- The best client gifts or corporate gifts aren't gift baskets or nice bottles of wine, says gift-giving expert and CEO John Ruhlin - the best gifts are high-quality knives.
- When done right, client gifts can lead to increased business and more meaningful relationships with clients.
- A thoughtful gift will help you stay at the front of a client's mind every time they use it, he said.
- Knives are practical, not flashy, and are likely to get used for years.
If you're trying to impress a business client with a nice gift, think again before you send over a fruit basket, gift card, or bottle of wine.
According to gift-giving expert John Ruhlin, the best gift you can give a client is something a little more unusual: a paring knife.
Ruhlin would know. As a 20-year-old college student in 2000, he began selling Cutco knives, and found that the famous cutlery sold even better when framed as a potential business gift. He eventually built his company, the Ruhlin Group, around the art of corporate gift-giving, with Cutco as one of his partners. He wrote the book "Giftology" in 2016.
Gift-giving is sometimes treated as an afterthought in the corporate world, but Ruhlin says a thoughtful gift to a client can increase a company's referrals and lead to long and meaningful relationships.
"Our whole goal is to get something in somebody's hands where you're remaining top-of-mind and triggering that memory of it being given by that particular person," Ruhlin told Business Insider.
But why a knife?
"Most people only focus on business-oriented things when they're doing gifting, or they focus on consumables and gift cards and crap that's not very thoughtful," Ruhlin told Business Insider. "A knife is one of those things that's generic enough that you can give it to anybody, but it's useful and unique enough that it kind of hits people off guard."
"It flies under the radar, it doesn't feel too flashy, but it's one of the things that you end up using."
Ruhlin learned from his Cutco days that a good gift communicates that you value not only the recipient, but their inner circle, too. It's best to target areas of their lives where you know they spend lots of time with people close to them - like the kitchen.
"Whether you make 50 grand a year or $5 million a year, the hub of everybody's house, the intimate place of their house when they host friends and family, is the kitchen," Ruhlin told Business Insider. "You're either a foodie, you host people, or you're cooking for your kids, or whatever, whether you're in New York or whether you're in Idaho."
As it turns out, Ruhlin's gift idea could end up saving you a few bucks, too. A Cutco paring knife retails between $65 and $72, according to the company's website, while other leading brands such as Wüsthof, Global, and Mac have slightly more affordable options. Meanwhile, a gift fruit basket can exceed $100 from companies such as Williams Sonoma or Harry and David.
On top of that, if the cutlery is top-quality, you can virtually guarantee that it's going to get used.
"Most people have crappy tools in the kitchen because they got them, you know, from somebody when they got married or whatever," Ruhlin said.
"So I would tell people, if you send something that's best in class, that's better than anything that they currently have, they'll use it. Especially if it's a utilitarian, practical item."