By Logan Beck
Transforming a local flower shop into a famous global franchise company is no easy task, but Tariq Farid managed to do just that as the CEO and founder of Edible Arrangements.
Recently, Farid was a featured guest at Startup Grind New Haven. There, he spoke about everything from his entrepreneurial beginnings operating a flower shop in Milford, CT at age 17 to his multiple endeavors in software companies.
— Comcast New England (@ComcastNewEng) May 4, 2017
Earlier this month, Farid spoke at a panel event with other notable small business leaders from the state, including Emily Carter, State Director of the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, Richard Brown, Director of Investor Relations for the MetroHartford Alliance and Jamie “The Bear” McDonald, owner of Bears Smokehouse BBQ and The Blind Pig Pizza Co. The panel, moderated by NBC Connecticut’s Brad Drazen, celebrated Small Business Week with a little help from CNBC’s The Profit and Comcast Business.
We were lucky enough to chat about all things entrepreneurial with Farid ahead of the event. Read our conversation below.
Knowledge Green: Can you remember any major lessons you learned from your days spent operating a small flower shop when you were only a teenager?
Tariq Farid: I think everything is a lesson when you start, especially when you’re a teenager and you don’t know about anything. Luckily, I had my mother and many other people who are great mentors, and I spent a lot of time learning from them because I didn’t know much about the business. I’ll tell you one of the most important lessons that I shared was from my mother. My mother used to be my first employee. In the beginning, as any business I used to struggle with money a lot. She probably taught me the best lesson ever that even applies to this day which you may have read about, and that lesson is the concept of not to chase money. She said, “Honey, you have to stop chasing money. It runs really fast; do the right thing and it will chase you.”
Something happened and it clicked at one point. I decided not to care about money anymore and care about the customer. She was right. You go in [to work] and somebody walks in at 4:00 p.m. and says, “I forgot my anniversary; I need something now,” and you kind of stop all operations and you focus on that customer and you deliver something and literally the guy leaves behind $50. It applies to this day, that was a very important lesson.
How does your experience of operating a small business at a young age impact the way you operate what is now a large international business today?
I think that in a business there are two things that happen. At one point the business becomes much bigger than the person who started it, or the group of people that started it and it starts to take a life of its own and then you really become just another “cog,” you know. We’re not there, and we don’t run our operation that way—we’re a franchise company and we’re made up of lots of franchisees, so we are actually 1,300 small businesses that make up the whole entity. Every one of those 1,300 contribute to the success or the failure of this brand, because if a customer goes into New York City at one franchise and gets something wrong, it will affect the whole brand.
We are not just selling arrangements—we inspire others to own businesses [where] they sell our products. Because we are a franchise company, it is one of the most important things that continues to make it special.
Does your experience as an immigrant give you extra insight when it comes to operating an international business that stretches across different countries?
Of course. I think there’s a lot of border shock and a lot of cultural shock that happens in people, and I think having an immigrant background and having a family that immigrated and the diverse exposure you end up getting in your travels and in your life, it helps. It helps a lot. I have friends of mine who own other franchise companies and I will always tell them, “Why aren’t you opening in Saudi Arabia?” or “Your brand would do great in South Africa,” or some of the other countries, and they say “Oh, we don’t know much about that, we’re afraid to go there because the regulations are different and these things are different.” I usually joke with them that I find it easier to sometimes do business in Dubai than to do it in California.
Do you still keep track of the small business and startup scene here in Connecticut?
I think from a business point of view, Connecticut is the best market to place your business. The unfortunate part is that the people who should be paying attention to that aren’t really taking advantage of it. I think Connecticut is very strategically placed, especially with a major market like New York [nearby] and a business can take a lot of advantage. I think more awareness needs to be placed on this [fact], especially with the powers that be. It’s about time we do something and start running this state like a business where we can attract [entrepreneurs], especially for franchising. I think Connecticut is the perfect state for franchising. We bring people from all over the world to come train and come learn about Edible Arrangements and what most of them love the best is that they got to see New York City.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you might give to small business owners, especially those that might be at the panel you’re speaking at?
For us, it’s always been about the customer. We couldn’t afford a lot of marketing in the beginning, and people would say, “It’s December, why buy pineapple?” We used to say that [the product] will “wow” the person that buys it, and if their response isn’t, “Wow, where did you get that?” they can call us back and we’ll return their money, we’ll put it back on their credit card faster than we took. That’s the only thing we had. We didn’t have a lot of money for marketing, but we did have customers, and making sure a customer was “wowed.” It worked, and we’ve stayed true to it up to now. We spent a lot of energy making sure that the next generation stays true to that, and I think that’s really been the formula.
Lead photo by Eric Gerard Photography