CAMBRIDGE, MA — Jim McCann kept the audience laughing and furiously taking notes yesterday during the first general session of the New England Mail Order Association's Spring 2005 Conference. The chairman/CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM rattled off jokes and informative anecdotes about how he built a $700-million-plus business from one Manhattan flower shop.
Recounting how his father was a painting contractor and his first job was as a social worker, McCann said a career in flowers might seem like a stretch at first glance — except for a fateful high school date that he was very nervous about beforehand. He brought the girl a big bouquet of flowers, and when she opened the door, she broke into a big smile, then gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“If these have this effect, I've got to get some more,” McCann recalled saying to himself.
Years later, while employed as a social worker, he started working in a friend's flower shop on the weekends to make extra money. McCann bought the shop and during the next decade opened several more.
In 1987, he bought the 800-Flowers company, only to find it was $7 million in debt. Trying to rebuild the business, he was helped by 800 numbers still being a relatively new phenomenon and his company being the first whose name was its actual telephone number. This created many press opportunities, McCann said.
After advertising on Ted Turner's cable networks for several years, the company got a boost in 1991 from Ted Turner. He called McCann and asked him not to withdraw his advertising in anticipation of the Persian Gulf War, something many other advertisers had already done. McCann agreed, and then Turner asked whether he could fill any holes in the advertising schedule with McCann's ads.
In 1991, McCann and his team decided to launch their brand online with AOL, though Prodigy was expected to be the big Internet player at the time.
“We were the first merchant of any kind on AOL,” he said.
The company went public in 1991.
It generates 70 percent of its sales online and has 15 million active customers in its database. Floral sales account for half of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM's sales, and 40 percent of orders are for same-day delivery.
In 1998, the company bought Plow & Hearth and turned it into a $110 million brand. In 2001, it acquired HearthSong, which produces more than $45 million in sales. It more than doubled the size of The Popcorn Factory, surpassing $45 million in sales, 2 1/2 years after buying the company. Good Food, which 1-800-FLOWERS.COM acquired in 1999, will be relaunched later this year.
The fastest-growing area of the business today is food, wine and gift baskets, McCann said. In the past six months, the company acquired Ambrosia, Wine Tasting Network and Cheryl & Co.
In other news, the day began with an introductory speech by NEMOA president Chris Bradley, who reported that this year's conference drew 460 attendees, a record turnout.