When Dudu Amar's nephew started his compulsory army service almost two years ago, the problem of sending a soldier packages full of homemade cookies and new socks became a reality for the family. "The time it takes to stand in line at the post office and the expense of buying all of the supplies and baking the goodies for the soldiers is something most people want to do but can't find the time to do," says Amar.
Rather than waiting in long lines and paying a premium for supplies, Amar found a solution that killed two birds with one stone. "I decided to start selling ready-made packages designed especially with soldiers in mind, and at the same time use the surprise gifts to promote my outdoor gear and army supply store in Tiberias," says Amar.
Similar to sending flowers, the packages for soldiers include a personal greeting card for a birthday or special occasion, and the sender can pick and choose what to put in the package based on the preferences of the soldier receiving it.
"We try to have at least seven out of 10 items that are the soldier's favorite things," explains Amar. "So far the feedback has been very good."
Havila has an online Web site in addition to the brick and mortar store, and people can order packages either through the Internet, by phone or in the store itself. There are six different types of packages, ranging in price from 59 shekels for the basic box and up to 149 shekels for the biggest gift set.
The most expensive package is designed for those soldiers joining a combat unit and includes things they will need for basic training, such as socks, underwear, a toothbrush kit, a box cutter, rubber bands, skin cream and mosquito repellant.
Havila offers a birthday package for 99 shekels with baked goods from a chef in Rosh Pina, Shalom Levy. He bakes sweet and salty bagel snacks, personal pies, and an assortment of delicate chocolate, almond and jam cookies.
"For soldiers far away from home on a military base eating army rations, getting fresh baked goods is a treat they really enjoy," says Amar. "Part of the sweet cookies and salty crackers we're sending are not like something you can buy in a store, and you can tell by the taste that they were made by a chef."
In addition to the baked goods, Havila adds candy, mints, bamba, pretzels and nuts to the packages, but one thing they will not include is cigarettes. "We don't send cigarettes out of principle," says Amar.
For the female soldiers, Havila has a special package full of toiletries needed to stay clean and fresh for duty. Super Pharm has teamed up with Havila to provide the products for these packages, and Amar is able to offer everything together at a much lower price than if each item were purchased by an individual.
"Through the arrangement with Super Pharm we can offer all of the products in the package with a card and shipping for 99 shekels, whereas if people were to buy everything in the store they would pay 117 shekels for the products alone," says Amar. "We buy it from the factory so we can sell it at a cheaper price, and the post office gives a fixed rate on packages for soldiers no matter what the weight."
One of the other six packages includes a vacuum-sealed emergency kit for soldiers in special combat units. Havila shrinks the survival kits for the soldiers to make them more conveniently fit into their regulation-sized nylon bags without too much hassle.
From the plain, white exterior, one would never guess at the treats hidden inside, and Amar says that Havila intentionally decided to forego any identifying logos on the outside of the box in order to prevent theft. "People often get packages in the army from Elite and they get stolen by others who know what's inside from the logo. That doesn't happen with our packages," he explains.
Ten percent of the profit from the sale of the packages goes to "Friends of the Israeli Army," and Havila hopes to soon implement a program to allow people to give anonymous donations to lonely soldiers from abroad. They are in the process of translating their Web site into English so that foreigners can also order the packages and read important information about the army recruitment process that they will make available.