Mary Babiez – Owner of Thoughtful Presence
For Mary Babiez , having her own business was a lifelong dream. But she kept putting it off waiting until the time was right. After working for Hyatt Hotels for five years and United Airlines for ten, she finally realized that the time would never be perfect. If she wanted to fulfill her dream, it was now or never.
She and her husband, Ken, began looking for the type of business that would be right for them. After researching a variety of industries, they decided that gift baskets would allow her to use her creative passions and start part-time while continuing in her corporate career.
With an $5,000 initial investment, Thoughtful Presence was born. But as with any endeavor, we never know what life and the future holds for us. Six months after they started the business, Ken’s mother broke her hip and was diagnosed with dementia. She moved in with Ken and Mary who were her caregivers for 3 1/2 years.
As a result of this unexpected event, Mary decided to adjust her focus from local to the internet. Even though it was more challenging and slower to grow than she had initially thought, she now receives 90% of her business on the Internet with most of it coming through Google.
Mary and Ken converted their basement into a studio where she works alone most of the time. During the busy 4th quarter, she adds part-time help.
From the very beginning, she knew she didn’t want to be “just another gift basket company.” So she studied the market and discovered that the hole she could fill in the industry was “gift baskets that contained useful items and were designed around a theme.”
She began by designing gift collections for travel, garden, and personal themes using practical travel gifts, decorative garden gifts, personal jewelry and home décor. Gradually, she added gourmet food baskets frequently combining food products with non-food gifts to fit the theme.
She selects products based on quality and theme, mixing local food and gifts with recognized brands, so the products in her baskets are not the typical ones found in many others. All of her bows and gift cards are handmade and designed around the theme of the basket.
A few of Mary’s favorite vendors are:
Green Daffodil for candle
Homespun Naturals for bath and body
Mary Mayer baby toys
Saksco and Imperial for distributors
One example of her unique collection is a World Travel Gift Basket which includes a travel wallet, luggage tags, travel journal, and other items packed in a travel themed keepsake box. Knowing the value of locally themed gifts, she also has a collection of Chicago gifts which include locally made products and gifts.
Personal attention is an important part of her business and what contributes to her success. Mary says that the time that she puts into creating a special gift sometimes drives Ken crazy. She goes to great lengths to customize a client’s request and to respond quickly to customer inquiries.
When asked what she would do differently if she could go back and start over again, she said that “In all honesty, I’m not sure I would change anything. There is always growing and learning so I am pleased with where we are and where we’re headed.” She reminds us that starting a business is never a smooth road. Unexpected obstacles are inevitable as you learn and adjust.
The advice that she would give to anyone considering a gift basket business is to do your market research. “The gift industry is competitive and finding a niche to build on can give you the right edge so you don’t get lost in the crowd. Believe in your product and be in it for the long haul.”