Make It Business Magazine | Inspiring Small Business & Entreprenuers To Think Big

The Late Bloomer – Ilse Phillips of Ambrosia Gift Baskets

Taking a leap to be an entrepreneur can be intimidating – especially if you’ve been an employee most of your life.

That’s the case with Ilse Phillips, who worked for 27 years at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam doing psychiatric rehabilitation.

With the hospital’s gradual closure (it is scheduled to be closed completely by April 2012), and Phillips’s buy-out this past April, the 45-year-old had some difficult decisions to make.

Most of her colleagues were either retiring or finding work in a health-related field. But Phillips, a Maple Ridge resident who is married and has two children aged 22 and 19, wanted something different.

“After 27 years of work, I wanted a complete different change. That’s a long time to be doing one type of work.”

Phillips chose to invest her time fully into developing the business she had bought some years earlier.

That business? It’s Ambrosia Gift Baskets & Packages (, a Maple Ridge home-based company that supplies gift baskets, priced on average at $60-$70, to companies and individuals.

The gift baskets vary according to the occasion (Christmas, babies, memorials, birthdays, thank-yous, etc.) and include sweet, savoury and spicy gourmet foods, along with a variety of special gift items.

Phillips bought the business in 2008 – a big step for her. “I’d never worked in retail or had any business experience.”

She borrowed $7,000 and bought a local company, Bird of Paradise. To her surprise, she recouped her investment that first Christmas season.

“I was elated! I had been worried because I’d never done anything like this. And I was thrilled that I wasn’t carrying the burden of having a loan.”

Borrowing and investing money was a new experience. “Working at something for so long [at Riverview], you don’t have to do any risk-taking.”

Yet the idea of becoming an entrepreneur has been with Phillips for years. She and her husband had toyed with different business ideas. “But I never knew exactly how to start,” she admits.

“Starting from scratch seemed over my head, so buying a business was the perfect thing. When I bought the business, the former owner trained me. I bought her client list, and also the inventory and all the information about sourcing out.”

Phillips appreciated the chance to jump into an already up-and-running business. “It cuts out a lot of the time it usually takes to figure out how to get a business going.”
However, there have been unexpected hurdles – like the recession of 2008-2009, when customers were spending less on gift baskets. “I really felt it. I had bought a lot of inventory and didn’t get as many baskets sold as I’d expected to.”

Now Phillips is learning more about business. She attends a women’s networking circle in Maple Ridge. She reads business magazines and particularly appreciates the newsletter put out by the Women’s Enterprise Centre in Vancouver.

And, she’s planning on taking a business course, perhaps the highly regarded Employment Insurance’s Self-Employment Program.

What is Phillips’s current strategy for expanding her business? “Right now, it’s to go directly to the businesses and let them know who I am.” She is planning on making visits with her brochures, and doing cold calls.

Getting out there and selling herself has been the most difficult part of running the business. By nature Phillips is more of a creative, artistic type with a special eye for creating beauty. She prefers to spend her care and attention on assembling the gift baskets and tailoring them to suit clients’ wishes.

Though occasionally she loses confidence, Phillips knows this is a normal part of growing a business. Underlying Ambrosia Gift Baskets & Packaging is firm resolve: “This is what I want to do!”

As for tips to others who are considering striking out as entrepreneurs but are hesitant, she has encouraging words: “Even though it’s a big learning curve, you’ve just got to get past those anxieties. Just go for it.”

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