Taking care of the people who take care of you is always a smart move. Send a client a well-planned gift, and you could kick off a whole year of goodwill, especially if your prezzies deviate from the typical boring gift basket. No matter your price range, you'll find something to wow 'em in this selection of items made by entrepreneurial companies. (And because we're feeling generous, we've included a few gift ideas for you, too.)
$20 or less
Van Morrison only sang about tupelo honey; Ted Dennard staked his livelihood on it. In 1998, Dennard borrowed $5,000 so he could buy 50 hives and launch a company, Savannah Bee. He now contracts with 22 beekeepers, mostly for honey from the nectar of the tupelo tree and a few other varietals, which he sells in slender flutes for easy pouring. Savannah Bee honey is carried by Williams-Sonoma (NYSE:WSM) and Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI).
A Long Shot
Give the gift of a lower handicap. In 2002, Keith Blakely founded NanoDynamics, based in Buffalo, to manufacture materials for electronics and fuel cells using nanotechnology. Recently he applied the company's technology to the links. The NDMX HMS110 golf balls have a patented hollow metal core that Blakely says keeps the ball rotating on its axis for longer, straighter drives. This year the United States Golf Association approved the NDMX balls for tournament play.
$19.95 for three, ndmxgolf.com
Up the Ante
Here's one way to ensure your clients are playing with a full deck. Give them Swing Design's playing cards, which come in colorful faux leather cases embossed with a chirpy phrase like "one good turn deserves another." Designers Mark Hazel and Everett Bramhall founded the Concord, Massachusetts, company in 1991. Today they and their 35 employees design frames, coasters, and other gifts that are sold at more than 2,000 retailers.
Wine buffs and picnickers will appreciate this little tote bag. Made of neoprene, the material used for wetsuits, the bag prevents the Chardonnay from banging against the Bordeaux and will keep cold bottles chilled for up to three hours. Aaron Lown, John Roscoe Swartz, and Carter Weiss founded New York City-based Built NY in 2003. The company expects to sell about $15 million worth of neoprene products this year, including baby bottle totes and laptop sleeves.
When Thurman Roberts and his wife, Hisako, founded the Salt Lick restaurant in 1967, it was just a roadside pit and a picnic table. Today the Driftwood, Texas, barbecue mecca draws up to 2,800 customers on Saturday nights, many of them hankering for Salt Lick's distinctive sauce--a mix of cayenne pepper, chile dulce, vinegar, and some secret ingredients. When the couple's son, Scott, took over operations, he decided to bottle and sell the heady mixture in a three-bottle gift pack.
$20 to $50
Designer Angela Adams says she finds inspiration for her products in things that "provide a little comfort," like stones on the beach and the old television in her childhood home. She uses these motifs for the patterns on her handmade wool rugs, sateen duvets, and chunky glasses like these mod Manfred tumblers. Eight years after its founding, her Portland, Maine, company has 22 employees; about 400 retailers, including Design Within Reach, carry its products.
$32 for four, angelaadams.com
A Little Leverage
For its signature trick, the Houdini will free the cork from a wine bottle in a few seconds flat, using a rack-and-pinion gear system. Riki Kane, a former journalist, founded her New York City company, Metrokane, to sell juicers. In 1999, when the patent on another company's lever-pull corkscrew expired, Kane designed her own biomorphic take on the mechanism and called it the Rabbit. Now, Metrokane sells about 725,000 lever corkscrews a year.
An improbable cure for long meetings, the Ninja Attack can catapult plastic ninja fighters farther than the length of the average conference table. The novelty item, sold by Seattle-based Accoutrements, is part of founder Mark Pahlow's irreverent catalog, which includes Devil Duckies--rubber ducks with horns--and the Deluxe Librarian Action Figure, with integrated push-to-shush technology.
$4.95 for the gun and $24.95 for a tub of 72 ninjas, mcphee.com
Play It As It Lays
Siblings Jay and Guy Holland founded Mulholland Brothers almost 20 years ago to meld two passions: field sports and leather craftsmanship. The product line began with fishing rod cases and shooting bags, then expanded into luggage and golf accessories. Jay--CEO of the San Francisco company, and a self-described "lousy golfer"--finds plenty of use for this practice putter hole, available in rugged lariat- or stout-colored leather, with scalloped edges to trap the ball.
Working out of a low-rent airplane hangar in Alameda, California, St. George Spirits has been raising the bar for high-end vodka since 2002. Founder Jörg Rupf and distillery manager Lance Winters produce Hangar One in old-fashioned pot stills, using real fruit for flavor. Local farmers provide most of the raw materials, even the exotic kaffir lime leaves. With just eight employees, St. George Spirits sells close to 40,000 cases of vodka a year.
$50 to $100
Lemon lingonberry ice cream, anyone? It's just one of the creamy concoctions whipped up by Jeni Britton's ice cream company, Jeni's. She creates her complex flavors, such as sweet corn with blackberries, from seasonal ingredients harvested near her two stores in Columbus, Ohio. The company, which expects sales to top $1 million next year, ships its pints packed in dry ice. The holiday gift pack includes six wintery flavors, including chestnut and dark cocoa peppermint gelato.
Just Add Water
Amber, juniper berry, cedar wood, and neroli infuse this spa day in a box from the Thymes in Minneapolis. Like all Thymes products, the Filigree Deluxe gift set--triple-milled soap, lotion, a scented candle, and a bath soak--is made from natural botanicals and organic extracts. Founder Leslie Ross Lentz oversees the creative side of the 100-employee company, which she started in 1982 as a "kitchen chemistry" experiment.
Some Like It Hot
If hot chocolate brings to mind sickly sweet powder packets--complete with dehydrated marshmallows--think again. At MarieBelle, a New York City chocolate boutique, this libation comes in four flavors: Aztec, Spicy, Café Negro, and Dark. Founder Maribel Lieberman devotes as much attention to her packaging as she does to her rich treats. MarieBelle's hot chocolate gift set includes an ornate 20-ounce tin of sweetened cocoa and a bone-china mug of the same design.
Have a Bowl
At its core, bocce is a game of sabotage. Competitive sorts will enjoy thwarting their opponents with the high-gloss resin balls in this official tournament set. Making the balls, however, requires the teamwork of the Parrella brothers--John, Bob, and Dick--who run EPCO, in Medway, Massachusetts. Originally a bowling ball repair shop owned by their father, Emilio, the company now makes bowling, billiard, and bocce balls.
Talk about a multitasker. Dubbed the Triple Play, this leatherbound case holds everything you need for an old-fashioned battle of wits, be it chess, backgammon, or checkers. George Kartsotis started Retro 1951, based in Dallas, to sell high-quality pens, after a career spent selling cars. "I developed an affection for pens," says Kartsotis. "That was the only tool you needed." His line of Tornado pens, as well as his games and knickknacks, are sold at gift shops across the country.
$100 or more
Nothing says working stiff like a boring black laptop bag. Help someone loosen up--and keep it together--with this stylish satchel. The Mobile Office has a two-tone exterior of chocolate-brown leather and beige active nylon. Inside, there's a padded compartment for a 15-inch laptop and lots of pockets. The New York City-based RMD Studio, founded by designers Yvonne Roe and Gene Miao, makes briefcases, handbags, and luggage that it sells under the Ro label.
A Fresh World View
Put the world at her command with the sleek Crystal Marquise globe. The transparent orb, bisected by a stainless-steel axis, is made by Replogle Globes, founded 76 years ago by Luther Replogle, who sold globes from his Chicago apartment. Now the company makes more than 120 different globes--many by hand--in its 260,000-square-foot factory in a Chicago suburb.
Here's a way to impress everyone from neophyte wine drinkers to refined oenophiles. The California Wine Club offers a parade of vintages from small, under-the-radar California vineyards. Husband-and-wife team Bruce and Pam Boring, both wine connoisseurs, founded the Ventura, California-based company 16 years ago. A Premier Club membership is good for two bottles a month.
$258 for a six-month membership, cawineclub.com
Imagine what office trouble Michael Scott could create with this iPod-size digital movie maker. Pure Digital's Point and Shoot holds 30 minutes of video and has few buttons--it does have a 2X zoom--which makes it a snap to use. Plug it into a computer's USB port, and files are easily e-mailed or posted to Google Video. Jonathan Kaplan, who founded the San Francisco-based company in 2001, also developed a disposable camcorder.
It's an arty twist on hauling those digital files. Pull the head off the three-inch "Robo" to reveal a USB flash drive for storing 256MB to 4GB of files. Robo is one of 21 drive designs that Mimoco, based in Brookline, Massachusetts, has commissioned from toy artists. Evan Blaustein, a toy collector who founded the company in 2004, recently signed a licensing deal with Lucas Films to produce "mimobots" based on Star Wars characters. Darth Vader will be available in January.
$119.95 for 2GB, mimoco.com
And a few gift ideas for yourself…
My Little Part of a Pony
It took Funny Cide--the 2003 Triple Crown almost winner that had famously been purchased by 10 friends--to put fractional racehorse ownership on the map. Jeff Seder, founder of racehorse consulting firm EQB in West Grove, Pennsylvania, launched Houyhnhnm (pronounced "Win 'em") Stables to put together five- to-six-person horse-owner partnerships. On offer: two spirited colts, Nueces River and Hasta Luego.
Partnerships start at $10,000, eqb.com
A Class of Your Own
The ultimate airport security line avoidance tactic? The Eclipse 500. It's the lightest twin-engine jet on the market, weighing less than some SUVs. Vern Raburn, a pilot and former Microsoft executive, founded Eclipse Aviation in 1998 with the idea of using lean manufacturing to build a low-cost jet. Unfortunately, his Albuquerque company has a backlog of 2,500 orders. Buy now, and you'll have yours by the end of 2008.
$1.5 million, eclipseaviation.com
Like 280 Second Homes
While lying on the beach in Hawaii, Brent and Brad Handler had a thought: Wouldn't it be great to have vacation homes all over the world? In 2002, the brothers launched Exclusive Resorts, which they call a destination club. The Denver-based company operates a worldwide network of 280 posh accommodations--ranging from resort suites to single-family estate homes.
Membership starts at $225,000, exclusiveresorts.com
Take a Load Off
Your choice: an in-house masseuse for $48,900 a year or the Mercedes of massage chairs, the M-5000 DLX, for $4,890. In 2000, Edward Koo founded Omega, based in San Clemente, California. Since then, the behemoth chairs have been packed with more and more features. In addition to massage rollers, the current iteration includes a USB port, headphones, and a hard drive that holds about a half-hour of music.
What would you do if your travel schedule made you miss watching your favorite team in the World Series? Brothers Blake and Jason Krikorian dreamed up the Slingbox. It lets you watch your cable TV from anywhere in the world via the Internet. Since the San Mateo, California, company was founded in 2004, Sling Media has sold more than 100,000 units. Its latest product, the Slingbox Pro, can remotely access up to four video devices, including DVRs.
Written and reported by Adam Bluestein, Bobbie Gossage, Amy Keyishian, Ryan McCarthy, Athena Schindelheim, Ryan Underwood, and Kasey Wehrum.