36: Customizing Your Experience With Client Gifts
Your customer experience is what will turn happy clients into referral machines. Torrance Hart of Teak & Twine shares how we can include personal touches throughout our engagements with purposeful client gifting.
The art of a handwritten note has been all but lost in the busyness of our days and instant gratification that comes with digital messaging. While our customers are looking for results, being thoughtful enough to send gratitude, connect personally, and keep their experience front of mind is what will take our brands from ordinary to stand-out.
MEET TORRANCE HART
Torrance Hart is the founder and owner of Teak & Twine, a specialty gifting company that makes gift boxes for people who are into products that are beautifully made, thoughtfully packaged and visually stunning. While she was serving in the U.S. Air Force, Torrance launched Teak & Twine.
A born entrepreneur with a creative streak, she quickly knew Teak & Twine would soon become her full-time endeavor. After eight years of service, countless late nights reading business books and listening to podcasts on her way to work, Torrance took the leap and hasn’t looked back.
In 2018, Teak & Twine moved into its new permanent studio just outside of Washington, D.C., where Torrance and her growing team continue to build Teak & Twine to be the most recognizable name in the specialty gifting market (and taste test and LOT of chocolate along the way).
In addition to her role at Teak & Twine, Torrance is an educator and entrepreneur advocate. Whether mentoring fellow entrepreneurs, testifying before Congress on behalf of military small business owners, or teaching courses for product-based businesses to help them thrive, Torrance is passionate about drawing from her experiences to help others succeed and have fun doing it!
FROM AIR FORCE TO SMALL BUSINESS
Though Torrance’s parents both served in the military for 20 years, it wasn’t an obvious choice for Torrance out of high school. When her mother suggested pursuing an ROTC scholarship, Torrance applied on a lark, mostly because it would support her through an education at Georgetown University.
To her surprise, she was granted the scholarship and went in a bit hesitant. She thought being in the military would mean having to march around all day and getting yelled out to drop and do push-ups. In the end, this opportunity opened the door to eight years of adventure.
Starting as a finance officer, moving to event planning, and ending with intelligence and threat analysis work, Torrance spent eight years traveling, deploying, and meeting with high-level individuals. Perhaps best, she met her husband during service.
While women have been welcomed into the military, I asked if she ever felt like being a woman in the armed forces was hard. Looking back, Torrance thinks it was only hard at times because of stories she made up in her head.
When she first graduated from school, she thought there was no way she could be herself--instead would have to act stoic and serious. When she was deployed with special operations, she thought, “Okay this is the time I really can’t be my goofy self or I’ll draw attention to myself as a woman.” Yet she continued to surprise herself at how successful she could be by just being herself.
Torrance thinks this is something many of us do: creating a narrative in our head that we can’t do something. And until we take a break to ask ourselves where that message is coming from, we’re preventing ourselves from taking on many opportunities.
Before she became engaged to her husband, Torrance thought she’d start business school and get a job in the big city. But once that commitment was solidified, she knew her plans would have to change. With six years of service left for him, she was forced to create a career for herself.
She launched Teak & Twine in 2015.
But it didn’t begin as a hobby or a side hustle. She viewed business as something she had to make an income from and built it the same way she would build any other career.
At the time, Torrance noticed there was a trend in the wedding industry of welcoming guests with higher end welcome gifts. But there wasn’t a company to help you create them. That meant the couple was responsible for assembling themselves or having their wedding planner throw something together a few days before the big day.
She launched Teak & Twine with a single focus: to create custom wedding guest boxes. At the same time she stayed open minded about what she could provide. It wasn’t long before she was creating client gifts, bridesmaid gifts, and corporate gifts.
In 2017, Jenna Kutcher reached out to create personalized gifts for her own clients. Torrance shortly after joined her on her podcast, The Goal Digger.
At the time, Torrance was operating out of her home in Florida and stocking supplies in her garage. While she admittedly felt she should look more legit with a studio and a full team, her life didn’t allow for that sort of definiteness. Not one month later she and her husband moved to rural New Mexico. It was a thrilling moment of realization for Torrance.
While she had dreamed of owning a studio, she had freedom. At nine months pregnant and in her pajamas, she was fulfilling orders for Microsoft, Julianne Hough’s wedding, and major hotel chains.
Those roots are something she’s proud of—the ability to grow a business in the middle of nowhere with a dream and some grit.
GAINING BRAND RECOGNITION
Torrance knew that to stand out she would have to niche down. And niche down she did.
She knew from the beginning that she wanted to service high-end weddings. So she purchased a copy of the Martha Stewart Weddings magazine and focused on the list of the top 63 wedding planners in the country.
She decided to create a brand specifically for these 63 people.
She followed them on Instagram. She engaged with their posts. And she was strategic that every dollar she spent on her business would also serve her in marketing her business.
When she needed to hire a brand designer, she hired Suann Song, who at the time was doing invitations and stationary for top planners. Of course, Suann shared her work on Instagram, which got Teak & Twine in front of Torrance’s target market.
When she needed a stylist to style her website, Torrance chose Jessica Sloane, one of those 63 planners and one whom all of the other planners follow.
And when she needed a photographer, she chose Tec Petaja, a luxury wedding photographer.
By the time she launched her site, most of those 63 people were already following her and many became immediate clients.
BECOMING THE FACE OF HER BRAND
Torrance never thought she herself would be a big part of Teak & Twine’s image. She clung tightly to the belief that only service-based businesses needed to be the face of their brand. And to do so meant you had to have some outrageously appealing personality.
When told to share more, Torrance would defensively argue, “Do you know who the founder of J.Crew is? Do you see the founder of Lululemon sharing what they eat?”
And then Instagram stories happened.
She noticed her stories were getting more engagement when she faced the camera and showed behind the scenes. The DMs she got were rarely focused on the box themselves. They were asking about where her studio was, how she stocked product, and who was on her team.
So she started engaging more. It was a slow evolution and required her to grow in her confidence as a business owner.
She listened to her audience when they asked to see how her storage was organized and how she unloaded a palette of shipping boxes. While she considers that the minutiae of her day, she realizes the value of seeing the whole business and not just the end product.
PERSONALIZING YOUR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TEAK & TWINE?
We finally got to talking about gifting as entrepreneurs. Many business owners I know are confused about whether they should send client gifts, what to send, and when to send them. This gets more opaque as the price tag on your services goes up.
Torrance firmly believes you should send a gift immediately after someone books with you.
Here’s why: the entire duration of your relationship--from time of booking on--people are going to ask who you’re working with.
That conversation can one of two ways. The first is, “Oh, I hired Kim.” The other: “I hired Kim and you wouldn’t believe what she sent me and what this experience has been like so far.”
She also urges us to remember that gifting is not about our brand. One of the biggest tips she has about blowing a client away is branding your gift to them, not to your business. That means their monogram goes on the notebook, not yours. This is going to make it a gift rather than a marketing piece.
Torrance is walking the talk too. Customers can send them their own custom stationary and business cards and they will include it in a gift, free of charge, without the Teak & Twine branding. That way gifting can be efficient while still feeling personalized.
They also still hand write every single card that goes out with a gift. Her advice for what to write in a card to make it feel special? Pull in personal touches about the project. Talk about what you’re most excited about working with them. Or reflect on a specific conversation you had before they booked. This goes beyond a template response and lets them know you’re really thinking about them.
What about high-end customers? Those that are spending five to six figures with you. Torrance’s advice doesn’t change much.
“When you respond to an email with empathy, people are shocked. And that’s sad. But it’s also an amazing opportunity for us as brand owners to create incredible client experiences. That doesn’t always mean sending a Louis Vuitton purse. Honestly these days it’s responding quickly with empathy.”
Business owners have been sending Torrance messages asking for advice about starting a business similar to hers. After the hundredth email, Torrance finally realized how she could be helping.
In 2020, Torrance will be launching online education for business owners. She’s creating courses on topics like:
How to Survive the Holiday Season and
Signing and Serving Corporate Clients.
Next year Teak & Twine will also be crowdsourcing more. They have design challenges coming up where you can design your own box and the most voted on will be put up for sale. Anyone can enter, so start thinking creatively!
As if that wasn’t enough, Torrance is launching a personal site where you can work 1:1 with her on branding and product-based business consulting.
If you’re in the market for a thoughtful client gift, check out all Torrance and her team have to offer. Head over on Black Friday for their biggest sale of the year!