When Kristi Brocato took a job at a gift basket company in college, little did she know that one day her own gift baskets would be received by the likes of former President Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Gladiator director Ridley Scott.
However, thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication, Brocato's dreams were able to become a reality when she built up her own company, The Basketry, into one of the leading gift basket stores in the New Orleans area. While that alone is a significant feat, the fact that it only took her 12 years to attain that dream may be the most surprising thing of all.
"There were florists in town but there was not an alternative to flowers. I thought we needed something that could make people smile that would last longer than flowers," Brocato said. "That's how The Basketry initially came to be."
Though Brocato founded the company in 1995, right out of college, she was actually still in college when she first learned the ins-and-outs of the gift basket industry.
"The lady who owned the gift basket company I worked at had a baby so she left me in charge," Brocato said. "I knew it was my passion to be creative and make people happy. I knew that's what I wanted to do. It may sound silly, but when you find that thing, you just know."
Brocato was right to trust her instincts. After graduation, she opened up her own catalogue based gift basket company from her home. She then moved into a store on River Road before settling in Luling on 50 Wade Street. Now, her company is the main supplier of corporate gift baskets to such businesses as Cox Communications, Harrah's Casino and the Louisiana Credit Union League. Not to mention a delivery list that includes Popes, Saints, directors, rock stars, and politicians.
"Every year we just keep growing," Brocato said. "We keep adding lines and our customer base keeps growing."
Though The Basketry has a little bit of everything, Brocato said that some of her store's biggest sellers are wine and gourmet food baskets along with relaxation baskets. That the relaxation baskets would be top sellers is a given since it seems that women would be the primary recipients. However, Brocato says her company sells its fair share of baskets to the opposite sex as well.
"They are probably about equal because we do a lot of baskets for men," she said. "The gourmet foods, wine and beer are really good because guys like to eat and drink."
The Basketry relies on a strong customer base that resides inside the parish. However, Brocato recently began using the internet to help her company grow. While her web site officially made an appearance five years ago, Brocato says her company has really started to see results over the past three years. Now, internet sales account for close to 30 percent of her business. However, the bread and butter of Brocato's operation has remained parish residents.
"People still want that personal service and they still want to talk to somebody," she said. "That makes us different because we offer that personal service. We are there for the customer and honestly, I prefer it better than the Internet."
Brocato may enjoy providing that personal service, but the Internet still has its fair share of perks. The Basketry's customers can use the web site as a catalogue to go and see exactly what they want and make the changes they need to make their gift a successful one.
"Locally, they come in or call us, but they do use the web site," Brocato said. "I just had a customer who ordered for boss's day and went online to find the gift she liked. She changed it a little bit and then called me to order."
The web site also allows The Basketry to gain a national, and even an international following, since the company has had its baskets sent to places as far away as Iraq. And while Brocato enjoys making her merchandise available to that international audience, she knows that she couldn't get by without the support of parish residents.
"We need the support from the people in our parish," Brocato said. "Growing on the Internet and getting customers outside of the parish has helped grow my business, but if it wasn't for the people walking in and calling everyday, then we wouldn't be able to stay open. I am appreciative to all of our customers."
|The Basketry owner Kristi Brocato (right) helps customer Toni Payne, of Toni and Co. Hair Salon, find the right piece of Pandora’s Box jewelry.|