I recently came across Present Day – a gift-box company that delivers curated boxes. It’s a really neat alternative to flowers or gift baskets and I love that they can be crafted to suit whoever you’re planning on gifting. When I came across the website and began clicking around, I was so intrigued by how beautifully thought out they were and I was interested to know more about who was behind this awesome idea. After reading a little bit more about Sophia, the lovely lady behind Present Day, I just had to interview her for Wisdomm…and I’m so glad I did. Sophia has created a business out of a very interesting idea and puts so much thought and effort into everything she does.
So without further ado, let me introduce to you Sophia Pierro!
Megan: When did you start Present Day?
Sophia: I officially sold my first gift box in November of 2015. I can’t believe it’s been over a year!
M: Why did you decide to start it?
S: Present Day has been an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind since 2009. I was working as an assistant for television producers, here in Toronto, and they were always asking me to find unique, interesting, beautiful gifts for all sorts of people on their lists and I was having the hardest time finding something that wasn’t cheap, cheesy or ugly in the city. I personally prefer to shop as ethically as I can, and I try to buy locally made items when possible, but I also have a weakness for design and well-branded, cool items. When I was struggling to create these unique gifts for my employers I thought wouldn’t it be great to create a company that offers this service? Where you could get a ready-made gift for any occasion and know that it will be beautiful, high-quality and still look stylish?
So that’s when I thought of the idea, but I figured it would be a retirement goal, as I was deep into my film career at the time. Once I hit my 10 year anniversary in the film industry, I decided that I needed a change so I started to focus on creating Present Day. Luckily this coincided with a time when SO MANY amazing makers and craftspeople were popping up in Toronto with beautiful, covetable items, so I knew it was the right time to start (before someone else did!!) Since my initial idea back in 2009, a lot of gift box companies have started up in the US and a few out west in Canada, so I was clearly ahead of the trend! I’m glad I started Present Day before it was too late.
M: How do your boxes differ from other boxes on the market?
S: My goal was to offer gifts for every occasion that reflected good design, good branding and focused on local, ethically-made products. Most of our items are from Toronto and surrounding cities. We do have a few items from BC, Ottawa, Montreal and a couple of American items. I like to think that we offer more unique items as many of our gifts have been custom-made specifically for us. I work with a lot of vendors to create items that are unique to Present Day. We were also the first to carry several products that are now in other gift box companies, but we were the first to offer them! So – we try to constantly stay unique and offer the newest, highest quality products we can find and I hope that that helps us stand out. If you don’t think that our curated boxes are the right fit for your recipient, you can always custom-make your own, which most companies don’t offer.
We also have a black box. Our boxes are custom-made for us from recycled pulp by a small family-run packaging company in Canada. While everyone else offers the wooden box or the classic white & kraft paper boxes, we are the only company that offers a matte black, high quality box with a lid. It’s chic, and reminds me of the city. Very clean, angular and cool. And it works for both men and women!
We also intentionally chose not to put our logo directly on the boxes so that they can be kept and reused for storage, or for re-gifting. This isn’t the best business idea (since we should obviously be covering everything with our logo), but it works with our green ideals. I hope that people will find a use for their box beyond just receiving the gift!
M: I like the name of your company: Present Day . It kind of reminds me of being in the ‘present’. By chance is your name a play on words for being in the ‘present day’? How did you come up with the name?
S: I love puns and I knew I needed to have a pun in my business name somehow. I also wanted to reflect the fact that our products are modern, unique to our city and part of the intentional, maker movement that is going on right now, so I called it Present Day. Unfortunately it is very hard for people to find you on the internet with the name “Present Day” since Google searches mostly show you the news and the weather, so I had to add “Gifts” to the end of the web address. And then, it’s just easier to say “Present Day Gifts” so people remember the name when looking you up. As an online shop, it was important that people could find us online! As we become more established, I may start to go back to the original name of Present Day.
M: Are you still a set decorator as well?
S: I was working as a Set Decorator for a few years before starting Present Day. For the majority of my first year in business I was doing both. The film industry (when it’s busy) is great because you can choose to work a day here, a day there…. So that’s what I was doing. I’d sign on to a short-term job, or work once a week, and try to manage both. But, it was really hard. Film days are non-stop and usually last about 12-14 hours. So it was tough to fulfill orders after working such a long day. But I made it work! And now I’m lucky enough to do Present Day full-time. I will always keep film work in my back pocket and may still pop in for a few days here and there to see old friends, but I’m trying to transition to a simpler, easier life.
M: I love that! So, what are your favourite boxes to make?
S: I dreamt up the idea of the Tropical Staycation box a few years ago and was waiting to put something in that theme together. This year I found all these amazing items that just work so perfectly together and they are all locally made! I was so excited about that box. It’s one of my top-sellers.
I also really like the simplicity of our culinary box. We had several requests in our first few months to make a lower-cost gift box that worked for both genders, so I made the culinary box. I love how all the colours work together and I genuinely love and use all the food in that box, so it’s one I’m very happy with. Necessity is definitely the mother of invention!
M: And where do you source all of your products?
S: I try to keep it as local as possible! I am friends with a lot of my vendors so we try to think of unique items to make for Present Day. A lot of the items I thought up because I saw a need for them and had them made especially for us.
If you have any product or theme suggestions, I’d love to hear them! But keep in mind that we really care about the packaging and branding of an item so that it is cohesive to our modern look. I think that small businesses that invest in proper branding and good design are the ones that will last the longest because they have a clear sense of trends and know to invest in the presentation of their wares. It’s more serious that way, and I think people trust more when a hand-crafted item is presented in a well-designed manner.
So, I’m a bit picky about the look of items. I won’t just accept any product. But, more and more makers are popping up and upping their game so it’s been very exciting to see what’s on the horizon.
M: In today’s busy world, how do you balance life and work?
S: To be honest, not well! I’m still adjusting to working for myself. Mornings are the hardest. I used to have to get up at 5:30 a.m. for my film jobs and I HATED it. So now that I’m my own boss, I’m getting up much later. But it usually means I tend to work later because I’m taking my time getting to work and starting what I need to do. I’m still trying to figure it all out and stay focused to make the most of my working hours.
When I first started the business, I was just go, go, go, and trying to do everything all the time; answering emails immediately, constantly wrapped up in the business. Now, I’m trying to take it slower and am realizing that it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get everything done exactly when I want it done. I’ve let go a bit because I knew I would run myself ragged if I didn’t slow down. It’s all a learning curve. And, to be honest, you’ll probably still get an immediate response back from me if you email! I like to deal with customer issues as quickly as possible so I don’t drop the ball. Someday I’ll be able to hire someone to do that, but for now, it’s still me.
M: That’s a lot to do as one person but good to realize that you don’t need to finish everything at once. What would you say is your favourite way to de-stress?
S: I’m like most people, and I tend to collapse on the couch after a long day and veg out with a new tv show or movie. Being from the film industry, my husband and I really enjoy seeing interesting films and delving into that world. Otherwise, I love an evening walk in our neighbourhood. When it’s warm enough to just wear a light coat, and all the houses have that warm glow, I love to stroll with my husband through our little Roncesvalles and High Park neighbourhood streets, just chat and dream about owning one of the big mansions we pass by. I also try to do yoga when I can.
M: I’m with you – evening strolls are so relaxing! Do you have a role model or someone you look to for motivation? Who is it and why?
S: I never really imagined I’d ever start my own business, but I found that I was surrounding myself with all these amazing female entrepreneurs in the city who run all the cool little shops, and make all the amazing items in my boxes. I realized that a business could be a real possibility because of witnessing their successes. In my circles, the women are just really finding amazing ways of expressing and employing themselves. It’s so inspiring to see all these women taking risks and being rewarded for them. And it’s been incredible to be welcomed into that world and allowed to be a player in the culture that’s making this city great.
M: How do you stay organized while running your own business? Do you have any tips to share?
S: Not really! I can be very scattered, but I’m used to juggling a million things on a short time-frame (we were expected to build and furnish entire sets in a matter of days so multi-tasking and considering all the angles has been a part of my thought-process for a very long time and it comes second-nature to me).
I also make a lot of lists. Lists keep me alive.
M: Do you have a favourite inspirational/motivational book?
S: Not really. I listen to a lot of non-fiction audio-books while delivering and packing boxes. Lately I prefer non-fiction. The book ‘Sapiens’ has been a fascinating read lately. It’s inspirational in that it shows us how crazy the history of being a human has been, but it isn’t a business book by any means.
I also listen to any small business podcasts I can get my hands on. Most of them aren’t very good, but I like hearing about other peoples’ experiences nonetheless. I’m a huge podcast fan.
M: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
S: Support local! Every time you buy from a small business in your neighbourhood you help everyone around them. In Toronto, most small businesses really try to support each other, so when you invest in one of us, you are investing in many of us, and that helps create a strong local culture! A small business owner tends to re-invest the money they get from selling their wares into their local restaurants and coffee shops, and buy from their small hardware shops, vegetable stalls, florists etc, so it makes for an amazing community. Sometimes it may seem like it costs more, but just know that the product you are getting was made by hand in your own community and the person making it has really perfected their skills and you are getting the BEST. And that’s important. I think over the last few decades we’ve really lost touch with the fact that everything we buy was made by someone somewhere. I’m hoping that, with small endeavours like Present Day and other local shops and makers, we can help turn that idea around and re-inspire people to perhaps buy a little less, and instead buy better and smarter! At least that’s the hope!
M – A really cool thing about Present Day is that they also let you create your own box. Here is my personally crafted ‘Omm Box’ – crafted by myself, with the help of Sophia. It’s crafted with items to help you destress, be mindful and treat yourself!
I LOVE that all of the products are from Toronto. How cool, eh?