Bad Holiday Gifts – The Worst Gifts We Ever Received From Vendors


Vendors Give The Darnedest Things…


Loyal reader Tye Mills sent us a question in response to our Leader’s Gift-Giving Guide article.


What are the top 10 wacky gifts you have received from vendors? – Tye Mills


Great question, Tye…


Hmm, let’s see, the unfortunate result of most truly wacky or bad gifts from vendors is that they are somewhat forgetful. A poll of the AskTheManager editors at first drew blank stares – no one could recall a wacky gift. When we expanded the request to overall bad gifts (no just wacky ones) from vendors, they still seemed a bit perplexed.


We all remember the great, thoughtful gifts. The wine we love, the golf balls or putter we cherished, or the thoughtful basket of our favorites. And while we really couldn’t think of ten wacky vendor gifts, we did come up with a list of ten bad ones we received over the years… in no particular order:



  • Mouse Pad & Pens – 8-10 years ago it seemed every vendor sent you a mouse pad emblazoned with their logo, but I actually received one as a Holiday gift (with three cheap pens) just two years ago. Two problems with this gift: First, doesn’t everyone who needs one already have a mouse pad? Second, I have exclusively used a laptop (sans mouse) for the past five years – I have no use for a mouse pad (and neither does Goodwill).
  • Bottle of Liquor – He can’t remember the brand, but one of our editors once received a very nice bottle of expensive liquor from a vendor. The problem with this gift? This editor was once a raging alcoholic. The worst thing about this was that it was well-known in the industry that he was now a recovering alcoholic and always seemed ready to fall off the wagon. Not very thoughtful.
  • iPod Shuffle – I know this will sound jaded, but last year a vendor sent me an iPod Shuffle as a holiday gift and now it ends up on this list. My problem with this particular gift was that I already carried a Video iPod, as did everyone in my immediate family, and that the vendor didn’t include a note of any kind – just the iPod. I would have been happier receiving a nice handwritten note wishing me holiday cheer and a $50 donation in my company’s name to a charity. I ended giving the iPod Shuffle to my administrative assistant in one of the most shameless acts of re-gifting known to man… She was thrilled.
  • Tie Clasp – About three years ago a vendor who had been trying to do business with my company for some time sent me a logoed tie clasp as a holiday gift. No big deal… if I was 70 years old and actually wore a tie clasp! Not to mention I had no intention of doing business with them, and didn’t need to see their logo every time I looked down at my tie.
  • Paper Weights – Over the years we’ve received dozens of these and only one – a golf-ball-snow-globe-game with a tee in the middle – ever saw the top of my desk.
  • Other Desktop Do-Dads – Not sure what to call this category, but some vendors who over-think the whole holiday gift-giving thing will send those crappy executive desktop gifts you can buy in the men’s department of most large stores. A few years ago I received a miniature dartboard that provided advice based on where the dart landed. “Go Home,” “Go Fishing,” “Play Hooky,” and “Sleep Under Your Desk” were just a few of the inspirations provided – not a good thing to have on your desk if you want to convince your boss that you’re dedicated to your job.
  • Successories – While these gifts are, on the surface, very thoughtful, one of our editors once received an unframed Successories wall poster entitled “Change.” The issue was that he was with a very successful company who had gone through a painful, major change in the past few years, and who had a very, very bright future ahead. He really didn’t want to display a “Change” message in his office at this time, and he certainly didn’t want to pay to have it framed. (Besides, who is this vendor to say he needed to change?)
  • Mixed Nuts – When I was on the vendor side, one of my salesmen once sent a client, who happen to have a severe peanut allergy, a tin of mixed nuts. From what we hear, the ride to the emergency room was not pretty. He survived, though we never got another dollar of his business.
  • Live Plants – One of the editors once received an expensive fern for her office from a vendor who felt this particular leader needed to “green up” her surroundings. The fern lived for five weeks, laid dead in her office another ten and was unceremoniously dumped before Memorial Day. There was a reason she didn’t have any live plants in her office.
  • Chia Pet – Ch, Ch, Cha Chia… The undisputed king of wacky, bad gifts; the dreaded Chia Pet has appeared as a vendor gift for one of our editors in back-to-back holiday seasons. The first year, the sender sincerely believed that he would enjoy such an exotic and fun gift. The next year, a vendor who was also a close friend, sent him the same Tasmanian Devil model Chia Pet he had received a year earlier – this time as a well-received joke.


It was a great exercise for the editors to try and remember the worst of the worst. As leaders, more often than not, we find we can learn great things from bad examples. If we learned nothing else from these ten bad/wacky gifts, let’s all at least agree that you should know your customer before sending anything.


Of course, this doesn’t just apply during the Holidays.