Help customers share with those in their lives: 1-800-Flowers' McCann

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SAN JOSE, CA - Longevity in retail stems from focusing on customer needs and the ability to take risks with new technologies, according to yesterday's keynote at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition.

In his keynote speech, Jim McCann, founder/CEO of 1-800-flowers.com, told how the $1 billion florist business grew from a small, part-time flower shop that he began in New York in 1976 by focusing on the social experience of the customer.

"We are trying to recreate the relationship I had with my first 25 customers in my first flower shop on Second Avenue in Manhattan," Mr. McCann said. "Our job 30 years ago is the same as it is today, which is to help our customers share with people in their lives."

Though it has grown into a major national company, and recently expanded from just flowers into gift baskets, desserts and wine, Mr. McCann said that he still thinks like a small-business person. He said that it is key to have good relationships with vendors, suppliers, growers and florists. In addition, the firm's innovative tactics stem from a family-business model and creative brainstorming with everyone in the company and customer response.

This approach has led 1-800-flowers to be an early adopter of new technologies. It was the first merchant on AOL in the early '90s, and today the flower retailer continues to be involved in new channels in its recently launched mobile commerce platform.

Last week the florist launched a presence in Second Life. 1-800-flowers is working with marketing firm This Second Marketing for campaigns within the virtual world. At this point there is no commerce aspect. According to Mr. McCann, this is because the firm didn't want to seem overbearing and is waiting to see how customers respond before offering products.

In addition to mobile and virtual worlds, 1-800-flowers is making commercials and posting on YouTube and MSN, as well as encouraging consumers to make their own. Mr. McCann showed a few, including one of a little boy who says his mother isn't very smart and another who says his mother is as pretty as a puppy, done around Mother's Day.

"I'm going to leave you with a quote from Coco Chanel," Mr. McCann said. "Fashion passes but style remains."

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