Driving up and down Crenshaw Boulevard or Western and La Brea Avenues on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day can be a wonderful adventure for the convenience shopper, or someone who has waited just a little too long to get a gift for mom or the love of your life.
That is because independent entrepreneurs selling baskets of every type, shape and size crowd the sidewalks hawking their wares.
This street-level gift basket phenomenon, which is apparently unique to the South Los Angeles region of city, has continued to grow every year.
While sitting on the street hoping people will stop by your table may seem to be a hard way to do business, according to one published figure, the gift basket business in 2007 was a $3 billion a year industry, which makes grabbing a small share of the profits well worth the time and effort spent on the streets.
Although she has sold gift baskets since 1991, street vending is a very new venture for Mahasin Regina Saleem, who set up a table with a friend.
“This is only the second time I’ve sold on the street,” said Saleem about her set up at the corner of Manchester and Western avenues for Valentines. “My gift baskets are pre-sold and pre-ordered. So I normally don’t have time.”
Instead of going to the streets, the former buyer with Best Buy, started her gift basket business with corporate accounts.
“The way I started was anybody or any service I went to–the dentist, doctor, whoever–I talked to them about what I did. I worked with the businesses I patronized,” recalled Saleem, who said that typically resulted in booking three or four clients for the holidays.
And while she did well, Saleem said it was the addition of Mary Kay products to her baskets that really boosted her sales nearly 75 percent. “I was doing Mary Kay in my spare time, and traveling with my job. . . I just didn’t automatically think of it (adding products from the $4 billion direct sales company to her baskets). But when they saw the Mary Kay product, people would say ‘ohhh.’ It is such a noticeable brand name, and people were pretty impressed.”
Combining baskets sales (which represent 25 percent of her income) with Mary Kay sales enabled Saleem to match and then surpass her income at Best Buy. This prompted her to take a leave from her job and pursue her business full time.
In addition to adding Mary Kay, what has helped Saleem grow her basket business is marketing and promotion. Her tools include flyers with samples of her work; making donations to churches and other events which enables her to advertise the business; and understanding when potential clients might need baskets such as for promotions, bonuses and for holidays.
She also prides herself on creating distinctive baskets. “A lot of times when people think about gifts and bonuses, they want to do something different, but they don’t have the time and energy to figure it out.”
You gain their attention and often their business, if you approach them and offer something painless, exciting, nice and simple, pointed out Saleem.
So the next time you go past the line of basket entrepreneurs on streets like Crenshaw Boulevard just know that you are passing participants in a multi-billion dollar industry.