Bella Vino Gift Baskets
PHONE NUMBER: 503-949-1602
OWNER: Leigh Griffith
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 3
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 1
WHAT THEY SELL: Corvallis-centric gift baskets and boxes
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Give a custom gift full of everything Corvallis while supporting local businesses!
If you live in Corvallis, you know that we pride ourselves on being a haven for independent local businesses, so what could be better than a one-woman run, home-based, independent business that gives the gift of other small local businesses? Working out of her backyard, Leigh Griffith has her own makeshift shop lined with shelves ceiling-high and filled with spices, coffee, wine, chocolate, ribbons, and everything one would need to make a Pinterest board come to life. And the best part is, it’s all locally sourced! From this, Griffith puts together custom gift baskets and boxes that are suitable for any occasion and sure to contain the essence of what makes Corvallis so special.
Leigh, when and why did you decide to start your business? I used to do it back when I was living up in Hillsboro, about 2002. It started when I would just do it as gifts for people, and their response was, “Wow these are so great! You should sell these!” And I thought, “I should do that!” I was looking to do something different, so I did. When I met my husband (he was at HP at the time), I transferred down here and started the business back up again.
Tell us more about your products. What are your specialties? Basically, I’m all about giving the gift of Corvallis. When I first started thinking about doing this again, I was thinking, “What is it in Corvallis that we value?” and ‘local’ was the first thing that came to mind. So I said, “Well, what if I just stick with the local products and market Corvallis?” I quickly found that not everything is made in Corvallis, and I do have to use products outside of Corvallis. But I drew the line at the Oregon border. What I think is unique about it is that it’s a collection of a lot of small businesses that you may not have heard of before, and everyone wants to give a local gift. But it takes a lot to put this stuff together and find the right vendors and come up with the product. So what I do is find these vendors and put together these gifts. Originally it was custom only, so through the gift baskets people would call me up and say, “I want this kind of product from there” and I’d tell them, “Oh, I have this!” or “I found this new great thing at the Farmers’ Market” or whatever. And so I just kept promoting these small businesses. People who don’t live nearby or who are new and haven’t been exposed to some of these products now get that exposure. Since I have a small business, I know how hard it is to get the word out about me and what I do. For example, Oregon State calls up and they want a gift basket with some dip in it, and I can say, “I have Linn’s Calico Fixin’s out of Lebanon!” and they wouldn’t necessarily know about her. And a lot of times they’re asking me, “What should I put in this basket?” So I have the ability to get more local products into gifts that otherwise wouldn’t be and in much higher volumes since I am often working with bigger companies like the university.
My specialty is customizing a gift. For example, people call me from all over the world and the country. They know people who live in Corvallis who they want to give a gift to, and they want to make it special. They’ll say something like, “Oh, she really likes her nightgowns. Can you go and purchase her a nightgown?” So I went down to the Clothes Tree and purchased a nightgown, and you know, that’s the type of purchase that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. So it’s bringing money into our community that otherwise would have gone elsewhere. The specialty here is that I can really customize it into something really special for them. For example, two days ago a client emailed me a picture that meant something special to them, and I got a frame for it. It’s just the little touches that make people say, “Okay, this is different. This is not something I would be able to find in a big company.” On the gift box side, I think the specialty is that you can’t really find any Corvallis-centric collections like my 2 Towns box – it includes all these different things about Corvallis that you love. Like all the students that go away and want to order something like Local Boyz sauce, they love that stuff, and I know Local Boyz, so they let me resell it and ship it.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? As I’ve talked about before, exposure for small business is invaluable, and it’s really hard to get the word out. But it’s not just for me but for all the small businesses that I represent, who’re just like me, just trying to support our families. We’re all part of the same community, we go to the same schools and events, we know the same people, and it would just be really nice to see this take off and be able to support not only my family but all the vendors throughout Corvallis since the money stays here. I can then support not only my vendors but then expand my own business, start hiring locals. For example, I want to put solar panels on the roof – all this stuff where the money will come back to support not only my family but environmental changes, as well. By supporting me and my business, you’re supporting Corvallis businesses which supports Corvallis in general, so really it’s all about Corvallis!
Do you fill an unusual niche? Why should folks patronize your business? I market Corvallis. People should come to me because it benefits them as well, keeping the money here in the community. That’s one of the things the Sustainability Coalition has been really good about is getting the word out and educating the public about valuing the local, the sustainable, and I’ve seen it a lot because I’ve worked with businesses here in town and even if they’re not sustainability-minded, I’ve seen it impact them because they come to me saying, “Well, we want a basket with local products,” because they’ve been told that local is good and they want to be seen as good for the community. So whatever the motivations are, it still is a benefit.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner, and how have you met those challenges? I think it’s rough to “wear” so many different hats. Some things you’re not going to do well, and some of them you do. You’re just trying to do the best you can. My biggest challenge has been the vendor management, not only finding the little businesses, but there are also some that aren’t ready to provide a large amount of product like I need. Or they may have the same challenges of being a small business owner where you have to do it all yourself, and all of sudden they’re gone – and I’m stuck! I get around that by having an Oregon backup. The biggest thing is basing the whole thing on Corvallis products, but if the local shops aren’t there to sell, then it creates some issues. I need shops that are reliable that can also give me the volume that I need – and, of course, they need to be quality products!
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for the local independents? It’s all about keeping it local. We want our money to stay here and help us help ourselves. I understand the allure of going online or going to Wal-Mart, but in the end it just costs so much more because now that money is no longer in our community. It’s about supporting the people you know and making this community what it is. As for the future of local businesses, I hope it’ll continue to grow. If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here in Corvallis! The whole mindset is what makes it so successful. It’s hard to say what the future will look like exactly. I hope it’s good, though!
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? What excites or inspires you? There are two parts that I love most about it. One is the networking part and getting out and being able to meet so many different people in our community and getting to know them. I’ve made great friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have. And I’ve gotten to know aspects of our community that I never would have been exposed to had I not started this business. And the other part is the actual gift part. Hearing when people call me up and say, “She cried!” I put so much into these gift baskets, they’re like my babies, my soul, so I’m always thinking, “How did they like it?” Really, it’s that someone went and did just a little bit more than a gift card or Amazon, and it has something special. So I think that’s the most exciting part for me is that I have impact on lives. I hear stories because, during this process, I have to ask a lot of questions about the people to keep in mind while I’m designing the basket that’s going to be pleasing both visually and by what’s inside. It’s been like an open window to so many people’s lives that have been super inspiring. There was a woman who was turning 100, and she started skydiving when she was 85! Just an amazing woman! And the way that these people talked about her made me think, “When I’m 85 is this how people are going to talk about me?” And then I thought, “Well probably not since I’m scared to death of skydiving,” but you get the point of it. It just made me think about life in general. It was really an honor for me to make that gift basket.
What is your relationship to the community? What organizations do you support or participate in? I’m a member of Zonta, I’m on the breakfast committee for CARDV, and I support a lot of non-profits because everyone calls me for a gift basket to donate. So if you’ve been to a charity auction it probably has one of my baskets in it, either through a business or for an auction. Charities are the big ones, like Old Mill, Furniture Share, I could just go on and on. In the beginning, I couldn’t support a lot, couldn’t give a lot of money but I could give my product, so it was mutually beneficial.
How many people do you employ? Have you added jobs since starting the business? I don’t currently have any other employees besides myself, but I say ‘we’ on my website, and it really is a ‘we’ effort. My two little ones, they’re my delivery partners, my husband makes deliveries for me and loads the inventory, I have friends who come and help. I do hire people sometimes, seasonally like during Christmas, but it really is a community effort so that’s why it doesn’t say ‘I’ on the website. For example, I have a really good bestie and I had 300 gift boxes I had to do for OSU and if she hadn’t been there…! I didn’t have time to go hire anybody, it was just one of those things where I had to have somebody to help me right then and there. Once I move into the shop, I’ll be able to start hiring, and I’ve already talked to OSU about hiring students, or if I have someone like a single mom who has kids they can come and have their kids play with my kids. I think that’s one of the advantages of running my own business from my home is that I can do stuff like that, a little less traditional than a normal business where it’d be a little awkward to bring your kids to work!
How important is sustainability to you and/or your business? Have you taken steps to increase the sustainability of your business model? That’s actually one of the reasons that the boxes came about. For the baskets, although I strive as much as I can to make them Earth-friendly, it can be hard. I still have to use the glue dots and the tape and stuff like that. So I was thinking, “How can I do this and make a gift without so much junk?” Hence the boxes. And men seem to really prefer the boxes. Before they would kind of glaze over once I said I did gift baskets. But once they started seeing the gift boxes, they started to get really interested and see the marketing potential. A lot of businesses have gotten on board with the boxes which is great because it means they’re giving local gifts. So in terms of sustainability, I wrap in tulle, and I also use wood shred for stuffing which I put in with a little card that tells the recipient not to throw it out and even gives them ideas of what to do with it. I also have a Pinterest site where I encourage people to reuse the baskets. I even try and use fewer baskets and instead containers that are more reusable, that aren’t going to end up being thrown away. And I’ve been known to find something at Goodwill or garage sales, just unusual containers that look a little different. When I move into my new shop, we’re going to be doing the ductless cooling, using a lot less energy use. And the roof is ripe for solar panels, so that’s something that we’ve been envisioning for a while. My current shop’s also going to be converted into ductless, so less gas-guzzling for sure.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. Everyone has to give a gift, so why not give the gift of Corvallis and support your community?
(Interview and article by Anya Callaghan – August 2, 2015)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).