Nancy Wurtzel

Article Summary:

Personalized gift products can be a great new business.

Personalized Gift Products Can Make a Great New Business

Looking to launch a new consumer products business that makes and markets gifts? Why not consider a niche that has grown dramatically over the past few decades and still shows signs of continued expansion? This market has your name written all over it - the personalized products industry.

In the U.S. today, there are more than 100,000 businesses selling personalized gift products with annual sales of at least $27 billion, and these numbers are continuing to increase.

Why is the personalized gift market considered such a rapid growth industry? Several forces are at work currently driving the personalization market.

1. The Economy
The U.S. is just coming out of an economy slump and recession. During tough economic times, consumers often look for added value when they make discretionary purchases. For example, when shopping for a gift, price conscious buyers look for a selection that will make an impression and be lasting. Consumers perceive that they are getting both when they purchase a personalized product. In general, buyers are actively seeking personalized gifts, and this activity and interest is moving the industry forward.

2. New Technology
Advances in technology have made a wider variety of products available and much more affordable. For example, machines that personalize towels and clothing once cost thousands of dollars and weigh hundreds of pounds. Now, a much smaller, cleaner, quieter, computer-driven piece of equipment can produce the same quality goods -- but at a fraction of the price. And, if manufacturing upfront costs are less, products become more affordable.

3. Product Selection
Since technology has made production easier and cheaper, there has been an explosion of personalized goods and gifts. Gifts range from the inexpensive and predictable to the upscale and highly innovative. Most gift stores offer some personalized gift selections and there are now many stores, websites and even mail-order catalogs with literally thousands of consumer choices.

4. Stand-Out Gifts
Personalized gifts are memorable. For instance, parents will always remember who gave their newborn a charming personalized picture frame, but can't recall who sent the expensive outfit that baby outgrew in a few weeks. A personalized present is also a great choice for the "person who has everything."

PERSONALIZED HISTORY
The personalized gift market is primarily a U.S. phenomenon. Its roots can be traced back to our early American history when silversmiths practiced their skills by engraving family names or initials on one-of-a-kind silver trays, bowls and jewelry.

As the country expanded westward, saddle and gun makers would occasionally personalize their wares, while wood artisans used their talents to create uniquely decorated trunks with family names or crests.

These early personalized items were always made to order and available only to those who could afford to pay the price -- which was, at that time, a very small percentage of the population.

Not much changed until the late 1950s when mass production brought the "pre-made" personalized gifts to middle America.

Suddenly, every local corner drug store offered displays of inexpensive pencils, key chains and jewelry featuring names like Linda, Mike, Tom, Cindy, Mary and Dave.

However, most of these personalized items were considered cheap imported gifts aimed at kids and teenagers. And, if you had an unusual name, you were out of luck because all these novelty products were pre-made at the factory with the most common names of the day.

While there are still many of these low-ticket items available today, the personalized products industry has grown and evolved over the past forty odd years. Probably the biggest change that has moved the industry forward has been advances in technology.

Lower costs for machinery means that it's now possible to have personalization equipment in decentralized locations rather than one central processing plant. Additionally, personalized gifts that once would take weeks to obtain can now be created in a matter of days or even minutes. Consequently, gifts that once had a long ordering lead time, are now almost impulse buys for today's busy consumer.

Computer-driven technology also has made literally thousand of personalized gift choices in a variety of price ranges available to the consumer.

BUYING AND SELLING
What type of companies sell personalized gifts? Major catalogs, countless ecommerce sites, upscale department stores, specialty boutiques, general dry-goods retail storefronts, drug store chains and thousands of small entrepreneurs.

What types of personalized items are consumers buying? Almost anything can be personalized, so the choices are many.

Just pick up a catalog and you will find robes for adults and kids, fine crystal, quilts, keepsake gifts for newborn babies, expensive gifts to mark a graduation, wedding or anniversary, a variety of clothing and even furniture. Visit a local retail store and you will find stationery, jewelry, wall art, T-shirts, mugs and dinnerware, glasses, picture frames and much more.

Why are these gifts so attractive for so many sellers? Any retailer will agree that a personalized gift means a little more effort up-front, but in the long run fewer returns. Plus, these products often carry a higher price point -- and therefore profits -- making these gifts very attractive.

AMERICANS LOVE PERSONALIZED GIFTS
While you may find some personalized gift items in other countries, you will not see the same wide range of products that are found in the U.S. Why has the personalized gift market thrived here at home?

It's really pretty simple according to those who study consumers. Americans -- young and old alike -- love to see their names on a product because it makes them feel special and unique.

And, American consumers are always looking for products with a slightly different spin, and this, too, is accomplished by purchasing a personalized product.

Faith Popcorn, who studies and reports on nationwide trends, has coined the word "egonomics" to describe the personalized product phenomenon. Other trend forecasters agree that the personalized gift industry is here to stay and will continue steady growth as more products are brought to market in response to consumer demand.

Nancy Wurtzel is the founder and owner of All About Baby, an online store located at www.allbaby.com. All About Baby offers more than 300 personalized and memorable baby gifts for young children. The site also features interesting and helpful child-related content. Ms. Wurtzel has over 25 years of marketing and communications experience. She consults with small businesses seeking to enter the marketplace or grow their existing e-commerce business.

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