Better than a Ballpoint: Fine-Art Gifts Finding Their Way into the Corporate World

September 1, 2008



By Julia M. Johnson

Corporate gifts are a time-honored way to tell business partners you value them. But custom fine-art gifts are an increasingly popular way to say it with extra panache – and make a statement about your own good taste at the same time.

The goal is to create a memorable gift that won’t end up banished to a drawer or gathering dust on a shelf, says Melodee Lang, owner of The Cookie Cupboard in south St. Louis County. Lang, an accountant, started the company in 2005 after finding few suitable vendors for her own client gift needs. Today, her company makes gift and cookie baskets with a high-end fine-art bent, as well as basket centerpieces and a range of other customized gifts.

Eat your words

Lang says personalization is important to her clients, and they’re becoming increasingly interested in cookies that bear company logos or messages. Lang’s company can scan any logo image into a computer, then print copies of it on thin, edible rice paper. The rice paper is then applied to a cookie, where it blends seamlessly into a layer of icing. “It’s an excellent way to promote a company,” Lang says. “It gives the business some unique exposure. And it’s something different from your typical run-of-the-mill gift certificate.”

The cookies can be sold in bags that start at $10 each, or they can be incorporated into gift baskets with a range of products from fine-art note cards to golf balls, magnets, bookmarks, nightlights, art prints, posters, chocolates, nuts and toiletries. The gift baskets range in price from $45 to $200, according to Lang.

For an extra air of finery, The Cookie Cupboard creates baskets with themes of popular artists, from Sandro Botticelli and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Frederic Remington. Lang says much of what the company offers on its Web site,,  is Impressionist in theme because that’s most popular right now.

Lang advises that customization calls for plenty of advance notice, especially if the order is large – so don’t forget to give your fine-art gift vendor an early “heads up” when you have a need in mind. “If you are ordering five centerpiece baskets or gift baskets, for example, we may be able to do that within a couple days,” Lang says. “But if you want 50 or 100 baskets, we will need a couple weeks’ notice.”

Gem of an idea

Adam Foster, designer and owner of Clayton, Mo.-based Adam Foster Fine Art Jewelry (, says personalization is the key to his designs as well. His company specializes in items from custom earrings and cufflinks to engraved watches, knives, rings and other high-end pieces for corporate clients and individuals.

Foster uses a special CAD (computer-aided drafting) program to design rings, keychains and many other items for a range of clients. Jewelry making is a highly detailed and labor-intensive process, so timing is of even greater importance for the fine-art gift orders Foster’s company handles.

He needs plenty of lead time to generate photo-quality proofs of each order for the client’s review and approval, so Foster advises placing an order well ahead of time, especially for the holidays. “The earlier the better, especially depending on the complexity of the design you want, and the quantity,” Foster says. “If you want an item right before Christmas, for example, it’s best to get the order in by the first week of November. The closer the holidays get, the less time we have to mull over ideas.”

Foster likes to take plenty of time to get to know the recipient of each gift he makes, even having them visit his shop so he can get an idea of each personality. “If you have five gift recipients, and there is enough time, I can get to know each of them, their likes and dislikes, and then design the piece accordingly,” he says. “For example, if they love golf or hate the color red, I need to know that.”

Foster says some of his clients notify their recipients ahead of time that they will be receiving a custom gift from his company. That way, each person can schedule a consultation to design the piece, and it’s always a memorable event for the recipient.

Prices for Foster’s creations usually range from $100 for a custom-designed keychain to several thousand dollars for high-end jewelry pieces. He can design special items that represent a company’s products or services, such as grapevine-themed jewelry for winery or restaurant employees.

Still, it’s important to tread lightly when talking to clients about wearable pieces containing a company logo, Foster says. Executives may be proud of the products they sell, but it may be unrealistic for them to expect employees to wear a company symbol on a bracelet, for example. “You want your investment to be money well spent – something the recipient really wants to wear,” he says.

Sweet Somethings

Custom fine-art gifts are usually a significant expenditure. So it may be wise to consider personalizing the packaging instead of the product, advises Christopher Elbow, owner of Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates ( in Kansas City and San Francisco. His company creates a variety of elaborate painted and filled chocolates that are small works of art in themselves.

“Our chocolates are already unique, so we usually steer clients toward customizing the boxes they come in,” Elbow says. “We can do special hang tags off the box, or order special printing or embossing on the box. These are great for the holidays, new logos or product launches, or branded products to hand out at trade shows.” And they are a less expensive alternative to customizing the chocolates themselves, according to Elbow.

His creations start at $4 for a two-piece box of chocolates, then range upward to $10 for a four-piece box and $20 for a nine-piece box. The company offers larger gift boxes, priced from $75 to $175 each; these can be personalized with gift cards, Elbow says.

“The point is to make a product that’s identifiable,” he says. “When people give our gifts, it shows the recipient that they didn’t just go out and buy 100 boxes of chocolates somewhere.”

Anytime you’re making a gift of perishable food, it’s important to keep shelf life issues in mind, Elbow advises. “We don’t use any preservatives in our chocolates, which is typical of higher-end products – so we have to carefully coordinate shipping to get them to the recipient in perfect condition,” he says. “For Christmas orders, we usually have to start the package design process at least by October 1, because custom box artwork can take several weeks. We have to time production tightly so we can get the products out the door quickly.”

Whether you’re ordering high-end chocolates or custom-designed jewelry, there’s a real art to impressing clients with one-of-a-kind gifts. A conscientious vendor should work closely with you to design items that perfectly fit each personality on your gift list. And he or she should always strive to deserve your repeat business.

“The biggest thing in an economic downturn is to make every dollar you spend count,” Lang says. “So you want to make every gift stand out. Items that are unique and high quality will always leave an impression.” MM&E

(Julia M. Johnson is the Assistant Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)

The Cookie Cupboard

Adam Foster Fine Art Jewelry

Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates

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