Inside the big business of corporate gifting: How one scrappy startup plans to up-end a multi-billion dollar industry of fruitcakes and branded swag
- Token, a New York-based startup that offers “gifting” services for businesses, is attempting to re-envision the corporate gifting industry by providing tasteful, hand-wrapped gifts.
- Token founder Jonathan Jarvis says that companies should look at gift giving as an opportunity to build a relationship with their customers.
It’s no secret that the industry known as corporate gifting — the exchange of gifts between a business and its clients — is known for producing an array of often less than desirable gifts. Among the more objectionable offerings are items like bottles of wine prominently embossed with company branding, wicker baskets filled with unappealingly packaged foods, and, of course, the dreaded fruitcake.
One scrappy New York startup is taking on the multi-billion dollar corporate gifting industry by executing what may at first seem like the impossible: selecting, wrapping, and delivering hundreds of gifts at a time, in a way that makes each item appear to be hand-selected by the gift-giver themself.
The company, called Token, (like a token of appreciation, not the crypto kind of token, its founder Jonathan Jarvis is quick to point out) is re-envisioning gift-giving through a process that provides tasteful, hand-wrapped gifts. Inside Token’s airy, Williamsburg office, employees write personalized notes in pen (these are often handwritten by Jarvis himself) and stamp individual envelopes with the company’s signature red wax seals.
When Jarvis first launched Token two years ago, he planned on helping both individuals and businesses better select bespoke, thoughtful gifts. But now, Jarvis says that the overwhelming majority of Token’s business comes from its corporate offerings, an aspect that he hopes to augment in upcoming years.
“When we started, we saw a lot of ‘professional gifting’ — for instance, a real estate agent sending a gift to a client, or a colleague sending a congratulations gift to someone who had recently been promoted,” said Jarvis. “But then we started getting more requests: entire companies that wanted to offer a way to send out holiday gifts. That’s when we got really interested in the idea of building a system so that we could be notified every time a company wanted to send out a new gift.”
Token’s services are particularly in demand among tech companies, says Jarvis, with both Google and Salesforce among the startup’s bigger clients.
“Tech companies are interested in trying out a new approach to gift-giving,” said Jarvis. “We’re trying to bring the convenience of digital outreach to an IRL experience. In the future, people will be able to send packages as easily as they’d be able to send a thoughtful, personalized text message.”
When re-thinking the gift-giving process, Jarvis and his team decided to start from scratch. After all, there’s plenty to be improved upon, says Jarvis.
“Corporate gifts are often the worst gifts you’re given,” said Jarvis.”Think about all the money that goes into corporate gifting, and how seldom it pleases the recipient. It’s a missed opportunity to further the experience of your brand, and it’s hugely inefficient.”
Notably, Token’s approach runs short on actual branding. (“Nobody actually likes receiving branded stuff,” Jarvis points out.) Instead, Jarvis, a former Google creative director, tailors Token’s gifts to an audience that he describes as “sophisticated and design-focused.” Among Token’s offerings are items like gold-plated cheese knives, marble-topped whiskey decanters, geometrical plant holders, and champagne truffles.
Jarvis says that Token will only grow in upcoming years, as more companies look for opportunities to connect with their customers in tangible ways.
“Giving a gift is like an act of service, as well as a physical token,” said Jarvis. “Gifting done bad looks like a bribe. If you approach business with a lot of generosity, you accrue credit with people. In general, if you do that, people will remember and repay your original gift with interest.”