A LAST-minute birthday gift that did not go down well has inspired a booming online luxury gift store.

Casey Gregory struggled to find the right gift for a friend’s 40th and ended up “panic buying” an expensive pair of earrings which met with a “muted” reaction.

“What should have been a joyful experience turned out to be a little awkward for us both,” she said.

The experience inspired the 43-year-old businesswoman to devise Foke, which offers curated gifts sourced from unusual, “design-led” independent brands. They are either prepared in gift boxes for sale online or sourced bespoke, based on the customer’s budget and the tastes of the recipient.

The business, based in the Dorset village of Hilton, was launched in 2019 to corporate clients, then expanded to friends and family.

It was given a “soft launch” but saw sales soar this year as the Covid crisis fuelled demand for personal gifts.

Casey Gregory, who runs the business with husband Dan, said: “People wanted that personal, helpful shopping assistant experience from the comfort and safety of their own homes. They couldn’t go out to the shops but wanted to reach out to make loved ones and colleagues smile.”

Mr Gregory said: “It’s been a bit of a logistical nightmare as initially we weren’t expecting to sell the kind of volume that we have been, but fortunately because most of our suppliers are small and we manage all areas of the business in-house, we have been able to adjust to the demand with no problems and have been steadily growing over the last six months.”

Mrs Gregory writes a gift message by hand on a note card. The wrapping is free.

“I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with how presents are wrapped and presented. I think half the joy of receiving a gift is the experience of opening it,” she said.

She previously owned a women’s clothing and lifestyle store in Blandford and says the key to the shop’s success was the personal experience. She offered a personal shopping service and every item was wrapped.

Foke packaging is described as 100 per cent sustainable, which she said was “unfortunately not as easy to achieve as you’d think”.

For each box sold, Foke cleans a square mete of Dorset coastline “throughout the autumn and winter when all the tourists go home and the beach cleaning services stop”.

Mrs Gregory and her husband – a graphic designer, illustrator and animator – have worked together for years and own a boutique design agency called Caravan.

Mr Gregory designed Foke’s branding and packaging and built the online store himself.

His background includes designing games and interactive comics for Lego, as well as branding for a number of museums and attractions including Dorset County Museum, Paultons Park and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Foke also offers in-house branding services for corporate clients who would like branded gift boxes for their corporate gifts.