Given my background, some might have considered me “least likely to succeed.” As an immigrant of Pakistani descent who moved to the United States as a child and worked a series of odd jobs to help my family make ends meet but never graduated college, I did not follow the traditional path to business success. I have never let labels hold me back, however.
The most successful entrepreneurs I have ever met all have one thing in common — they have not done it by themselves. They have all surrounded themselves with the most talented people they could find.
As Edible Arrangements has grown, I, too, have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some outstanding professionals in all areas of business. On a daily basis, I am inspired by the passion and creativity of our franchisees and the professionals we have in place at our home office in Wallingford and at offices around the world.
Over the years, they have come up with ideas, programs and solutions that I would never have thought of on my own. I am always invited — and willing — to provide my input. And even when I disagree, I have learned when to step back and let them have the final decision. Rarely, have their decisions not turned out for the best.
As an entrepreneur, however, there are those times when you must stand firm and you— and only you — will need to make a decision that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of your business. These decisions often require that you go against popular opinion.
I learned that lesson early, as a young entrepreneur with what I was sure was a great idea.
When starting out in business, there are no shortage of people willing to give you advice. And that was the case when I first developed the idea for Edible Arrangements. As I shared my idea with a variety of “experts,” I was continually told that it wouldn’t work. I was told that no one would buy arrangements made out of fruit. I was told to stick with flowers, that I was wasting my time and my money on fruit bouquets.
One of the experts, a highly respected professional, asked me if I had shown the arrangements to any focus groups. That was the first I had ever heard of a focus group. I told him that I didn’t know what a focus group was and he explained it to me.
I told him that it turned out I HAD shown the arrangements to a focus group. When I first took an arrangement home and put it on the table, my mother told me that “this is going to be great.”
He laughed and left, reminding me that I was in the flower business and I should focus on what I knew best. “No one is doing this,” he said, “so I don’t know why you think it will be successful.”
In my entrepreneurial heart, however, I knew I had a winner and that is what drove me to pursue the idea despite the advice of the “experts.”
Now, 15 years and over 1,200 locations later, I think of that story in those moments when I have to make a decision that runs counter to the the advice of others.
Sometimes, it turns out, a focus group of one is good enough.
Each year as the Easter season arrives, I am reminded how truly blessed my family and I have been. For all of us, it is a time of remembrance and celebration, and that is especially true this year as Edible Arrangements® celebrates its 15th anniversary.
In 1986, when I opened my first flower shop as a teenager, and again in 1999, when I opened the first Edible Arrangements, Easter was my first holiday experience as a business owner in the gifting industry. And in each case, it was the Easter season that eased my concerns and reconfirmed my belief that I had made the right decision.
The Easter season of 1999 holds a special place in my heart.
As spring arrived that year, I was excited about a new idea to create artistically designed bouquets made from fresh fruit and I was convinced that they would be an immediate hit. My banker disagreed. When I asked for a loan to help launch Edible Arrangements, he told me with no hesitation that the business had no potential.
But I was convinced I had a good idea, and I also knew that Easter and Mother’s Day — two of the biggest holidays in gifting — were right around the corner. I scraped together the money I needed and, with the help of my family, built a small Edible Arrangements store next to my flower shop in East Haven, Connecticut. During this time I faced another of those moments that force entrepreneurs to take a step back and make sure they are committed to their idea.
While we were preparing for opening day, my father invited a friend to the store to show him what I was doing. The friend was a respected professor at a local university and I was excited to hear his thoughts on the business. I was convinced he was going to tell me what a great idea this was. Instead, I was shocked and a little shaken when he told me he didn’t think the business had any potential and that I was wasting my time and money.
It’s times like these that can place doubt and second thoughts in an entrepreneur’s mind. But I was passionate about my idea, and convinced it would work. Barely two weeks before Easter, I opened Edible Arrangements.
Marketing funds were limited, so I created simple flyers to hand out to customers of my flower shop, friends and anyone else I came across. I was so convinced they would love the arrangements that I promised each customer that if they didn’t “WOW” the recipient, I would give them a complete refund.
That first Easter I received 28 orders. My family and I worked all day and into the night to create the arrangements and make sure they were perfect. The next day, as they were delivered, the phone began to ring. Typically, in the gifting industry, when you get a call following a delivery it is a complaint that “the flowers aren’t fresh,” “they didn’t look like they did in the picture,” or a similar issue.
Not this time. Each time the phone rang it was a customer calling to say, “WOW.” Their friends or spouses who received the arrangements were excited and wanted to know where they had found such a creative gift. That Easter convinced me that Edible Arrangements would be successful.
At the time, of course, I had no idea that Edible Arrangements would become a global chain and would be featured in newspapers,magazines and on TV programs worldwide.
At the time, I had no idea that the concept of a business selling fresh fruit arrangements would create opportunities for hundreds of passionate franchisees around the world to pursue their dreams.
I had no idea, when we received those first 28 orders, that 15 years later we would be preparing to fill more than 120,000 orders for another Easter weekend.
That’s why this year, as every year, I pause to think back to those early days and remind myself that Easter truly is a blessed holiday.