For a birthday, wedding or another special occasion gift items can be found on local store shelves or online. But Personalize It Gift Shop has made a business of crafting customised items and bringing customers' ideas to life.
The Diego Martin-based business was co-founded in 2017 by Mandingo Pascal, its CEO, and his wife Rachael (sales and marketing and quality control). Rachael told Newsday Mandingo's passion for creativity can be traced back to his pre-professional days of dabbling as an artist and selling his original drawings and paintings.
"Always one for personal development and growth, he continued to fine-tune his skills through self-taught methods, which led him to experience the fields of photography, graphic design, and woodworking, to name a few.
"After several years in the professional arena working as the senior graphic artist for an established advertising agency, he decided to spread his wings and create something of his own that would allow him to meet the hearts and needs of others."
Mandingo said he had been doing promotional advertising and products geared towards large companies before branching off and doing it on his own.
"It is all about adding creativity to whatever I am doing and I would bring my creative experience into my new endeavour."
He discussed with Rachael a way to meet the needs of everyday customers and this led to the structure of the company.
"Personalise It Gift Shop was born from an idea to meet the masses, the everyday client who would walk in and want a particular item. They may not want a whole lot of it but a one-off item."
Rachael explained as a husband-and-wife team they complemented each other's strengthens.
"As Mandingo fulfilled his passion in the designing and creation of the items...(I), having spent over 13 years in the hospitality and tourism industry with a background in sales, marketing, and customer service, handled the day-to-day business administrative duties."
She said everything would be centred around bringing customer's ideas to life, and would be designed and created just for them.
Items big and small
Mandingo said their inventory ranged from something as small as a key chain to something as large as custom-made beds, entertainment centres, or uniquely designed barn doors.
"We are giving people the personalised touch for whatever they want. Some customers say we have a niche market. Our niche market is anybody who craves customisation and a level of personalisation. That is our market."
Initially, their products were geared towards more printed works such as T-shirts and mugs, but as their business grew so did the requests. The Pascals found the direction of their business suddenly changed into one that required a combination of Mandingo's graphic arts skills and woodworking talents (he learned the art of carpentry from his father in his childhood days). He re-oriented himself and began learning new techniques and skills that would help him to meet the client's expectations.
"I bought equipment and I was able to launch forward. I do as much as I possibly can and I learn daily to add to the inventory of items."
They do a lot of wedding-related items, gift-giving, and anniversaries. Some clients would ask them to build furnishings that they saw online or even some home decor.
Their more popular items are their wooden cards, ring boxes, and items geared towards weddings, namely signing boars, wooden invitations, key chains, and personalised keepsake chests. Their most frequently purchased items are event items for a birthday or celebration like wine boxes. Their materials are mainly wood (mahogany, cedar, teak, apple mat) and acrylic.
Rachael said no task was ever too difficult and every new challenge was welcomed with eagerness and excitement. Some people send them ideas, possibly from something they saw while searching online and caught their eye or an idea "they have in their head."
"There is nowhere to walk in and just take it off a shelf," Mandingo said.
Personalize It would send them a digital representation of what the item would look like upon completion along with the branding and customisation for approval. Once the customer approves it the next step is making the physical product.
Rachael said they welcome a challenge and encourage customers "to let their imaginations be limitless."
Mandingo said most items take five to 10 working days but if possible they can facilitate a shorter period. He explained this period helps to ensure customers receive the item promptly and to cater for the workload. He does most of the physical work currently and the family business includes his wife and younger sister Abiola who studied graphic arts. Rachael said the addition of Abiola has taken the business to another level.
Their customers are mostly women aged 18-65 and many from Chaguanas and South. Mandingo said he was surprised that the bulk of their customers came from outside of Diego Martin.
"We thought it would have more clients from the area."
He said they are, however, looking forward to increasing their client base in the west.
Rachael said the main avenue to reach their customers is social media, namely Facebook and Instagram.
"(We also get clients) by word of mouth. A lot of clients were recommended by previous clients."
Mandingo said when people receive their items there is a sense of excitement seeing their ideas brought to life.
"It brings a level of satisfaction. Their expression is just so much. To actually hold (the item) and have it physically? They are really excited about it."
He said customers have often complimented them on their professionalism and he also feels a level of personal satisfaction.
"Apart from the hard work that goes into making each product and the long hours it makes it all feel worthwhile (when they receive the item). We do what we do to bring a level of happiness. Basically what we sell is happiness."
Rachael said: "No two days are ever the same as every client's request is different, and bringing his client's ideas into reality is what gives him the most joy."
She stressed while the hours of work are long, "what makes it all worthwhile is the sheer joy and excitement we receive from our clients, with warm compliments when they see their ideas brought to life. At the end of it all we strive to provide a unique customer experience that brings happiness to those we encounter."
The Pascals planned to open a brick and mortar shop a year ago but had to postpone due to the covid19 pandemic. They hope to open it "in the not-so-distant future".
For now, they are expanding their product base and doing a lot of in-house work.
"When we are available to open we would be able to bring a lot more ideas and creativity," Mandingo said.
They took the opportunity to give thanks to God for the business.
"In this time when many companies seem to be going under, we continued to see growth," Mandingo added.
Rachael said four years later and their operations have grown tremendously.
"We've had some amazing opportunities to work with many corporate organisations for their various functions and appreciation events, as well as outstanding wedding and event co-ordinators to create those unforgettable detailed pieces.
"Regardless of our growth, we continue to hold true to our initial path in serving our individual customers and meeting their one-off requests and desires. Everyone deserves something personalised!"
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