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Wrapping presents is Mia Canada’s full-time job. | Getty Images

The owner of That’s a Wrap! in Atlanta says her store looks like “Santa’s workshop on December 23.”

Mia Canada is in the business of alleviating holiday stress. The most consistent customers of her Atlanta gift-wrapping boutique, That’s A Wrap!, are those with a pathological aversion to the grunt work of the yuletide season, who are willing to pay for peace of mind. The store takes all comers: those who want a few gifts prepped as quickly as possible, and those who wish to painstakingly customize the color, size, and sparkle of the pile underneath the tree.

Each of these clients hire Canada to take care of their sleighful of presents so that they may spend their late Decembers at ease. Canada prides herself on being able to appease every gift-wrapping challenge, stocking a huge variety of paper, bows, and individual ornamental flourishes. And on at least one occasion, she’s tied a Gryffindor scarf around a present.

The 47-year-old Canada got her start in the gift-wrapping industry running a seasonal kiosk in an Atlanta mall. That was 14 years ago. Today, That’s A Wrap! is a year-round brick-and-mortar store in the MET Atlanta business park, and when we spoke in late November, the store was entering its busy period.

In the off-season, Canada sells balloon bouquets and bespoke gift baskets; she also offers gift-wrapping classes to stay profitable. For the exceptionally rushed or the exceptionally lazy, she offers a mobile gift-wrapping service, in which up to four wrappers take care of an order in the customer’s living room. And if a customer lives outside of the Atlanta area, they can also ship their presents directly to That’s A Wrap!, where Canada works her magic before sending them back.

One of her luckiest breaks happened in 2010, when Macy’s, then her primary competitor, suspended its gift-wrapping service. Almost overnight, there were a lot fewer places in the area to get a present professionally wrapped.

Canada says she’s always been an entrepreneur at heart, and happily admits she found her way into gift wrapping not from any deep-seated tradition or creative need, but because it happened to be surprisingly lucrative: Her average off-season order costs around $100, but that number climbs to anywhere between $500 and $1,500 during the holidays. Customers tend to bring in three to five presents, though corporate clients routinely drop 150 parcels on her doorstep. We talked about that, as well as the weirdest things she’s ever been asked to wrap, what it’s like to take an overwhelming order on Christmas Eve, and whether it’s ever okay to give a present in a bag.

The following transcript of our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Luke Winkie

How did you end up in the gift-wrapping industry?

Mia Canada

So my journey starts as an entrepreneur. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but I was in the private sector in health care, until a friend of mine asked me to fill in as a gift wrapper in the mall that year. I didn’t really consider it. In fact, I said, “No. You’ve seen me give gifts, it’s always in a bag.” But she says that I’m really creative and that I’ll figure it out.

Six weeks later, she calls me and tells me that she needs me to come in and sign this contract to start, and I’ve been doing it ever since. At the time, Macy’s was the big name in gift wrapping, so I had things wrapped from Macy’s and took them home to unpack them and see how they were put together. I would look at videos, I’d do all the research I could, and then [I] came up with my own style.

Luke Winkie

So if you weren’t having any fun in this job, I’d imagine that you’d eventually find your way back to a different industry.

Mia Canada

Initially I wasn’t interested because it seemed like a technical thing. Gift wrapping was kinda old-fashioned. But once I started, I found that it was really lucrative. I did it for the money. I got addicted to the high of the people, the rush of the holidays. It all just sucked me in. I think what made me stay is the connection you make with customers. You interact with so many people on a daily basis, and most often people are coming to you with a really high energy because they’re celebrating something.

Luke Winkie

When you said you developed your own style, what did you mean by that? How did your gift-wrapping techniques take on your own creative identity?

Mia Canada

When people think of gift wrapping, they think of simple paper with a puffy bow on top, and my style is more about telling a story. Not only is it going to reflect the occasion, it’s most certainly going to reflect the recipient. For example, if you walk into a room and see gifts on the table, my goal is that you will gravitate to a gift that’s made specifically for you.

Luke Winkie

What was your creative outlet before gift wrapping?

Mia Canada

I started doing events. I planned children’s birthday parties for my own daughters. And I wouldn’t always find stationery that would reflect the tone of the event. So I started designing my stationery. I did that for about seven years. So before gift wrapping, that was my creative outlet.

Luke Winkie

You have a brick-and-mortar gift-wrapping business. How do you keep that sustainable in such a seasonal industry?

Mia Canada

I simply call it diversifying your creativity. You think about what you’re good at. I’m an artist, gift wrapping is my medium. What other talents do I have? I’m a mentor, I’m motivational, and corporate America taught me to organize and manage products. So one thing I do year-round is teach. I teach gift-wrapping instructional classes, and I teach other entrepreneurs creative business consulting. So people who are interested in gift wrapping, I teach them how to take that and make it into a sustainable and profitable business.

Luke Winkie

How many employees do you keep?

Mia Canada

Well, year-round it’s less than five of us. But we beef up to about 30 people during the holiday season.

Luke Winkie

We’re in the busy season right now. How many orders are you getting a day? Does it ever get overwhelming when you’re really in the heat of it?

Mia Canada

Absolutely. Picture Santa’s workshop on December 23. It’s not always fun. The great thing is, that’s not what the client sees.

The thing is, this is a service about procrastination for most people. They can do their job, and put off gift wrapping ‘til the last minute. And those frustrated people are the clients we get. They come with that anxious energy, and we get to say, “Chill out! We got it! Drop the gifts off and spend time with your family or have a drink.”

Luke Winkie

Do you get people coming in at, say, 2 pm on Christmas Eve with a bunch of gifts for you to wrap?

Mia Canada

That’s not even the worst of it. I’ve been delivering gifts at 2 am on Christmas morning. I have one client in particular who comes in around 6 pm every year on Christmas Eve, and inevitably we’re wrapping gifts until the early morning.

Luke Winkie

How often do people just drop off a bunch of gifts and say, “Here you are, I don’t care what you do with them,” versus a client who wants to have a long conversation about how those gifts are presented?

Mia Canada

I would say [that] usually, the long conversations come from my corporate clients. They have a particular look and a brand they need to stay within. But most people, unless they want their tree to match the gifts, they leave it up to us. We’ll ask basic questions about color palettes, and we’ll create magic just from that.

Luke Winkie

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve been asked to wrap?

Mia Canada

One of the most difficult things was a car for a wedding. And in my opinion, there isn’t a gorgeous way to wrap a car for a sophisticated event. That was a little tricky. I’ve also been asked to wrap live animals and people. [Canada chose not to wrap the person.]

Luke Winkie

Do you charge by the number of gifts or by the size of the gifts? How does the receipt come together?

Mia Canada

It depends. We have a baseline for people who really just want their gifts to look beautiful without thinking about it. But we have guests who desire a little more luxury, and it depends on the tier that they choose. We also factor in if you drop your gifts off to us, or if we come out to your location. It’s a mix between between an hourly fee and a per-gift charge, depending on location.

Luke Winkie

What are the raw materials like for this business? Are you buying wrapping paper wholesale?

Mia Canada

I try to buy everything in bulk, especially during the season. That goes for paper — I’m buying reams of paper, not consumer rolls. I’m buying cases of boxes because we go through them so fast. The only exception are embellishments [small decorations or details that complement the gift’s presentation.] I buy those in small batches because they’re a little more personal.

Luke Winkie

And despite being the boss, you’re still out there wrapping gifts?

Mia Canada

I’m totally still wrapping gifts. [laughs]

Luke Winkie

There was a time when you were going up against Macy’s in the gift-wrapping industry. How do you think you’ve been able to stand out and keep the business healthy, after all these years?

Mia Canada

There are other businesses out there, but I think a lot of them have taken that Macy’s approach — a “pick one [paper] from this list” strategy — and what we do is let you customize. We’ve got several different kinds of paper, several different ribbons, and very unique embellishments. Again, because we’re telling a story. We’re not just providing a service. There’s very few people we’ve wrapped just one gift for. Once you use us, you’ll probably come back and celebrate everything with us. I think that’s what kept us afloat.

Luke Winkie

Last thing: Is it ever okay to give a gift in a bag?

Mia Canada

I’m about the wrap life. I don’t believe in gift bags under any circumstances. I just don’t. Once you know better, you do better!

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Author: Luke Winkie

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