Edible Arrangements was named one of America’s fastest-growing privately held businesses in America by Inc. Magazine and has been ranked first in its category by Entrepreneur Magazine’s Annual “Franchise 500” Ranking for the past seven consecutive years. In 2011, Edible Arrangements was ranked 9th on Forbes.com ‘Top Franchises for the Money” listing. In February of 2009, Tariq was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the International Franchise Association, whose members include more than 1,300 franchise systems, 11,000 franchisees and 500 suppliers. In June 2009 Tariq was awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 Award in the Retail and Consumer Products category in Metro New York.
One of the things that happens to entrepreneurs as their companies expand and responsibilities change, is that it is easy to lose track of what it was like when you were first starting out and working on the front lines of your business.
I’ve always tried to keep those memories top-of-mind as much as possible. However, in times like this when every day brings new and often unexpected challenges, it is easy for those challenges to take over your entire world and push everything else aside.
That’s why I was so inspired to read stories recently of two Edible team members and their dedication and selflessness in making sure that their customers are taken care of despite the challenges the COVID-19 crisis has presented.
This past Easter weekend reminded me of my very first Easter as a small business owner. I learned a valuable lesson then that remains as true today as it did over two decades ago — the comeback is always stronger than the setback. I had only been open for a short time and had poured all of my money into flowers for Easter orders at my floral shop. Not really realizing what I was doing at the time, I set my cooler on the wrong temperature and lost my entire inventory. It took the help of an understanding supplier to fill my need in a hurry and on an impossible time schedule to not only save my Easter sales, but to save my business as a whole. I eventually paid that supplier back, and I remained his loyal and steady client for a long time thereafter. Looking back on that learning experience, I realize I could have let my troubles define my future. Instead, I rallied and not only met my customers’ needs but also provided a great product and service that kept them coming back. I didn’t do it alone, of course. My supplier, my family members working in the flower shop, and my self-determination to not fail created the perfect storm that turned a hurdle into a chance to shine. I see what I consider to be a very similar scenario playing out far and wide today across the small business community and especially among our Edible network. There is no doubt that almost every business has experienced some disruption as the COVID-19 virus continues to impact and change our world and our everyday lives. But for Edible, the ability of our franchisees to rally has not only been impressive, it has been transformational in the most monumental ways for their stores and the communities they serve.
Stepping up in a time of crisis
Despite all that is happening around them, Edible’s franchisees continue to do what they have always done so well for special occasions. I saw that in the Easter platters and holiday arrangements that flooded social media posts over the weekend. Even more importantly, they have also stepped up to meet brand new demands in our greater society at-large in ways that have been pivotal for our Edible network. The hit that sales took in the early days of this crisis was immediate, painful and could have been crippling. But the collective ability of the franchisees and the corporate staff to see a need and fill it with free delivery and fresh produce boxes — even though these were significant changes from our usual business and menu – has shown our network’s courage and determination to succeed in spite of these troubling times. My thanks run deep for the farmers and partners in the supply chain who stepped up to fulfill our changing orders — including our new popular vegetable offerings — at a moment’s notice. Most importantly, I am thankful for the franchisees who are the very lifeline of health and sustenance to their customers. What they have achieved with our evolving menu is nothing short of amazing. The ability to rally and serve whole fruit and whole produce with the experience and customer service that are hallmarks of the Edible experience has been something I will never forget. Orders continue to climb, and the numbers tell an amazing underlying truth: our franchise owners continue to WOW customers in ways that are memorable and, perhaps in these times, everlasting.
Going above and beyond
I would love to be able to personally congratulate everyone in our system for working through these trying times in ways we never thought imaginable. That includes all of those franchisees who have gone above and beyond to also give back in their communities. The abundance of love and support they have shown with deliveries to healthcare workers at local hospitals and first responders at police stations and fire stations are just a small glimpse into the positive impact they are having on the front lines. In the end, that’s what it’s all about — the positives that overcome the negatives. This past Easter (much like my first Easter in my small business), I truly believe we emerged much better as a business despite the adversities. And the road ahead looks even better as we continue evolving to meet new needs.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years as an entrepreneur is that even when you think you know what it’s going to take to make a business successful, there are always unexpected surprises.
I was reminded of that recently as we prepared for and then delivered on our single busiest day of the year, Valentine’s Day. In fact, it turned out to be the single busiest day in our company’s 20-year history!
Taken in total, the numbers are almost unimaginable. Over 275,000 arrangements delivered from coast to coast. More than 14 million strawberries, many dipped in thousands of pounds of chocolate. We shipped over 340,000 decorative boxes as well as vases and other items that make our arrangements so special.
But the numbers don’t come close to telling the whole story. At the corporate office, it was all-hands-on-deck as our entire team of professionals put their normal duties on hold for a few days in order to help man the phones lines, respond to e-mails or whatever it took to make the day go as smoothly as possible. The same was true in our distribution centers. The real Valentine’s Day story, however, was not taking place in Atlanta. It was taking place in each of the individual Edible stores across the nation. Had you visited one of our stores any day that week you would have experienced what it means to be a small business owner whose customers depend on you to make sure their loved-ones have a special day. You would have seen our owners calling in family and friends to help sort through fruit in search of the perfect pieces, then cut it and create arrangements. You’d have seen them working into the early hours of the morning trying to create a schedule to cover dozens of deliveries per hour. You’d have seen some of our larger franchisees packing crates into refrigerated trucks that had been rented to handle the overflow of fruit and products needed for just one day. It’s an overwhelming experience that you can tell someone about, but you can’t really prepare them for.
Lessons learned the hard way
I know this because I, like millions of other small business owners, have been there. When I opened my first flower shop decades ago I knew that Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and the holidays would be busy and take extra work and preparation. No one, however, could have prepared me for all the details that needed to be taken care of and especially for the unexpected surprises. I’ve told the story many times of how I ended up freezing my first big order of flowers because I didn’t know what temperature to set on my cooler. I arrived at the store the next morning with a stack of orders and a cooler of frozen flowers. As a small business owner, however, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself because you know your customers won’t. You can’t react to the problem, you have to respond to the problem, find a solution and find it fast. THAT is one of the most important lessons a small business owner learns, and usually it is a lesson learned very early in the life of a business. It is especially true for businesses such as ours that have those certain days in which demand skyrockets to the extreme. The owners of wings and pizza restaurants went through it a few weeks ago with the Super Bowl. It happens to retailers on Black Friday and e-commerce businesses on Cyber Monday. On each of those days the news is filled with stories touting the millions and billions of products and dollars involved. Meanwhile, on Main Street America, it is the small business owner that is bringing that story to life. They have spent months planning and preparing for this single event while also running the day-to-day aspects of their business and also trying to have a personal and family life.
Preparing for the unexpected
Of course, it never goes perfectly as planned and there are always unexpected decisions to make and issues that have to be handled in the middle of this whirlwind of activity. But when it is over, I have found that the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that the business owner experiences always overshadows the feeling of exhaustion. That’s why I am so thankful for the passionate and dedicated network of franchisees that make up the Edible system and the sacrifices they make each day to serve their communities and their customers. After all, that is what small business owners do. Thank you to everyone from our corporate team to our suppliers and most of all to our franchisees on yet another amazing Valentine’s Day performance. Get your rest, because Mother’s Day is right around the corner.
This is not an acquisition or merger, although I will be assuming a position on the Rocky Mountain board. Rather this is a partnership that has the potential to significantly grow business for both companies.