1-800-Flowers’ Second Blooming

Jim McCann talks about sowing the seeds for future growth at a mature company.

July 7 2014 by Jennifer Pellet

You’re facing one of the biggest hurdles of leadership—fixing a business that isn’t broken. You’re the founding CEO of the world’s largest florist, 1-800-Flowers, which has thrived for more than 35 years under your nurturing touch. You grew a business that people said couldn’t be scaled from a single New York flower shop into a retail chain and telemarketing powerhouse whose operations took root across the country. Next, you became a nearly pioneer in Internet sales and took your company public. But while revenues are now over $1 billion and your floral and gift company has operations in 70 countries, you know that you can’t rest on your laurels if the business is to continue to grow.

Jim McCann was working as a social worker and part-time bartender when a bar stool regular mentioned plans to sell his floral shop. Having just started a family, McCann was looking for a business with growth opportunity. He put in a few Saturdays at the store, found that he enjoyed it and took the plunge, picking up the operation for $10,000. “I wanted to build a business, not just a flower shop,” he recounts. “So six months later, I opened up my second shop and we averaged one shop every six months or so. ”Then came McCann’s lightning-in-a-bottle moment: changing the company’s name to 1-800-Flowers. In hindsight, the brilliance of the moniker may seem obvious, but at the time the market was dubious. “Everyone told us it would never work,”says McCann. “People don’t need to be able to order flowers 24 hours a day, they don’t need a seven-day guarantee.”In all fairness, the naysayers were not entirely wrong.