We’re were so delighted to be featured in this weekend’s Australian Financial Review’s Life & Leisure for our passion and expertise in giting this holiday season.

Think of them as personal shoppers – but, instead of helping you choose a workable wardrobe, they select presents for your friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Within a few weeks of launching their bespoke hamper business in 2020, Holly Dalton and Sophie Hughes received a phone call from a prospective customer with exacting requirements.

As the Sydney-based duo tell it, he said: “I want a bottle of Cristal champagne, hand engraved and presented with antique Waterford crystal flutes. I want caviar in there, and I want chocolates, and I want orchids hanging off it. And I want it to arrive in Melbourne at 9am tomorrow.”

Did Dalton & Hughes deliver?

“Of course we did,” says Dalton.

The pair, both former fashion-industry figures, are part of a new cohort of so-called ‘gift concierges’ who are vying for your attention this holiday season.

Think of them as personal shoppers – but, instead of helping you choose your next outfit or car, they select gifts for your friends, colleagues and loved ones.

It’s insane how many people will call you and say: ‘I need a gift to arrive in Perth tomorrow morning’… and it’s five o’clock on a Friday.

“When we launched, it was just champagne and wine hampers with antique glasses,” says Dalton. “But, almost immediately, we started getting requests for add-ons.”

Now, the pair’s hampers contain “pretty much anything the client requests”. Alcohol and glassware are still standard, as is a posy of native flowers atop the hamper. But even those elements can be modified.

Dalton says the antique flutes and wine glasses have proven particularly popular – so much so that she and Hughes now regularly trek around NSW to source them.

“We’ll visit antique dealers in the Southern Highlands or track down some gorgeous old lady who’s a total hoarder and has kept all the glasses she received in the 1930s and ’40s when she got married.”

She adds: “It’s a way of making sure every hamper is one of a kind.”

The typical Dalton & Hughes client doesn’t have time to shop for antiques, says Dalton, and many of them leave organising gifts to the eleventh hour.

“It’s really insane how many people will call you and say: ‘Hi girls. I need a gift to arrive in Perth tomorrow morning’… and it’s five o’clock on a Friday.”

People really want to get gift-giving right.

— Mandi Ford, Essential Solutions

Dalton & Hughes can generally fulfil such requests, although clients should expect to pay considerably more than the $150 it charges for a basic hamper.

Dalton says cost is rarely a deterrent. “If we can turn something around quickly, money doesn’t matter because you’re not missing your sister-in-law’s birthday or your parents’ anniversary or whatever. You’ve saved face.”

Another festive-season saviour, Mandi Ford, says her clients rarely even ask about cost upfront.

“They don’t have time to, don’t want to, don’t know how to,” she says.

Ford is the director of Essential Solutions, which she describes as “a business and lifestyle concierge” service.

The company, founded in 2010, provides one-off or ongoing support to high-powered individuals who may need help organising a birthday dinner, booking a family holiday or taking pooch to the vet.

Ford says clients increasingly ask for assistance with choosing gifts, too – something she attributes in part to the decline of bricks-and-mortar retail.


Mandi Ford of Essential Solutions has learnt to anticipate what her long-term clients might want. Louie Douvis

Dalton agrees. “People are crying out for customer service and personalised advice, which is harder and harder to get now that shopping is all online.”

Sometimes, Ford’s clients will know what they want to give but need a human to help them source it.

“During lockdown, a client in Perth wanted a specific Chloe handbag for his wife at short notice, but he couldn’t find it locally or travel interstate to purchase it,” she says.

“We sourced it on the east coast and got it over there in time. It’s a pretty typical example of how we help clients with gifting.

Not all clients provide such specific instructions. Ford says anticipating what her long-term clients might want to give is an important value-add.

“One businesswoman likes giving her husband Glenfiddich whisky, so we make it our job to know when a new release is coming out.”

This summer, Ford and Dalton & Hughes are jostling for market share with newcomer LÂPACH, which allows customers to fill a gift box with items from a curated list that includes a gold-plated wine opener, essential oils for infants and Japanese whisky.

Another player is The Gift Concierge, which provides a shortlist of gifts based on your preferences and offers multi-gift plans for customers who want to give regularly over the course of a year.

The rise of these services may create the impression that consumers are getting lazier. But Ford believes the opposite is true.

“People really want to get gift-giving right,” she says. “I had a client last week who wanted to send a farewell gift to somebody who was leaving a board and didn’t want it to be a throwaway.”

Ford and her client chatted about the recipient’s personality and what he might appreciate in the midst of Sydney’s recent lockdown.

“Dining at home with family or friends, restrictions permitting, was where we ended up,” she says. “So, I curated a set of Dinosaur Designs dinnerware and had it delivered the next day.”

Dalton points out another benefit of using a gift concierge this season: your present will be delivered securely and with care by a courier, rather than being hastily dropped off by an overworked postie.

It creates a moment of personal interaction, even if the gift-giver is absent.

“That’s why Sophie and I hand-deliver the hampers, or Sophie’s gorgeous brother – ridiculously attractive – gets all dressed up and delivers them,” she says. “I don’t know if the women are more excited about him or the champagne.”

The perfect gift in five steps

If you’re determined to buy the presents yourself but need a shortcut, Mandi Ford recommends asking yourself these five questions:

  1. “What message do you want to convey?” Are you expressing unconditional love, toasting a job well done or aiming to seduce?
  2. “What is your budget?” Setting it in advance can help you narrow your options.
  3. “How do you want the recipient to feel when they receive the gift?” Would you rather they laugh or cry?
  4. “What have you given them in the past?” And how were those gifts received?
  5. “What sort of life does the recipient lead?” Think beyond their job and consider how busy they are, whether they face stressful situations and what sorts of things they lack.

For all your gifting solutions, contact our Gift Concierge team or visit our website.