How 1-800-Flowers Rode the Wave of Change

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For, connecting with people is what their business is all about. The company has experimented with new and innovative ways to connect with each other and build relationships.

“We all crave a sense of belonging, in essence we need a network of relationship, said Christopher McCann, president of at IRCE 2015.  “At 1-800-Flowers, we are in the business to connect with the people in their lives.” began their business with one retail store in the upper east side of New York City in 1976.

“We learned our customers were willing to give feedback on how to run our business,” said McCann about the early days of the business. “We learned that type of customer relationship is invaluable and about CRM, segmentation and 1-to-1 marketing.”

McCann said they learned how to cater to different styles and tastes and learned that from being part of the community you build a relationship first and do business second.

“We learned about change, we learned we needed to be innovative and embrace change,” he McCann. “Change is not a choice; it is about survival, because the pace of change is ever accelerating.”

McCann said the company experienced four waves of change and growth, beginning with brick-and-mortar retail stores, telephone commerce, ecommerce and social and mobile commerce. He joined his brother Jim on a full-time basis in 1984, when the company had grown to 12 stores and he was put in charge of them all. The next thing they knew they had opened three new stores.

“We were doing more sales and more profits in those three stores than we were doing out of 12, because that second wave had hit,” said McCann referring to telephone commerce.

As their business began to grow, they needed to build new call centers and a new network of florists around the country.

“We needed a communications network, so we embraced a telephonic business,” said McCann. “While we were building our business, we were riding the wave of this technology and here comes online services.” launched its online store in 1991 on CompuServe. In 1994, they were the first merchant to sell a product of any kind on AO, and went live via Netscape in 1995.

“We were involved in this leading edge technology, and had a partnership with Apple,” McCann said. “We were mailing catalogs on CDs and needed to embrace change.”

McCann said by 1997, consumer decided that that web was a winning technology and they were already there.

“Innovation is in the DNA of our company,” said McCann. “The public had validated that the third wave of ecommerce was here to stay. It provided many opportunities for us to really drive our brand on a massive scale, and by being early we were a pioneer.” expanded to include several brands including Fannie May Chocolates, The Popcorn Factory, Cheryl’s and Harry & David.

“We were integrating brands onto a common technology platform and a common CRM platform to help our customers express themselves to connect with more people in their lives,” said McCann.

The next wave of change for was social and mobile technology, which McCann said significantly impact every aspect of people’s lives and changed consumer behavior.

“To ride this wave of change we have to learn from the past, [which is] to build a relationship and do business second with our customers, with our teammates and with our partners,” he said.

McCann said it is important to recognize change, get involved, experiment, take risks, encourage employees and try something new.

“In the early days of social media, we saw a second life, this alternative world where consumers were being active,” said McCann.

McCann said the company’s relationship with Facebook enabled it to have a fully transactional store within the social media site. was the first company to sell physical products in Facebook Gifts.

“We like to think of ourselves as good technologists,” said McCann. “We looked for a partner to be on the forefront of mobile commerce, mobile technology.”

McCann said the fourth wave with mobile and social media has allowed 1-800-Flowers to reinvent itself time and time again.

“In 2008, we got hit hard and cut costs,” he said. “While doing that we also made promises to our team that we were not going to take the pedal off the medal (during the recession). We doubled down our efforts in mobile and social commerce because we knew this could change our future.”

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