Originally from Massachusetts, Tammy Davis, owner of Sunshine Baskets, moved to Florida when she was 21 years old. She and a friend left the northeast on a four degree January day for the warmth and sunshine of Florida’s southwest coast. Initially in Largo, Davis settled in Sarasota to be closer to family. After ten years of working various jobs, she was inspired by an entrepreneur to start a business of her own.
“My last full-time job was working as an Inventory Manager for a roofing company,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy there. When Hurricane Charlie hit, things were a mess. That’s when I decided to quit and start my own business.”
Davis continued, “I read a book about a woman in Florida with a gift basket business. She built it up and had big accounts with Manatee Hospital and Tropicana. She delivered baskets when new babies were born and had a very successful business. I basically followed her model.”
By day, Davis worked on her new business. By night, she worked as a waitress to make ends meet. She initially went door to door to solicit new business, but quickly learned that this approach was not very effective. Instead, she joined chambers, participated in various networking groups, made meaningful connections and learned as much as she could from fellow business owners. As her business grew, so did her need for additional space to operate.
“I remember one time, I had to make 250 baskets out of my house,” she said. “We made an assembly line and my kids helped me pack everything. Afterwards, an entire hallway was stacked up with baskets.”
After eight years of building her business and waitressing at night, Davis decided it was time to focus exclusively on her business. With much trepidation, but also with confidence she was making the right decision, she took ‘the plunge’.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “However, now I could focus 100% on my business instead of being in the bathroom trying to talk to a customer.”
The more involved in the chambers and networking groups she got, the more her business grew. She also faced additional challenges that, while painful to deal with, ultimately produced beneficial outcomes. At one point, Davis was informed by The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) that she could no longer include alcoholic beverages in her adult-beverage themed baskets. To continue doing so, she would have to complete a mountain of paperwork and find a physical location, other than her house, to work out of.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “I was ready to throw in the towel, but my husband encouraged me to keep going. After a few months, I found a retail spot that shared a unit with someone else and was also affordable. After a year, they moved out and I took over the whole thing. Since then, I’ve made one more move to the current storefront I’m in now.”
The biggest takeaway from Davis’ journey is the fact that she was never afraid to try something new. If one strategy didn’t work, she moved on to something else. She was also open and willing to take advice from others.
For Davis, owning a gift basket business has proven to be an enjoyable and rewarding endeavor in more ways than one. “I definitely enjoy being my own boss,” she said. “I have a lot of flexibility with my schedule and the direction of my business. It’s also really fun to make baskets for people. Besides our standard baskets, we also do plenty of custom baskets. It’s fun and when you deliver a basket and see the expression on someone’s face, it’s a great feeling.”
Looking ahead, Davis is focused on continuing to grow her business and anticipates the need, eventually, for additional space. She’s also in talks with another business owner to use her services to increase her marketing presence and would like to continue adding new products, such as the gift boxes she recently rolled out.
What advice does Davis have for aspiring entrepreneurs nervous about starting or buying a business? “You’ll never know unless you take that step,” she said “Do what I did for a few years – work on your business during the day, but also work a side-job at night to still bring in income. Grow smart and gradually. Also, don’t give up when you hit obstacles. There were plenty of times in the first few years when I didn’t think I could do it. However, certain obstacles, such as having to acquire an alcohol license, forced me to get out of my house – which ended up being one of the best decisions for my business. Some things seem to slow you down, but in the long run, they’re actually really beneficial for your business.”