Interview by Kevin Ohashi of Ohashi Media
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Ron Orleans is the Founder and CEO of GiftsOnTime. Ron is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, Massachusetts Society of CPAs and has been a guest speaker at various events, including some at Harvard, MIT and The Department of Labor. Ron has an extensive track record within the accounting industry where he worked at one of The Big 8, Touche Ross. From there, Ron opened his entrepreneurial wings and started his own practice which he grew to over 100 staff. Ron also ventured into the real estate development business, focusing on the hotel sector.
GiftsOnTime is Ron’s latest venture. It’s an appreciation management service that allows professionals to schedule gifts to be sent to their top clients. It’s designed so that a busy professional (he originally targeted CPAs) can set it and forget it. GiftsOnTime defines appreciation management as, “The act of acknowledging and illuminating the appreciation a business has for its clients and employees with a goal of strengthening client/employee loyalty, maximizing retention and driving new referrals.”
How does GiftsOnTime differentiate itself from other types of gift providers? What makes a GiftsOnTime gift more special?
What makes GiftsOnTime unique is that we have focused on the process of gift giving – not just on what gifts to give. Our platform provides its users with a systematic method to review a list of clients, contacts or friends, and select gifts for the upcoming year in one sitting. We are also the first company to offer the ability to select gifts to be sent in the future. Most gift providers only allow you to accelerate your shipping options, and only a handful of vendors allow you to send a gift up to 30 days in the future. With GiftsOnTime, users can select gifts to be sent and delivered at any time in the future. This allows our customers the ability to focus on their annual gift giving program just once a year. Set it and forget it.
Do you ever have issues when someone sets a gift to be sent and then forgets about it when the client mentions it? Could you tell us some of the most interesting stories that can be attributed to GiftsOnTime’s service?
No, we don’t actually. Our customers receive an e-mail on the first of every month listing the gifts that are going to be sent for that month. In addition, users can create a separate Outlook calendar by using our Outlook calendar export feature. The GiftsOnTime Outlook calendar will be populated with the birthdays and anniversary dates of clients, contacts, and friends, as well as what gifts – if any – were selected for them to receive.
In the early stages of developing GiftsOnTime, I wanted to test the concept of sending my clients gifts on their birthday (I am still a practicing CPA). I had a client that was referred to me by my best client, but I never really was able to establish a comfortable relationship with this new client, who was often confrontational and unpleasant. I decided that he was going to be one of the first clients to receive a gift, and I sent him a nice wine gift basket for his birthday. Well, when he received my gift, he was very surprised and sent me an immediate “Thank You” note via e-mail. When we met several weeks later, his demeanor was drastically different; he once again thanked me for being so considerate for remembering and sending him a gift on his birthday. Our relationship changed for the better in a way I could never have predicted. I’ve learned that a gift has so much more meaning than sending a birthday card. It says “You’re important to me’” and “I appreciate your business”.
Who are your typical clients and how do you attract them to your service? Is the value immediate or do you need to convince people?
Our program is being used by several different types of customers for different applications:
First, professional service providers use the program for client and referral source appreciation management programs.
Second, human resource professionals and business owners use the program to remember and track employee anniversary dates and employee birthdays.
Third, individuals use the program to manage all their gifting for family and friends for the year.
It has been our experience that our customers see the potential value immediately in terms of having a gift giving system that allows them to review their entire gift giving needs for an entire year in one sitting. However, it is not until the gifts actually start being sent and they start receiving the ”thank you” calls, notes, and e-mails, that they really begin to see the true value.
Gift giving as a form of appreciation management has been shown to be an effective tool in maintaining and improving client relationships. With GiftsOnTime we have created a simple and easy-to-use system to replace what has historically been an unstructured and chaotic process for most businesses.
You’re quite an accomplished entrepreneur (and musician so I hear!) and have started a couple successful companies. What type of philosophy do you have towards building these companies? Is there certain ambition, management style, partners, or something else that you think makes you successful?
I have always believed that the most important asset a business possesses is the people it employs. Money is important, but it is not the end all and be all in creating an environment where people want to work. In fact, I believe that if you treat people with respect and dignity, you will get the best from people. If you think about it, most of us spend the majority of our lives at work, so why not make the place you work a place you want to be? I believe that as a business owner it is my responsibility to set the emotional environmental tone of the workplace.
Integrity is also very important to me. At the end of the day, you need to like the person you see in the mirror every morning. There are two types of honest people, those that are morally honest and those that are legally honest. When I deal with people in business, my reputation for being morally honest allows me to create lifelong relationships.
Regarding my musical background, I had the honor to play with the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra for about 10 years and music has always been a wonderful refuge from the stress of the business world.
Everyone likes to talk about their successes, but what about failures? What was your biggest failure and what did you do afterwards?
My biggest failure was having the wrong partner in my CPA practice. Business partnerships are like marriages, and you need both parties to be equally committed to making it work. In business partnerships, you often look first at your partner’s business capabilities and do not always focus on your partner’s other life issues. As time goes on, if you do not share some basic life objectives, conflicts can arise. When picking a business partner, make sure you are picking a compatible life partner as well.
What is the future of GiftsOnTime? Are the old rules of business going to hold or do you notice any trends with the way clients and service providers are communicating (perhaps the use of social media)?
The future of GiftsOnTime is about change. We are asking businesses to change the way they have gifted in the past. Even though we offer a wonderful solution to an existing unstructured and cumbersome process, it still represents a change in the way people do business. Like all change, it is pushed by the innovative and creative. We are at the crossroads of the Baby Boomers retiring and the Millennials taking over, and we see this changing of the guard as a very good thing. It is exciting to be part of transition from traditional business communication channels and the opportunities that social media now offers business. In the end, what will be used is what works best.
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