By Debbie Adams
Brooke Buehring delivers housewarming Welcome Baskets to people who purchase homes in Roanoke, Vinton, Salem, Botetourt, Franklin County, Smith Mountain Lake, and the New River Valley. She was one of the participants in this year’s Gauntlet Business Program and Competition, winning on the Gold Level.
Buehring and her mother, Joy Whitt, started The Welcome Basket in 2015, after talking with a local remodeler who wanted to advertise to potential clients “right when they are moving in and thinking about remodeling their home.”
“Mom and I put our heads together, did a little research, and the very next day, The Welcome Basket was born!” Buehring said. “I was looking for a way to make a difference and an income, all while spending time with my kids. My mom wanted the same for me and her grandkids.
“We loved the thought of welcoming our new neighbors with baskets filled with gifts and coupons from local businesses,” she said. “So, for us, it wasn’t a matter of should we start this business; it was how do we start this business?
“In the beginning, we asked business owners that we knew if they would be interested in participating. Once we knew there was an interest, we worked on a pricing plan, made a logo and a website and made our business official as an S-Corp.
“Back in the day, there used to be a company called the Welcome Wagon that did something similar,” Buehring says. “They took baskets of goodies from local businesses and met with newcomers in their homes. They would make appointments and stay for 30 minutes to an hour to chat about the area and go through the baskets.
“We loved the idea of welcoming our neighbors with a gift filled with local business goodies, but we decided on a different approach for a number of reasons. We do not make appointments, instead we greet neighbors at the door, or just leave a Welcome Basket on the doorstep as a surprise. Because of this, we are able to welcome a lot more homebuyers to our area. Not to mention the fact that no one wants a stranger in their home during a pandemic! We currently deliver between 90 and 120 Welcome Baskets each month to area home buyers.
“My mom has an eye for design, and I learned by watching her when we first started,” Buehring explains. “She was (and still is) always thinking of ways to make the baskets look really nice. At times it can be a challenge to pull together all of the promotional items, coupons, and brochures from local businesses and make them stand out, but also work together so they look like they are part of one nice housewarming gift.”
As for the businesses who become part of the Welcome Basket, “Over the years I have met with a number of businesses. Some businesses love the idea and jump on board with excitement. Other businesses have decided that it’s just not for them, and that’s ok, too.
“I have approached businesses in different ways– over the phone, by email, networking events, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram,” Buehring said. “I usually give a brief overview of the service that I offer and ask if they would like to see a Welcome Basket in person.
“I try to focus on businesses that a new homebuyer will be looking for when they first move into town. For example, dentists, doctors, hair salons, lawn care, childcare, painters, handymen, etc.”
With an already existing business, Buehring decided to join the 2021 Gauntlet Business Program and Competition for several reasons: “It was a wonderful opportunity to network and fine tune my pitch. It was also a great way to fine tune my business so that I could be a better business owner and teacher to my students who are learning how to start their own Welcome Basket businesses.”
One goal now is “to show other moms how to start and grow their own sponsored basket businesses so they can also enjoy a great work-life-community balance.
“During the Gauntlet, I had to put together a formal business plan. This was something that I had never done. My mom and I started the business and ran with it without a formal business plan. I think it’s important to take a step back and work ‘on’ your business instead of ‘in’ your business from time to time. Going through the process of writing the business plan made me really look at my business model, pricing, potential customers, marketing, and really every aspect of my business.
“The two biggest gains from the Gauntlet are my new network of business buddies and a lot more confidence as a business owner and teacher.
“Now that I have gone through this process, I am excited to help my students go through the process as they start their own businesses,” Buehring said. “They get to lean on my experience but build a business that fits their area and their lifestyle. It’s very exciting! I currently have students opening up Welcome Basket businesses in Phoenix, Omaha, the Tri-cities area of Washington State, southern Utah, and Orange Park, Fla.”
During the 10-week Gauntlet program, entrepreneurs are asked to assess their competition. Buehring says, “I am not aware of another Welcome Basket business in our area; however, I do have other types of competition. When I meet with a local business about participating, they have to decide how they want to spend their money. They could spend it on participating in Welcome Baskets, or a billboard, or social media marketing, or ads on TV and in the paper.”
Currently businesses that participate in Welcome Basket include Virginia Mountain Mortgage, ProSource of Roanoke, Wisler Plumbing and Air, Northwest Ace Hardware, Bank of Botetourt, Old Dominion Veterinary Clinic, American National Bank and Trust, Edward Jones, Irby Dentistry, Walter Chiropractic, Biscuits & Bubbles, Woodmen Life, Mountain View Orthodontics, Wow Organizing Services, Town & Country Veterinary Clinic, RunAbout Sports Roanoke, and Stella Nova Photography & Film.
Businesses who join the Welcome Basket are able to choose which areas they want to be included in. They also choose what type of items they want to represent their business in the Welcome Baskets.
Wisler Plumbing gives a rubber duck named Splashy; ProSource of Roanoke gives a catalog and wine glass; Ostrom gives a $25 gift card; Irby Dentistry gives a chip clip shaped like teeth and some dental floss; Edward Jones/George Lester gives a jar opener and/or calendar; American National Bank & Trust gives a tool that is both a box opener and a bottle opener; Virginia Mountain Mortgage gives hand sanitizer and wet wipes; and Old Dominion Veterinary Clinic, a $1 nose to tail exam and a magnet. Some businesses already have advertising items. If they don’t, Buehring is able to come up with suggestions.
In 2020 and 2021 Gauntlet classes were held virtually due to the pandemic. Buehring says the pandemic “did slow down my business because many of the participating local businesses had to shut their doors and stop participating. Now that the housing market is blowing up and businesses are getting closer to a state of normal, my business is picking up. Luckily, I was able to deliver during the pandemic and never had to stop.”
Buehring is a graduate of Staunton River High School and earned her degree in Economics from Mary Baldwin. She and her husband, Mike, own Ground Floor Solutions Inc., which does flooring installation, sanding, and finishing. She is the bookkeeper. She and her family (which includes daughters, Emily, age 11, and Natalie, 7) live in the Bonsack/Blue Ridge, where she is able to work out of her home. She is in the middle of finishing off an area that includes a space to store her supplies and make the baskets.
“None of this would be possible without my mom,” Buehring says. “Even though she is no longer a part of the day-to-day operations, her wisdom, guidance, and style are still a huge part of the Welcome Basket, and it’s always a treat when she comes along to help deliver.”