store, on Cathedral Road.

Raghuraman Balasubramaniam of Polaris says gifts are a way of reinforcing the relationship with associates (employees) and clients. "They're a sign of goodwill," he says. However, most companies did not want to talk about their gestures of goodwill, not because they were being humble but because they did not want to disclose details of their budgeting policies. All the suppliers of gifts say that spending on gifts has increased over the years. "Though volumes have not increased, gifts have become more expensive and sophisticated," says Usha of Shresha Enterprises. Companies are spending more on gifts for all occasions, whether a dealer conference or New Year.

"The percentage of spending on employees is increasing over the years. This is going to be a year of gifting because the economy is doing well. There was a drop over the past two years but this year we've seen a 50 per cent growth in gifting," says Jai of Landmark. For Polaris, says Raghuraman, gifting is viewed as "sharing the moment with people who are part of an extended but close knit family. In this sense, the act of sharing becomes more important than the actual monetary value or the grandness of the gift."

Jai of Landmark says gift vouchers are the most popular because employees can come and pick up whatever they want to at their convenience. Raghuraman Balasubramaniam of Polaris says the company gives personalised greeting cards and his-and-hers watches, gold or silver coins, sweets or dry fruits for wedding anniversaries and festivals.

"The biggest spenders on gifts — for employees and clients — are the mobile telephony and software companies. This year wine, cheese, chocolates, imported food items and home products doing really well. Lots of people are going in for imported crystal and glassware," says Landmark's Jai. He adds that companies with a base in the North order gifts for Diwali while those in the South concentrate on New Year and Ayudha Puja. Specially compiled CDs and tapes is another favourite.

The average spend on employees ranges from Rs. 100 to Rs. 3,000 a head, depending on the size of the company and the budget. Novelty items, as the suppliers call them, from China, which have flooded the market also make good gifts. China is also famous for it's cheap rip-offs of famous brands. "Companies come to us because they know we'll sell them original crystal and glassware," says Govind Chowdry of the Elite Store. "Though they're looking for a bargain, they also want good quality." The suppliers often have to suggest options to the companies, sometimes even convince them to opt for a particular item. "We often have to tell the companies that the gift will not go down well with their clients or employees and justify our reasons," says Usha. Jai adds that it takes a couple of meetings to finalise a sale. A lot of thought goes into the prettily wrapped package that appears at Christmas time. Apart from beauty and exclusivity, utility is a factor that is considered. Polaris tries to incorporate messages in its gift giving. For example, a gift of a cedar wood elephant whose perforated belly holds another miniature elephant signifies power of precision that they expect from their staff, explains Raghuraman. Tanjore paintings, he says, are a way to boost knowledge about Indian culture and traditional values. The new trend is photo frames so that employees can display their family's pictures on their desks, says Usha of Shresha Enterprises.

With the bigger and better philosophy, gifts have become grander — and with anything from any part of the world available right here in India, gift shopping can be an eclectic experience.


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