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.