Edible Arrangements: A Fresh Take on Customer Relationships
When it comes time to celebrate life’s big occasions – be it a birthday, graduation, or anniversary – more customers are turning to Edible Arrangement’s unique selection of fresh fruit bouquets and fruit dipped in gourmet chocolate. What started as a small side-offering for a local floral shop in 1999 has evolved into a business with $500 million in sales a year. And Edible Arrangements isn’t done growing yet. The company recently launched Edible to Go, a line of fresh fruit drinks and snacks for the everyday occasion.
Edible Arrangements has succeeded by having a deep focus on their customers - both franchisees and the end consumer. Earlier this year, Franchise Times listed Edible Arrangements as one of the Top 200 Franchise Systems in the United States. Overall, the franchisee network has grown to over 1,200 locations since the program began in 2000.
We recently spoke with Edible Arrangements Founder & CEO Tariq Farid about the company’s unique position in the market.
Tell us a little bit about Edible Arrangements. What was your mission when you founded the company and how has the business grown over time?
Tariq: My background is in the floral industry. When we thought of this idea, it was really a no-brainer because people are always looking for something unique and refreshing. In the beginning, we were making the arrangements for some of our friends and it was a huge hit. But then, the business model had to be built.
I took the idea to banks and nobody wanted to finance me. The sad part is that while customers thought it was great, most business people thought it was a bad idea. Luckily, I’ve always been very customer-focused. I’ve always felt very connected to them. I don’t have any formal training when it comes to business so it was important for me to present things to customers that they’ll love, buy, and ultimately tell others about.
We started out by contacting the top 1,000 customers in our floral database and sending them brochures. When we heard back from over 100 customers, we knew we were on to something. So it was really the early acceptance of the customer that was the impetus. Our experience within the floral industry for so long allowed us to see the trend that people wanted unique items, better value, and something that could be enjoyed. It was really the simplest form of a business plan and the simplest form of thinking that worked. We are simple people that used to run flower shops, made good money, and thought of a great idea that really took off.
How does Edible Arrangements stand out from its competition in the marketplace?
Tariq: My mother was one of my greatest teachers in business. She had this great saying that you should “never chase after the money; it runs really fast. Go do the right thing; it will chase you.” It’s really all about doing the right thing.
Everyone used to give me the advice that we should open up corporate stores. We always found challenges in that because we felt that the more a person knew a community or town, the stronger the connection would be. Customers would know that this is a local person. We built our internal infrastructure in a way that supports these small businesses.
We’ve focused really hard on making an amazing product. We’ve been very methodical about how a product has to look on a consistent basis. We’ve always used refrigerated vans to deliver our product because we wanted it to arrive fresh and chilled. We’ve spent a lot of money on this and the competition simply hasn’t. I’d rather have the competition try to chase us and play catch-up.
But we don’t chase every opportunity; we’re very methodical. When we go after an opportunity, we make sure we’re doing it the right way. I’ve always admired Chik-fil-A’s model – they just stick to chicken and they do it very well. So that’s what we do – we only focus on fruit.
It’s really about doing the right thing and taking care of your consumers and franchisees, who are in return taking care of your brand.
Edible Arrangements operates in the traditional brick-and-mortar space, as well as online. How are you balancing the business between the two spaces and do you see this shifting in the next few years?
Tariq: My objective is to have more of the traffic happening at the store. When you go into one of our stores, you want to smell the product, you want to see it, and then you want to taste it. The internet doesn’t really allow you to do that. It’s great for your current customer’s convenience, but it’s not really that great for introducing new customers. There’s a great saying that “a way to somebody’s heart is through their stomach”. That’s really how we get to our customers.
The way that we’ve gotten to where we are today has been through stores. People have always asked me why we are building stores instead of building warehouses and delivering. I want to see the customer. I want my stores to see the customers enjoying the products. I want customers coming in to sample a new product. I want to hear their stories about how they shared our product with someone and they loved it. That’s what keeps you passionate about the product.
I think there will always be a balance but we have to figure out how to make our stores grow. It will always be about the stores first. We call it “click through the brick”. Most of our interaction happens because people try our product first. Our stores play a key role in getting people introduced to Edible Arrangements.
Let’s talk a little bit more about your franchisees. What do you think has made this model so successful?
Tariq: At the end of the day, we’re in the business of franchising. Everybody thinks of us as this company that makes beautiful food arrangements. But I am truly in the business of making the dreams of small business owners a reality.
We’re focused on how we can make a franchisee’s life easier, how we can help them generate more business, and how we can help them focus on the consumer. When we have that approach, franchisees want to open up more and more stores.
A lot of these franchisees invest their life savings into our business with the hopes of educating their children and becoming small business owners. At the end of the day, they are our customer and we have to treat them the way they treat their customers.
Where are you focusing investments into the business?
Tariq: Most of our stores are coming up on their 10-year anniversary which affords us the opportunity to upgrade our stores and to introduce new products in those stores. Edible To Go will play a big role in getting people to come into our stores and try our products. We will spend a lot of energy relocating stores to a better venue. We have a long way to go in getting to the number of stores that we need so we will also be opening new stores.
Everything will be around the consumer experience at the store level. That’s our main focus over the next few years.
What advice do you have for other middle market executives who are looking to grow their business?
Tariq: What I’ve learned through Edible Arrangements success is that sometimes the most obvious thing gets ignored and that’s what ultimately will give you the biggest bang for your buck. There’s always something new out there and people start to chase things that they think will be big opportunities. In turn, they stop paying attention to the things that are big opportunities.
It’s really about going back to your principals and your core. The companies that are best at creating consumer connections tend to do fewer things, but they do them very, very well. For a middle market company, that can be difficult because you want to operate in a high-octane way and do many things. That’s when you need the discipline to say “no”.
For the students out there, what are some of the advantages of working for a middle market business?
Tariq: Middle market companies offer so many opportunities for people to grow when compared to larger companies. There’s also a lot more opportunity to experiment. There isn’t as much engrained into the company and there’s less resistance to walk into an executive’s office and offer to do something in a different way.
In our company, we look for that new blood. We want someone to come in, take the bull by the horns, and run with it. Your 20s are a great time when you have tons of energy and want to go experiment. Later in life, you get to say that you’ve been there and done that. Those people are going to be the ones that become very successful leaders. You’ll get that experience at a company of our size.
What’s the next great frontier for Edible Arrangements?
Tariq: As you rise and get closer to the top, you can see a bit clearer into the distance and can see the full opportunity. Then you have to innovate and work hard to figure out how you’ll get there. The exciting part is that we can see that opportunity for introducing amazing products that people want.
People are asking for all-natural and healthy foods. They want to see how things are made. We’re doing a lot of that through our next phase – Edible To Go. It’s nice to be able to offer those products in such a way that consumers enjoy.
For more information on Edible Arrangements, please visit www.ediblearrangements.com