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Posted on Mar 07, 2014

Interview with Isaiah Brown, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM franchisee

Isaiah Brown, has been a franchisee of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM since 2002, and is located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY

How did you first decide to become a franchisee?

I had been working for 1-800-FLOWERS.COM for 16 years prior to becoming a franchisee. I started out literally getting my hands dirty – and pricked, and cut – as a flower cutter in a retail location in Brooklyn. It’s the store I own now, although we’re in a new location. I worked my way up to being a district manager in New York. In 2002, [Vice President of Retail and Franchising ] Ted Marlowe approached me about buying one of the company stores they were looking to franchise. Apparently [company founder] Jim McCann had taken note of my work and my commitment to the company, and had recommended me to Ted as someone who might be a good franchise candidate.

How did you decide what franchise to invest in?

Choosing to open a 1-800-FLOWERS franchise was an easy decision. I wasn’t shopping around for a franchise opportunity, so I didn’t need to compare it to other options out there. But I was certainly interested in hearing about any opportunity to improve my lot in life and continue growing within a company I knew well and trusted, in an industry I understood and enjoyed. So when I was offered the opportunity to buy an established store in Brooklyn, I jumped at it. It’s everyone’s dream to be an entrepreneur and own your own place.

What tools did you use to evaluate your franchise options?

As I said, I wasn’t shopping around for a franchise opportunity so I didn’t need to really compare different franchises to make my choice. I did, however, want to make sure that investing in becoming a franchisee vs. remaining an employee made sense for me. And I wanted to make sure that the particular location they were offering me had a good potential for success. Since I was the District Manager for NY and the Long Island suburban district, I understood the dynamics of the market and each location. Since I was from Brooklyn and this was one of the stores up to be transferred I decided to go with this location. I also looked back at how Jim McCann started with just one store and said if he can do it, maybe I can, too, so let me follow in his footsteps. It didn’t really take much to convince me this was the right move, but that’s in part because I was so familiar with the business. If had been another franchise I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have jumped in so quickly.

What challenges did you face in your first few months as a franchise owner?

I think the biggest challenge was adjusting to the fact I had a lot more responsibility as an owner than I had as an employee. As an owner you are the HR person responsible for hiring staff, negotiating pay and benefits, dealing with all the administrative systems you need to have in place to keep things running smoothly for you and your employees. You handle payroll. You are the marketing manager. You oversee inventory. You have to pay the taxes and secure insurance. Having risen to the level of district manager at 1-800-FLOWERS before I became a franchisee, I had dealt with some of these responsibilities to a degree in the past, but as owner, these responsibilities increase and take on greater importance to you. You’re also the person everyone comes to with problems, suggestions, requests, etc., and of course, you’re the one who ultimately has to answer to the customer to make sure they’re satisfied with your products and service. So you have to devote a lot more time to being a people manager in addition to being a florist and a store manager. But I think I’m doing all right. My staff doesn’t complain. Well, not much.

Another challenge was coming to terms with the lifestyle change that owning a floral/gift business means. For example, while everyone else is planning a romantic night out for Valentine’s Day or a special treat for a mother or wife for Mother’s Day, these are some of our busiest days all year spent making everyone else’s days special. Fortunately, I have an understanding and supportive family, that is committed to delivering smiles as well. In fact, my younger brother works in the store with me year-round, and my wife and other family members chip in on the holidays.

How did your franchisor help you become a successful franchisee?

1-800-FLOWERS.COM has a great training program. Obviously they have a widely recognized name that people know and trust. They have multiple profit centers that I could tap into to expand beyond flowers to gourmet foods, gift baskets, fresh cut fruit bouquets and more. They have programs that help with customer retention, marketing, and training. They have a great national conference where all the franchisees can meet up to learn from experts and exchange tips and information. Their marketing “Tool Box” gives me materials I can use to promote using our store to help commemorate a wide range of occasions, from birthdays to weddings to sympathy occasions and more.

When did you feel confident you’d made the right decision in terms of both buying a franchise at all and buying your franchise in particular?

I was convinced I’d made the right decision pretty much right away, both in terms of becoming an owner and becoming an owner of a 1-800-FLOWERS.COM retail store specifically. I was able to take my knowledge and experience and the support I got from the team at corporate and start creating a more rewarding career for myself and a brighter future for my family. Obviously every business has its ups and downs, but you work through them. This business is fun. It’s challenging but it’s also rewarding. And it’s great knowing you’re helping people celebrate and communicate in a memorable, meaningful way. I really enjoy it.

What benefits have you found from franchising versus owning a business by yourself?

It’s great to have access to all the people at 1-800-FLOWERS.COM corporate, who have a genuine interest in helping you succeed. Especially with the ups and downs of the economy, trying to stay afloat on your own seems like it would be a lot more difficult than having a team of people working to promote your brand and come up with new opportunities to improve efficiencies and new products and promotions to help sustain and increase sales. And as much as I’m the one whom all my employees and customers turn to, it’s nice to have people who are acutely familiar with my business to whom I can turn for advice.

How has your life changed positively since you decided to become a franchisee?

I’m surrounded all day by beautiful, fresh fragrant flowers and my business is, to refer to the company mission, to deliver smiles. What could be wrong with that? I’m my own boss and I’m in control of where my life is going. I have to put in the time and effort, of course, but I have the independence now to direct what I’m doing to expanding my business and improving my and my family’s quality of life. I get to work with people with whom I really enjoy working and for whom a mutual respect has developed over many years. I’m really glad I did this.

What makes your particular franchise stand out in a crowded industry?

For me, it was the fact that I already knew the brand, knew the company and its executives, knew the business, and knew it was something I loved to do and could succeed at.

In general, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM franchisees have the benefit of being affiliated with a widely known and heavily marketed brand. We’re everywhere – in magazine ads, on TV (my store, in fact, was one of those featured when 1-800-FLOWERS.COM was the focus of a recent season’s episode of “Undercover Boss” on CBS), on websites and social media, on your phone, in your inbox and mailbox and of course, in a large number of physical locations. And it’s not just the brand. Jim McCann as our primary brand ambassador has been putting a warm, friendly face to the brand for many years, so that even before customers encounter our employees in our stores or wherever we’re delivering our flowers, gourmet gifts and fresh-cut Fruit Bouquets, they already have a strong sense of our commitment to quality and satisfaction. As for standing out as a franchise opportunity, I like to think that Jim’s commitment to the company he created means he’s committed to helping every store and every franchisee be as successful as possible. He honors that commitment by always identifying and inspiring new ways to expand and improve the diversity of products we offer – from truly original arrangements to a suite of brands like 1-800-Baskets.com, Fruit Bouquets, Fannie May Chocolates, The Popcorn Factory, Cheryl’s Cookies and more – and new ways to make stores operate more efficiently and effectively. Right now, for instance, they’re introducing a new local merchandising program that lets us create an online presence that’s customized to our store. People who visit will get to learn more about me and my store and see featured products from the main 1-800-FLOWERS.COM menu as well as local exclusives that we’ve created to reflect our community’s flavor.

One other thing that I think is particularly appealing to a subset of the franchisees in our system is the fact that those who already had been operating their own flower shops before considering becoming a 1-800-FLOWERS.COM franchisee can retain not only their proprietary name but also the local shop look and feel that their existing customer base has come to know and trust. By becoming 1-800-FLOWERS.COM franchisees, they add complementary branding, become part of a large and growing network and can tap into a range of programs they couldn’t – or at least not as readily – create and run on their own.

What type of person do you think is not cut out to be a franchisee?

In general, someone on either end of the spectrum of wanting franchisor involvement. In other words, a person who comes in and only wants to be affiliated with the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM name or to tap into network sales but otherwise wants to run things on their own won’t find it a happy marriage. At the same time, someone who thinks that when they write that check and sign that franchise agreement they can just sit back and the store will run itself or the franchisor will handle everything will quickly learn that that’s just not the case. Operating a franchise is a joint commitment between the franchisor and franchisee, with each party pulling his/her own weight to make things run smoothly.

As for our particular franchise, I think people who aren’t ready to handle the challenges of direct consumer interaction should either consider another option or be prepared to hire a strong “people person” to run things day-to-day. We process a lot of orders every day and each one comes with a lot of emotion and expectation invested on both the customer’s and the recipient’s part. You also have to be willing to work the holiday schedule that being a store dealing in celebrations and commemorations demands. You have to bring your energy and creativity to the job every day, to come up with ways to make the most of your retail space and of every interaction you have with your customer.

What lessons have you learned that you’d impart to people looking to invest in a franchise? 

Never be afraid of the challenge of getting into business. Some people will feel threatened but you need to be confident. You need to seek the help that the city or state offers small businesses, be prepared to let the franchisor train you and be willing to embrace the franchise program fully, because they took the time to figure out how to make this business a success so that you don’t have to, at least not on your own. If you know what you want to do and that you can do it, you will if you put your mind to it.

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