NEW YORK – The boutique owners around the country who are Kristen Amato’s customers will be getting fluffy, monogrammed terry bathrobes for the holidays – there will be no mugs with her company’s name on them.“I hate that – I will never do that,” Amato said of the gift that so many small businesses give at the holidays. In the past, she’s given gift certificates for cooking classes and personalized stationery to customers.“Just putting that extra effort in shows the client or customer that you took the time out to appreciate them, not just sending something very simple,” said Amato, owner of K. Amato, a jewelry-manufacturing company based in Chicago.Amato’s approach to gift-giving is one that small-business owners take when they want a gift to be a meaningful part of a business relationship – not just some cookie-cutter knickknack that smacks of an owner just going through the motions. And one longtime client called to ask if the tower of cookies was going to arrive, since her employees were looking forward to getting it.And that’s the beauty of food gifts, McLaughlin said. It’s not just the owner or CEO of a company that will enjoy the gift; many employees will get to share in the gift, and that contributes to an even better relationship with a client or vendor.And the ubiquitous mug? “So many of these tchotchkes go to their kids, they go into the toy box, or they drop them off at Goodwill,” McLaughlin said.Still, many business owners like the idea of mugs because they are marketing tools, serving as reminders of a company. Or, they like T-shirts that become mobile ads when they’re worn (although so many are automatically turned out in size XL that they often end up as pajamas for a spouse or child).Ron Park, managing partner of Park Fowler & Co., a Corpus Christi, Texas-based accounting firm, recognizes the value of putting his company’s name on a gift. But he also is looking for something unique. So this year, he’ll be sending his 50 biggest clients flash drives, which are small computer-data-storage devices.Park got the idea because clients were sending in their tax information to his office not on paper, but on flash drives. Most said, “don’t lose it now, I have to have this back,” Park recalled.So this gift will be useful, memorable, help build his firm’s client relationships and help accomplish a little marketing as well.At Uproar, a Seattle-based public relations and marketing firm, the philosophy is that gifts should complement, but never supplant, the most important part of customer and client relations.“The best thing we can do for our clients is to be responsive, do great work, go the extra mile,” said Anita Lavine, a media-relations specialist at Uproar. Gifts are “for times when we want to just show our appreciation.”Like Amato, at Uproar “we try to select things that hit a personal note,” Lavine said.So gifts in the past have included flowering bonsai trees and flowering teapots. Or, if Uproar executives are aware that a particular client has been having a hard time, the gift could be a spa certificate.Many company owners hope that a gift will result in more business in the future – probably all the more reason to make a gift unique.But Lavine said her company isn’t counting on revenue growth from gifts. “I don’t think that we give gifts with that sort of intention; the purpose is to show appreciation,” she said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREChargers go winless in AFC West with season-ending loss in Kansas CityTo put in the extra effort Amato speaks of does mean thinking and shopping early – as in, right now.“I don’t want to worry about the company I’m ordering from running out of anything,” Amato said.Kevin McLaughlin has relied on feedback from gift recipients to come up with what he believes to be the most appreciated gift: food.Not only do clients and vendors express their thanks, when staffers from his company visit the other firms, “we see our food in the break room and people going after it,” he said.McLaughlin, a principal of Princeton, N.J.-based Resound Marketing, recalled that one year, his firm was late getting the gifts out.