5 mistakes Jim McCann made while turning 1-800-Flowers into a billion-dollar business

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin
Jim McCann, founder and executive chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com

"If we're not making mistakes, we're not learning," says Jim McCann, founder and executive chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com, the gourmet food and floral gift omni-channel retailer.

McCann got into the floral industry by purchasing a single flower shop in the East Side of Manhattan in 1976 and then expanding. In 1986, he bought 1-800-Flowers and later turned it into a dot com. Last year, the company did $1.2 billion in sales.

Along the way, McCann admits to some missteps, some of them minor, and a few colossal:

1. When Jim McCann bought 1-800-Flowers, he didn't realize he had just acquired a company that had over seven million dollars in debt. At that time, he knew little about due diligence. In fact, he likes to joke, it was more like "due negligence." It was his biggest professional mistake, but one he also viewed as a challenge.

Takeaway: Do your homework before you sign on the dotted line.

2. McCann says he's always tried to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. In 1992, as his company rolled into the Internet era, he invested in CD-ROMs to accompany the mail order catalogs featuring floral arrangements the company mailed to customers to help get them online. Unfortunately, the idea didn't pan out and the company abandoned it.

Takeaway: Don't be afraid to take risks. Every experience is a learning opportunity.

Jim McCann, founder and executive chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com before the company went public.

3. The company explored apparel in the 1990s, experimenting with selling Chinese silk jackets with big embroidered roses on them. Today, the jackets can likely be found in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust.

Takeaway: Investing in market research can save you both time and money in the long run.

4. In the early 1990s, McCann purchased a flower shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where customers had house accounts and a close sense of relationship with the previous owners. He switched the business' payments system to credit cards, which were gaining popularity at the time. But by doing so, he unwittingly damaged that sense of loyalty and community that was established by the use of house accounts.

Takeaway: Be mindful of how big changes may impact a consumer's experience.

5. In the past, the company hired "the resume" more than the person, without considering whether a candidate would be a good cultural fit. The strategy didn't always work out.

Takeaway: A potential employee's compatibility with their team is just as important as their skills.

"We haven't yet made our last mistake. That's what entrepreneurs do they try new things, fail and pick themselves up again," McCann says, adding, "It would be a mistake to spend too much time focusing on our mistakes and not moving forward."

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin is a freelance journalist and author based in New York.

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