When 1-800-Flowers.com founder, Jim McCann, bought a single flower shop in Manhattan, he knew that he wanted to be more than just a florist. Forty years later his small NYC shop is now a $1 Billion dollar giant. With his recent decision to move from CEO to Executive Chairman, Jim is taking on an even bigger challenge.
From Social Services to CEO
1-800-Flowers.com got its start in a humble flower shop on First Avenue in Manhattan. Its new owner, twenty something year old Jim, bought the shop from an acquaintance that he knew from his nights spent moonlighting as a bartender to earn a little extra money to provide for his young family. His day job working at St. John’s, a nonprofit home for boys, was rewarding, but didn’t pay a lot. As much as the idea of being a florist appealed to Jim, he knew that he wanted more.
“I liked that you were involved in people’s lives in an interesting and nice way and [shared in] all these celebratory moments. But I didn’t want to just be a florist. I wanted to be a florist and make a business out of it. So I bought that shop, kept my job at St. John’s home so that I could provide for the basics for my family, and set out on a path to reinvest everything I could into growing my flower business.”
Jim’s continual reinvestment allowed him to grow his retail flower business fast. Six months in, he purchased another shop. Another six months later, and the second shop was acquired. Jim kept his company on a growth trend that continued steadily from the company’s founding in 1976 through until today. 1-800-Flowers.com went from a single shop to a billion dollar company. Here’s how he did it.
Riding The Waves of E-Commerce
Sales are the lifeblood of a business, and Jim approached increasing his with a knowledge of how people conduct commerce that borders on the uncanny. When his company was a series of retail shops, his focus was on having real relationships with his customers. In 1986, with the advent of 800 numbers fueling commerce, Jim acquired the number 1-800-FLOWERS from a defunct corporation, and changed the name of his company to match. In 1995 the internet was new and all the rage. Jim was an early adopter of online ordering. 1-800-Flowers became 1-800-Flowers.com, putting them at the forefront of e-commerce.
Though it looks like Jim’s company had a crystal ball hiding somewhere, Jim credits his company’s willingness to experiment and continual attention to changing trends as the real driving force behind their marketing brilliance.
“I think that we try hard to keep our finger on the pulse of where [people] are likely to be going so that we can get there with them. [For example] we didn’t anticipate the internet, but we knew it was changing the way we interacted, so we were around the goal and experimenting a lot.”
Their latest big experiments center around conversational commerce (a form of e-commerce) with an array of ordering and engagement options that include the ability to buy products via messenger or voice technology a la Amazon Alexa. Jim is also spearheading efforts to ensure that 1-800-Flowers remains a trustworthy resource for people as current practices, such as funereal practices, transform.
What Jim and his team are seeing is that in the digital world that we live in, there’s a great need to stay current, but there’s perhaps an even greater need to ensure that technology is used for a specific purpose: fostering real relationships and connections. That purpose drives all that 1-800-Flowers does, and now that Jim has pivoted away from day-to-day operations into a Chairman position, he’s guiding other companies to have that same purpose via his latest venture.
A League Of Their Own
Throughout his 40 years at the helm of 1-800-Flowers, Jim has often lent his expertise and support for other entrepreneurs. He sits on the board of numerous organizations and is a member of our Board of Experts here at Birthing of Giants, where his experience and experimental spirit has benefited hundreds of entrepreneurs. But he and his 1-800-Flowers CEO, younger brother, Chris, have always had one big criticism of themselves.
“One of the self criticisms that Chris and I have had about ourselves all these years is that while we’ve been up to speed on these technologies and made it a point to really keep our thumb on the pulse of the evolution of technologies that we thought would impact our business, we’ve only ever used that knowledge over these 40 years to try and make ourselves a better floral and gift company.”
Their family’s latest venture, Clarim Holdings, aims to answer that criticism. Clarim Holdings is an investment company with a very specific purpose: to gather together family based or founder led businesses that, like 1-800-Flowers, uses new technology not just for the sake of technology, but to foster real relationships with their customers. In this way Jim is able to share the successful strategies of 1-800-Flowers and support the growth of businesses outside the gift industry.
The companies that comprise Clarim form a community of support for each other to tackle the challenges of running a business, such as generational planning, using technology, and talent development.
“That’s what Clarim is becoming – a collection of companies that are in and around the same space, that can help the businesses and families with businesses to grow and expand and be very conscious of how technologies are going to impact everything they do from now on.”
Through conventions and other business gatherings facilitated by its separate companies, Clarim is able to help businesses expand what they’re doing and utilize new technologies in a purpose driven way.
Inspiring Others To Be Their Best Self
For Jim, 1-800-Flowers, and now Clarim Holdings, that purpose has to be the driving force behind growth and how new tech incorporates into that growth. Without it, you get what we’ve all seen as the biggest contradiction to our modern world, where each person essentially has a communication device in their back pocket: People feel more disconnected than ever.
“What we see is that the irony of social media and the always connected world we live in is that it’s in some ways superficial. And our products and services, while adapting and adjusting, are more necessary than ever to help people to genuinely express themselves and genuinely connect to those important people in their lives.”
Genuine connection is the truly defining force behind Jim’s long career, from his start in social services, through forty years as head of 1-800-Flowers, to his current passion for helping other companies. I’m honored to have him on our Board of Experts, and look forward to watching his future endeavors unfold.