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Fun and profits Featured

10:48am EDT October 23, 2001

When Bonnie Segel left the corporate world in 1992 to start Baskets by Bonnie, a retail business specializing in gift baskets and corporate gifts, she had one primary goal in mind: To have fun and enjoy what she did for a living.

She says she has accomplished that goal and more.

"In the job I was in, I sat behind a computer screen all day and looked at numbers," she says. "There were so many parts of my personality that were being stifled, but I didn't realized how starved I was for creativity until after I quit."

After working at home for two years, Segel moved her growing business into a small retail space in the Short North. Two years later, the business expanded again into a larger, more visible Short North location on the corner of Buttles Avenue and High Street.

"Location was an important consideration, and the Short North business district appealed to me for several reasons," she says. "It is central to all of Columbus, convenient to many hotels and close to the convention center, and the creativity and diversity of the Short North community also fits my personality."

Her clientele also is diverse, says Segel, and includes several advertising/public relations firms, a few national retail chains, financial institutions and insurance companies, as well as a variety of sales reps, home builders and Realtors. She estimates that walk-in business accounts for 20 to 30 percent of total sales, but adds, "Our whole business is designed around the concept that our job is to make your job easier. So I have no way to quantify how many people who may have been in the store end up calling because they need a gift and don't have the time to go out and buy one.

"That's where we really excel. We get a description of the recipient, her personality and personal tastes, and create a gift basket specifically for that person."

To personalize the baskets, Segel's company carries thousands of items, from wine and gourmet food items to bath products and baby gifts.

"It has taken a long time to build up the knowledge of different sources to be able to offer this variety of products," she says. "We obviously didn't start out this way."

In addition to Segel, Baskets by Bonnie has one full-time and five part-time employees and adds temporary help during peak times, such as holiday seasons.

"My biggest challenge right now is trying to find balance in life: managing work and family and learning to train employees and delegate responsibility," Segel says. "As an owner, of course, you want everything to be perfect, but I have had to learn that the more people you have working for you and the larger the business grows, the more you have to learn to delegate. And if you make a mistake, you just admit it, fix it and move on."

Although Segel says she took quite a chance five years ago when she moved the company to its current location, the move has proved to be a good business decision.

"Our current location is on a very visible corner, across from a busy coffee shop," she says. "The move from a side street location to one that is front and center caused the business to more than double the first year after we moved."

Since then, the business -- for which Segel declines to release revenue figures -- has remained in a steady growth mode, she says. Reference USA's business database lists Baskets by Bonnie as having estimated annual sales of less than $500,000.

Segel says her biggest source of new business comes from referrals, and her best advertising is a job well done and a good-looking product.

"When people see it, they want to know where it came from, and of course, we guarantee what we do," she says.

Her three large, stage-like windows also have helped draw interest.

"As we became more established, we began to take more risks, and our No. 1 goal was to entertain -- ourselves as well as passersby," she says. "Our window displays draw people in to see what Baskets by Bonnie is all about. They also have earned us some free publicity, such as a photo (posted on a Columbus-related Web site) last fall of our holiday political window entitled 'The Fight Before Christmas,' which featured Al Gore, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in wrestling costumes and masks."

Through it all, Segel maintains that having fun is still the primary motivation.

"Now that the business is well established, I tend to take a 'Field of Dreams' approach -- if you build it, they will come," she says. "My strategy is to continue to have fun and enjoy what I'm doing. We try to constantly be creative, constantly bring in new products and constantly improve in whatever we do." How to reach: Bonnie Segel, Baskets By Bonnie, 228-8700 or www.basketsbybonnie.com

Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.