THE BACK STORY
Jim McCann was working as a social worker and part-time bartender when a barstool 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. The company’s first telemarketing station averaged less than 40 calls a day—calls, not orders. But while the concept wasn’t an instant hit, McCann’s company soon reaped the rewards of the publicity generated, in part, by its very critics. “It was so novel that we got a lot of free ink, both people saying it was crazy and people saying it was revolutionary,” says McCann. “It wasn’t an instant hit but the press we got helped us become a brand.”
Given its maverick culture, it was only fitting that 1-800-Flowers also become one of the early adopters of Internet sales, staking its claim on the virtual marketplace early on by working with AOL and CompuServe. “It was probably 1996 when we realized that our business couldn’t continue to grow in a telephonic environment—we needed to put all our bets on the Internet,” says McCann. Similarly, when the social and mobile sales channel began to gain traction, the company took a proactive approach, becoming one of the first companies to enable transactions on Facebook.