Each year when the Fourth of July rolls around, I am reminded how fortunate each of us are to live in a country where it is possible not only to have big dreams, but to have the opportunity to actually achieve those dreams, as well.
My family moved to this country from Pakistan when I was very young, but even then I realized this was a very special place. From delivering newspapers to working at McDonald’s, where I was introduced to the magic of systems, to opening my first flower shop as a teenager, it seemed that the opportunities were endless.
And so were the lessons.
From that first flower shop in Connecticut through the process of expanding Edible Arrangements into a global franchise network and now through the evolution of the brand beyond arrangements, I have developed a few key principles that continue to guide me through the ongoing process of pursuing and achieving the American Dream:
Don’t chase money, it runs too fast
Making money is important for keeping the lights on, but if profit is the only reason you are in business, it will never be personally fulfilling. And the best way I have found to create a fulfilling business is to do something that will have a positive and memorable impact on your customers. I try to create an experience that will make every customer say, “WOW.” When we do that, we can be sure that we will have customers coming back again and again, but more importantly we know we have had a positive impact on their lives.
Innovation never ends
It is important now more than ever, to keep innovating and reinventing yourself and your company. Edible Arrangements evolved from my small collection of flower shops, because I recognized a growing trend and found a way to innovate on what I was already doing. Consumers increasingly were concerned with fitness and health and were looking for healthy, fresh food options. Even though my local flower shops were very successful, creating arrangements out of fresh fruit seemed to be a very natural and creative way to bring innovation to the traditional flower industry. Little did I know that in less than two decades it would turn into an international network of businesses. Even if you are more successful now than you ever imagined, you have to be flexible enough to adapt to different cultures and changing tastes. For example, just as fruit arrangements seemed a natural extension of the flower arrangements, our newly introduced smoothies, frozen yogurt, juices and fresh fruit treats are an equally natural extension of the Edible Arrangements business and meet a growing demand not only in the US but internationally as well. The way I have found to continually think about ways to innovate my business is to ask a simple question—“if I were starting this business today, how would I set it up; what would I do differently?” I always come up with new ideas and then it becomes a matter of figuring out if I should implement any of those new ideas into the business.
You MUST embrace technology
From the very start, I recognized that technology could set me apart from competitors. That’s why I was willing to take the time to create customized programs to run my flower shops when the internet was still in its infancy. Today, Edible Arrangements is as much a technology company as we are a quick-serve or gifting business. From training to logistics to marketing to receiving and fulfilling orders, our proprietary technology drives everything we do and has created a barrier to entry for others trying to enter our space. And now that a generation of consumers and future business owners have been raised on companies like Amazon, Apple and Uber, these customers will not only expect, but will demand, a seamless shopping experience from start to finish.
Sometimes the best person for the job is you
You can’t grow a business without turning over responsibility to others. Sometimes, however, you will find that you are the best person for the job. This lesson was reinforced the first time I searched for a CEO. As a small business owner, I never really paid attention to titles but as we grew I was told that titles were important and it was time to list myself as CEO and president. I had doubts. After all, what did I know about being a CEO? So I hired an agency to line up some candidates and began interviewing them. And every single candidate started their interview by telling me how impressed they were with this initiative or that program I had developed, and how important it was that I remain involved because I knew more about the brand and how it was built than anyone. In the middle of one of these interviews, it hit me that I was the best candidate for this position, so at that point I began using the title CEO.
Seek input and information, but trust your instincts
When I first came up with the idea for Edible Arrangements I was repeatedly told by experts that it was a terrible idea that would never work and they had no shortage of reasons to back up their advice. But I was convinced it was a great idea and when I showed it to my mother, she said, “this is going to be big.” That’s all I needed to hear, and the rest is history.
Focus on the future, but never forget how you got here
For any business to continue to grow and evolve, there MUST be a continued focus on the future, the direction the company is headed and how it is going to get there. At the same time, you can’t discard the past and the lessons learned along the way because you never know when that experience will get you through the next challenge. In my opinion, executives need to spend 60 percent of their time focusing on the future, 20 percent reflecting on the past and 20 percent maintaining the present.
That’s why as we approach another celebration of the birth of America, I am forever grateful to my parents for bringing us to this country and the sacrifices they made so that we would have more opportunities than they had. That’s why I will always remember opening my first flower shop as a teenager and working 20-hour days to build the business. That’s why I will always remember traveling across the country to help our early franchisees get started, sometimes sleeping on the floors among the construction of their new businesses, or taking orders over the phone while dipping arrangements myself. No matter how successful you are, no matter how many locations you open this year, it is important to remember what it took to get here, and be thankful that you have had the opportunity to realize the American Dream. A lot of people will never get that opportunity and it is important that those of us who do have it, don’t let the opportunity go to waste.