I WAS born in Pakistan and came to the United States in 1981, when I was 11. My grandfather owned a farm in Pakistan and we had been fairly well-to-do. We started at the bottom when we came here. My father found a job as a machinist during the day and worked at McDonald’s and Burger King at night.
All five of my siblings pitched in. I delivered newspapers to 300 houses. Instead of putting the paper into the mailbox, I’d deliver it to the door. I got great tips. When I was 13, a flower shop hired me to water the flowers. Soon I was taking care of orders. By 16, I had learned a lot.
One day my father found a flower shop for sale in the paper. The owner wanted $6,000. My dad asked me if I could run the shop, and I said sure. We got a cash advance and a loan from a friend. I thought I’d negotiate, and asked the owner what terms he was offering. He looked at me as if to say, “What can this kid possibly know?”
We opened a week before Easter and earned about $50 a day. I stayed open until 7 p.m., seven days a week, because few other flower shops did. I thought $350 a week was wonderful. Soon, sales doubled, and I was shocked. Five years later, we had three shops and were making close to $1 million a year. I said we needed to make more, about $5,000 a day. My mother asked me if I remembered when I was making $50 a day and she suggested that I relax. I told her that it never really ends, and that I could achieve that goal.
It was a lot of work. I didn’t really have a social life. We stayed open on holidays. On my way to high school, I’d drop off my mother at the shop. She spoke no English, so I told her what to do to supervise the two employees. After school I’d make flower arrangements and deliver them myself until I could hire a driver.
I attended college part-time, but I started weighing the benefit against what I was making. I decided to put off school, and I never finished. I was so young when I started a career that I blindly jumped into it.
Edible Arrangements®, which I started in 1999 with my brother, Kamran, goes back to our roots. In Pakistan, my father always brought home tons of fruit for us. When we started the company, we created basic fruit arrangements that included fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe and more, and later added extras like chocolate and cinnamon toppings.
We got 30 orders the first day. We had learned from our flower stores, so this time did everything right. A stranger asked about opening a store, which gave us the idea to franchise them. I knew nothing about the franchise industry, so I contacted an association for the names of experts and found Michael Seid. He gave great advice.
I’ve started several other companies. One is FrutationTM by Edible Arrangements®, which includes salads and fruit drinks. They’re sold in Edible Arrangements® stores and stand-alone stores. I also started Netsolace®, which provides software for the franchise industry. Another, BerryDirect, offers containers, vases and other products to our Edible Arrangements® franchisees and other companies. I just started the Farid Capital Corporation, a financing company that helps franchisees buy equipment.
When I was starting out, I used to give my mother $50 a week. When I wanted to buy a building for our second Edible Arrangements® location, I needed $40,000 more than I had. My mother had saved the money I gave her over the years and handed it back to me. She asked only that I do something in her name someday and give her $20,000 for my sister’s wedding.
When my mother passed away in 2000, I started a foundation in her memory. The organization built a hospital in Pakistan for needy people and an Islamic school in the United States.
As told to Patricia R. Olsen.