With Father’s Day this weekend, I’ve been reflecting lately on how fortunate I am to have had an amazing father but also some amazing father figures to look up to in my lifetime. I’ve written about my father in the past. He brought our family to the United States to create the opportunity for a better life for us all. Without him, I never would have made it to where I am today.
In addition to my father, I was also fortunate to have another individual who played an important role in my life. I don’t know why he chose me, but my first boss, Charlie, took me under his wing and became my mentor and ultimately the inspiration for my entire career.
Meeting my Mentor
I was just a teenager when I first met Charlie. My brother and I were looking for work, and since it was winter in West Haven, Connecticut, we were hoping to trade a paper route for something indoors. After being approached by my brother, who offered our help, Charlie agreed to hire us to work in his local flower shop on Forest Road.
On my first day of work, Charlie pulled up to the store in a bright yellow Corvette – T-top with the top down – smiling and obviously very friendly. I was still relatively new to this country and hardly knew English, yet this successful man welcomed me with open arms and made me feel as though working in his flower shop was the start of an exciting new opportunity. I was immediately drawn to his confidence and kindness, which pushed me to want to work harder than I had ever worked in my life.
The Lessons Begin
Later on during that first day on the job, I saw the employee notice board hanging in the store’s restroom. Among other employment announcements and reminders to wash our hands was a sign that stuck out in the middle of it all. The sign read, “CUSTOMER IS KING.”
A few days later, Charlie approached me while I was working and asked, “What is the most important thing?” Recalling the prominence of that sign in the employee restroom, I responded, “Customer is king!” He beamed at my answer, going on to share, “That’s right kid, that’s great! Yes, customer is king. You always take care of a customer. You run when a customer walks. You take their flowers to their car for them. You smile in every customer interaction. You always take care of the customer, because they make everything possible.”
And so began my lifelong understanding that the number one rule of business is that the customer is the top priority, always. When I visited other businesses I began to notice how I was treated as a customer. If the employees I interacted with smiled and showed me with respect, I recognized how much better the experience was and how much more willing I was to return to that business. Charlie was right!
From that point forward, I worked to emulate Charlie in everything I did. Not only was he great with customers, but he worked just as hard as everyone else in that store. He had a habit of leading by example; he showed up early, he took the trash out, he climbed ladders to hang lights, and more. And his family – his wife, kids, brother, and even his parents – all did the same. The work ethic of that family was unmatched.
Work Harder AND Smarter
Charlie was also a brilliant business mind. He was one of the first in our area to have a promotion where he sold roses for $9.99 a dozen. Every florist in the area thought he was crazy, that this kind of discount would never make any money.
But Charlie recognized early on what was making the rise of dot com and digital businesses so successful: you may lose money on the initial promotion, but building customer loyalty will keep people coming back for your more profitable services. So sure, the $9.99 bouquets weren’t all that profitable… but those customers came back for weddings, funerals, proms, and all other occasions. And just like that, business was booming.
I wish all those who originally criticized Charlie’s strategy could have seen that he was onto something that would become the future trend of the service industry. Even then, he proved that success really isn’t about immediate sales, but how much customers love you. So again, it all came back to his golden rule: “Customer is king.”
Success Starts Young, and Mentorship is Key
I can say without question, that Charlie made me the businessman I am today. He was the inspiration for me opening my very own flower shop years later, which eventually evolved into the first Edible Arrangements store.
That’s why that whenever the opportunity presents itself, I will offer to serve as a mentor. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow and, in many cases, the only thing that a young boy or girl needs is to find someone who believes in them and can point them in the right direction.
That was the case for me.
And that is why I will be making contributions on behalf of Charlie toward entrepreneurship as well as continuing to support causes that help our youth achieve their dreams.
So this year, as I honor my father and everything he did for me and our family, I also want to take this opportunity to say “Thank You” to Charlie and all the other amazing mentors and father figures who are preparing future generations for success.