Duluth gift box business expands
DULUTH — Bailey Aro Hutchence’s workspace is a pole barn on the outside, and confetti-covered chocolate bars, sparklers and trivia tins on the inside.
White Spruce Market is Aro Hutchence’s curated gift box business, which will have new website Feb. 20 and a planned on-location expansion this year.
Unlike a subscription box with a monthly sprinkling of mailed goodies, her clients can carefully select from a long list of products to build their own token of appreciation for loved ones and associates, or, enlist the help of Aro Hutchence and her team to do it from the ground up.
And, with the gift items set, White Spruce Market takes care of everything, right down to the handwritten note.
“As the owner of multiple businesses, I know how easy it is to get in the weeds with little tedious projects," Aro Hutchence said. "What you think can be simple and straightforward, ‘I’m going to send gifts to 15 of my clients,’ will in fact take you infinite hours.
“It’s a way to bring back a tangible experience for people in a world that’s very digital,” she said.
With the increase of clientele in health care, casinos and real estate, White Spruce Market’s list of curated goods has grown from Duluth area-made Almanac Coffee , Woodfire Candle Co. and Schaefer Design Co . to a repertoire of lip balms, cardamom cookies and much more from around the nation.
With one gift box, you’re supporting eight small business brands, she said, that’s a huge impact to the local economy.
Jennifer Johnson, of Superior’s Lenora Organics, has been working with White Spruce for three years. Johnson’s aromatherapy roll-ons, facial masks and bath salts are among the curated goods.
Johnson has seen an increase in customers inquiring about products they received. “It really does help our name branch out to a wider audience,” she said.
Johnson had received a White Spruce Market gift box in the past. “They really know how to make a person feel special,” she said.
“Creating and curating gift boxes isn't under the ‘What We Do’ tab on our website,” said Natalia Benson, personal assistant to Tanya Nichols, founder of Hermantown-based Align Financial.
Working with Aro Hutchence gives Align Financial the flexibility and capacity to focus on their primary areas of service, fiduciary financial planning.
Sharing gratitude through thoughtful, local gifts is key in demonstrating attention to the little things, such as a successful surgery or a wedding anniversary, Benson said. White Spruce allows their business to simplify and personalize this process, a core value of their business.
White Spruce Market is Aro Hutchence's pivot from her photography business , which she’d evolved since college. (She and her husband also own the cabin kit company, Cedar Bound .)
In her gifting to new clients, she saw a niche waiting to be filled.
It was an adjustment from service-based to product-based — learning how much inventory to buy, addressing a different web platform and researching shipping costs.
“It took almost a week to get my first online shop sale, which I’m not afraid to tell people,” she said.
Aro Hutchence now has a team of two. They all wear several hats, but Sarah Roesler, of Duluth, focuses on packing, in-house graphic design and managing the business TikTok account .
Emily Fletcher manages sales, works with clients and creates well-rounded boxes, which often begins with a questionnaire asking about a per-gift budget, delivery window and more stylistic inquiries about desired brand colors and textures.
Aro Hutchence, who focuses on development, said clients often want their recipients to feel “well taken care of.”
They work with folks across the U.S. and have sent their gift boxes to Singapore, Australia and Canada. It’s been fun to see where their products end up, said Aro Hutchence.
Rising costs of products and materials, supply chain issues and shipping lag times can be problematic. Also, a lot goes into curating products, packing materials and presentation, which can be challenging to quantify.
“It looks very pretty on the surface what we’re doing, but it’s because we’re doing it every day,” she said.
While corporate gifting has become outdated, curated gifting and small business support has gained more support in recent years.
Up next for White Spruce Market is they’re shifting to add more experiential boxes: pizza nights, game nights, self-care or foodie boxes.
They’re also focusing on set price points to reach a larger audience of gifters who may not have the bandwidth or who don’t mind outsourcing the jobs for which they know they need help, said Fletcher.
“Not everyone enjoys this, but they still want to show gratitude. This is the 'easy button' for them,” she said.