Gourmet Giftmail - Webliciously Unique

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by J. A. Hitchcock

As seen in the May/June 2000 issue of Link-UP

When Randy Dirth decided to start his own business back in 1997, he knew it had to be related to food. He'd always admired American "Chef-Entrepreneurs" and the foods they developed; some had even founded their own specialty food companies. Although there were companies like 1-800-FLOWERS and Harry and David, Dirth wanted to offer something unique, something consumers could buy online that was actually fun to give.

"I knew flowers were limited to a certain extent," he says. "Not all men like to receive flowers or balloons, or even teddy bears. So I asked myself what I would like to get; I felt good food was an appropriate gift for any occasion and anyone."

Traou Mad Butter Cookies $17.50
" The humble Breton Butter Cookie.
Eaten for centuries
by the inhabitants of Brittany,
along France's northwest coast.
Nothing artificial here, just fresh
butter, eggs, milk and flour.
Some things are better left unchanged.
Traou Mad, in our opinion the
finest maker of 'Breton Biscuits',
traditionally adorns their tins with
reproductions from French artists.
Ours comes with Gauguin's 'Les
Rondes des Petites Bretonnes',
or the 'Circle of Young Bretons', dated 1888."
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Italian Truffles $32.50
"Thankfully, Italians have their
own way of doing things.
And in our view, the world is
almost always a better place
for it. What we weren't aware of
until recently was their ability
to make truffles like these.
Made with hazelnuts from Piedmont,
and dark, slightly bittersweet
chocolate, these handmade truffles
are extremely flavorful, slightly
crunchy, and drier than any other
truffle we've tried. Very appropriate
with coffee or espresso. 3/4 lb,
includes 20 truffles."
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Napa Valley Salad $69.50
"Right, we know, the Maple Salad
Bowl is really fromVermont, the
Salad Servers from France and the
aged Balsamic Vinegar is from Italy,
but the idea of mixing the Basil flavored
Olive Oil with Raspberry Vinegar
or with Balsamic is classic 'Tra Vigne'
from Napa Valley. We recommend it."
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Inspired by European gourmet foods, Dirth decided on gourmet food baskets and gift packages and named his Nashua, New Hampshire-based company Gourmet Giftmail. He then contacted some of those "Chef-Entrepreneurs" he admired to create his first catalog. They included Stonewall Kitchen of York, Maine, Bella Cucina of Atlanta, Georgia, American Spoon of Manhattan, New York and Harbor Sweets of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

"The unique packaging and 18 products we offered did well that first year," Dirth adds. "We targeted our advertising mostly to New England through radio and direct mail. It worked!"

By 1998, Dirth felt he was ready to "go national." He placed print ads in national publications such as TIME, the New York Times Sunday Magazine and Cooking Light, and developed a web site. Business picked up immediately.

"In 1998 our sales were 85% mail/phone orders and 15% web orders; in 1999 and currently, we're looking at close to 50% each for sales, with the web site sales growing more every day," Dirth says. "I won't be surprised if the web site orders surpass those of mail/phone orders the end of this year."

One of the reasons Gourmet Giftmail is such an online hit is the way it's e-commerce works. Unlike some of the larger web sites where you have to fill out a separate order for each recipient, Gourmet Giftmail was the first to offer "1Step MultiOrder" - this allows the consumer to send as many gifts as they like to as many recipients as they want and do it all just once. But that's only one of the many reasons why Gourmet Giftmail's customers call them "weblicious."

Gourmet Giftmail's online catalog boasts over 50 items from Europe and the United States, all depicted in delectable colorful photographs. . .and the prices are right, too. For just $6.50, you can send someone Fran's "Gold Bars," described as "Dark Belgian chocolate, caramel, and almond-packed wonders. But what else would you expect from someone who refers to her general offices as a 'Laboratoire du Chocolat'."

Every item in their catalog has these wickedly sinful descriptions, with just a bit of humor that makes online shopping fun.

If you order before 2 p.m., they're shipped out the same day, after 2 p.m., they're shipped out the next business day via UPS or Priority Mail - your choice. But you can always take advantage of the many specials the site offers, which sometimes includes free shipping (look for the Deal DuJour, Holiday Checklist, or sign up for their weekly mailing list and monthly free gift drawings).

And don't worry about paying extra for gift-wrap - all items are shipped in "gift ready" mode, wrapped in cellophane with a crimson ribbon (gift baskets, gift crates, tins, boxes) or in a presentation box with ribbon as provided by the producer. Plus a personalized gift card with your message on it is included to make this a very special gift, indeed.

It will be hard to decide on which gift to choose, and Randy Dirth doesn't mind. In fact, Gourmet Giftmail so impressed another online site that they offered him a job. "For The Greater Good" is a one-stop resource for those who want to do a good deed while shopping online. When you visit the site, you select which of the many non-profit organizations listed there, then choose from the many online stores/sites to shop at. A portion of the final sale then goes to the non-profit organization you selected.

Gourmet Giftmail was an enthusiastic supporter of For The Greater Good and when they offered Randy Dirth the position of Chief Executive Officer, he just couldn't say no. So while he works in Seattle, Washington during the week and comes home to New Hampshire on the weekends, his wife, Lisa, is now the CEO of Gourmet Giftmail and continually making it better, with more items to choose from, jazzing up the site and making her husband proud.

Just make sure you don't drool all over the catalog. . .or your keyboard if you visit their web site.

Gourmet Giftmail
1-800-GIFTMAIL (1-800-443-8624)
Fax: (603) 882-6621
PO Box 1381
Amherst, NH 03031

J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at jahitchcock.com.

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