Linda Vavrikova – selling unusual alternatives to tangible gifts

10-12-2007

While many of us are currently running around trying to buy presents, our guest today is busy selling them. But Linda Vavrikova’s company Allegria offers an unusual range of gifts: rather than tangible objects, they sell experiences. They can organise everything from a day spent on the back of a bin lorry to skiing pulled by horses to all kinds of unusual spa treatments. And the business has been a big hit since it was started three years ago: last year Linda Vavrikova, who is 25, was named Czech Businessperson of the Year.

At the offices of Allegria, I asked her how she got the idea of selling experiences in the first place.

“It was a bit of a long process. My friend and I went for a relaxation weekend with a bottle of wine to Cesky Krumlov, and we were thinking, what sort of business should we start?

“Then we thought of gifts, but we said, that’s very complicated, you have to pack them and have some warehouses. Then we thought, if we can’t have material gifts what about non-material gifts? And that is experiences.”

It’s quite a new concept, it seems to me anyway – how did people react when you began doing it? For example I see one of the things you offer is a romantic evening in the Astronomical Tower at Prague’s Clementinum – how did they for instance react when you said, can we do this?

“Now it’s much easier, because it’s a little bit better known. And this experience is very new. But at the beginning there wasn’t much problem with the customers – because when I had my first website they started to order very quickly and they were telling each other about it, so it was easy with the customers.

“But it was much harder with the suppliers. Because to explain to somebody who is doing something, for example to tell a photographer, I would like to use your studio as an experience and bring people to your place…That was a little bit more complicated.”

What are the most popular experiences that you sell to men and to women?

“It’s usually the case that men buy them for women, so men usually buy some kinds of massages and relaxation weekends, honey massages, rose massages and all this kind of stuff.

“Women usually buy for men riding in a Hummer…or diggers are very popular. So is yachting and the Bubble, which is a plastic bubble that you get inside and roll down a hill. And brewing your own beer.

Why do you think that driving a digger is so popular with, I presume, adult men?

“(laughs) I think it’s usually a boy’s dream – they would like to try it and they’ve never had a chance. Now they’re sitting somewhere in an office and they’re kind of bored, and they can fulfil their boyhood dream. That’s probably it.”

One thing I noticed on your website was that many of the gifts are quite…normal. For example, various kinds of wellness or spa treatments. But some are perhaps more surprising – for instance, there’s one called Jsem popelar, I’m a Bin man. Where did that come from?

“(laughs) That’s a little bit like with the digger. It’s also a boy’s dream to ride on the back of that truck and try how it works. So that’s another boy’s dream.”

You think it’s typical of Czech men to dream of being a bin man?

“Yeah, probably (laughs). It looks like that.”

Tell us, what is the military day that you offer?

“That’s a day in the army, basically. You can try it at any age. You go to a base and you try shooting arms and all that kind of stuff. It’s a little bit similar to a day with a special emergency unit. It’s another way of having a day like somebody.”

Is that a real emergency unit attending real accident scenes?

“Yes, it’s real. But it’s a private company. You go there, you get your equipment, you get your training and then you go to some…action.”

Isn’t that dangerous for the victims of accidents if somebody comes along who’s paid to be an ambulance driver or something for a day?

“No, it’s usually a simulated action. You get all the stuff, but if it’s a real action you’ve got to stay in the back and just watch.”

Also I saw you have something where you offer a kind of return to communism.

“Yes, we have that package. It’s an old Tatra car, which all the officials drover under communism. You drive in that car, then you go to the Museum of Communism. And then you have a typical communist picnic, with all the things that were hard to get under communism, and they’re usually not on the market very much today...”

You mean old fashioned luxury goods?

“Yeah, that kind of stuff. But also some typical communist foods and drinks.”

Such as?

“Such as…it was very hard to get bananas and mandarins, so you get those. You get typical Czech salamis, and beer in old-fashioned bottles.”

Do you prepare experiences to measure, so to speak? If I call you and I say, I want to drive a tram, and that isn’t one of the experiences you’re offering, can you organise it?

“We can organise it, but we usually don’t do that any more. We did it at the beginning of the company, but it takes a very long time before you can have one new experience – you have to test it, you have to write the contract, you have to find the supplier.

“Usually when people are looking for a gift they want it immediately. We now have about 180 experiences – usually everybody finds one that suits them.”

I presume that some people must call you with some very strange ideas about things that they want.

“(laughs) Yes, they do. But it depends what you think is strange. At the beginning I thought a lot of the things we now offer were strange, but now we find ourselves selling them every day…People are calling us and saying they want a live elephant, and all this stuff…”

I presume now it’s a busy period for you, before Christmas. Are there any particular big sellers at the moment?

“It’s the usual top hits we have. You can cook with the guys from the [celebrity chef] Kluci v akci TV show and be a chef…The best sellers are those I’ve already said, like the Hummer, driving a car on ice is also very popular, Boeing airplane simulator…”

Finally Linda, what would you like for Christmas?

“When I put experiences aside, then probably some nice shoes and bags and jewellery (laughs)…”

10-12-2007