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TARIQ FARID: I remember showing him the brochure. And he looks at it, and he goes, interesting. Why do you think this is going to work? You know, and I'm like, well, because I see the reaction of the customers. I think this is great. He goes, does anybody else does this? I said, no, that's the brilliance. And he goes, well, if no one else does it, why do you think you'll be successful? So I would encourage you to stick to your daytime job. You have very successful flower shops. Stick to that.
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GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS - a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built. I'm Guy Raz, and on today's show, how Tariq Farid turned flower bouquets into fruit bouquets, and out of that, built a multimillion dollar franchise called Edible Arrangements.
OK, so say you're an investor and someone pitches you a concept to sell cool glasses online, like Warby Parker, or a ride-hailing app, like Lyft, or even a new type of women's undergarment, like Spanx. You could imagine thinking, yeah, this might have a chance of taking off, right? But what if someone pitched you a business idea to take cantaloupe and pineapples and strawberries, carve them into flower shapes, put them on toothpicks and arrange them into bouquets? Would you jump at that? Because, to be honest, if I were an investor 20 years ago and Tariq Farid pitched that idea to me, there's no way I would have taken it seriously. And as you will hear, back when he first pitched it, almost no one else did.
Which is why, in some ways, today's episode is one of our most mindblowing, because Tariq Farid had convinced himself his intuition was right. And he defied almost everyone to build a franchise that, today, does more than a half a billion dollars in annual revenue. And even more inspiring is how it all started, because up till the age of 12, Tariq barely spoke English. His parents took the family from Pakistan to the U.S. in 1981 looking for a better life. They settled in West Haven, Conn., and Tariq's dad got a job at a machine shop during the day. And to make a little extra, he worked the night shift at Burger King. And one afternoon a few months after their arrival, Tariq realized just how tight money was during a trip to the grocery store with his parents.
FARID: And my mother saw mangoes. And she goes, oh, look, mangoes. You know, we should buy some for the kids. And they were, like, a dollar something each. And my father looks at it and says, oh, no, no, Salma, we can't afford those a dollar each. And this was a father who used to bring cases of them in Pakistan. You know, we never had - you would eat until your stomach hurt. And so I realized that things had changed. And I remember that moment that, you know, wow, my father can't afford a piece of fruit, and I have to help. And at that point, I never asked him for anything. And I started to pitch in.
RAZ: So what kind of things did you do?
FARID: So paper route, you know - deliver newspapers. In the summer months, I would go to my father's machine shop. And then, you know, I had a group of people that I cleaned their yards, I cut their lawn, I, you know, removed their snow. And then the flower shop job - and that's probably the most important.
RAZ: And what - tell me about that. So how old were you when you started working in a flower shop?
FARID: Thirteen. So I used to deliver papers as Charlie Farricielli. And Charlie's one of those amazing entrepreneurs. We used to deliver papers to him, and one day my brother just asks him that Charlie, are you looking for someone to water plants, or can we help? And I think Charlie felt bad.
RAZ: Charlie's the owner of the flower shop?
FARID: Yeah. And he said, you know what, I need some help taking some flowers across the street to the cemetery, or watering the plants. Yeah, come on down, kid. Come down a few days a week and do something and keep yourself busy. And so I started to work at Farricielli's flower shop in West Haven, Conn. And it was just watering the plants, helping the customers, you know, taking orders, ringing up things. But the biggest thing was I was in the shadow of an amazing entrepreneur.
RAZ: And he taught you how to do all this stuff?
FARID: He not only taught me how to do that, but the genius of this man was that he would kind of have you follow - when he would go and help a customer, he would have you follow. And he was just amazing at customer service. So I learned just by shadowing him - just walking around with him.
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RAZ: And did you - did you run the register, did you make arrangements - flower arrangements? What other things did you do in the flower shop?
FARID: I did everything. You know, I've never really worried about what I'm doing. I worry more about how I'm doing it. So I wanted to impress Charlie that I can do a good job. And Charlie was amazing at compliments. When my father would come to pick me up, he'd run to the car and he'd say, yeah, you have a good kid here. You know, he's a hard worker. He's going to be - he's going to make it. He's going to do something one day. And I just wanted those compliments. So I not only ran the register, you know, I would go and try to do things on my own so he knows he can count on me. I would help people make flower bouquets and everything.
So by the time I was 13, 14, I knew every aspect of the outdoor plants - how to water them, how often to water them, help customers. And, you know, the nice thing was there's a 14-year-old who's telling someone, and people are like, oh, my god that's so cute. Wow, you're smart, you know? And that pretty much started the entrepreneurial journey.
RAZ: And did you continue to work in that flower shop throughout middle school?
FARID: The second year of middle school I got a job at Burger King in Milford, Conn., the Burger King my father worked at. I can work all weekend. I can make a lot of money because most of the money went to helping the family.
RAZ: I mean, were you handing over your checks to your - to your parents?
FARID: Yes, yes.
RAZ: So your - you spent, you know, your middle school and high school, you know - you were spending that working - like, working at McDonalds or Burger King, or doing a paper route, or the flower shop, which obviously had a big impression on you. And then, I guess, at around age 17, a flower shop went up for sale in your town.
FARID: So my father, since I worked at the flower shop, he would always look for businesses. And I remember him taking me to a Subway franchise conference in Long Wharf - New Haven - at a hotel where they presented why you should be a Subway franchisee. And he - taking there - and it was just too expensive. We looked at it and we couldn't afford it.
And then he saw an ad in the paper for a flower shop for sale. But it wasn't the flower shop for sale. It was that the flower shop had gone out of business, and they were selling their equipment, and I think it was for $6,000. And he said, look, there's a flower shop for sale, we should go check it out. And I went, checked it out. It was a time that you never said, no. You know, I didn't know anything about it. I worked at a flower shop. He assumed that because I worked, I could probably run one.
So when he asked me, he goes, look, this could be good. And we can afford this, it's only 6,000. You want to do it? And I said, sure. Let's do it.
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RAZ: What did the 6,000 include?
FARID: Everything. You know, there was a cooler, and counter, and refrigeration, some inventory, but it had been shut down for a while. And my father borrowed $6,000 from Denise and Bill Hultberg (ph), who were his boss. And next thing you know, we own the shop. And it was just mostly the equipment is what we bought, but we ended up convincing the landlord to sign us a lease.
RAZ: Was it a pretty good location?
FARID: I, you know, I didn't even know the concept of - should it be a good location? It was probably not. It probably went out of business because it wasn't a good location. It was at a busy intersection, and it was hidden. It was tiny; it was about 600 square feet. So it was a tiny little flower shop, but it was perfect for us because it's something we could afford. Everything was a hundred thousand, 200,000 - this was $6,000. So it didn't really matter where it was.
RAZ: Yeah, so with the $6,000, you have this store. And then what? Did you just start, I mean - what did you actually do once you signed the deal with the - with the guy selling you the shop?
FARID: Well, made my first mistake. That's what I did, you know?
RAZ: What was it?
FARID: So I - the first holiday was Easter, and I had never been to Wholesale. I had never - I didn't know where Charlie bought flowers or where he got the stuff. So I looked up how to buy the flowers, where we get them. And, you know - back then, the nice thing was there was Yellow Pages for everything - and found a wholesaler that I went to and bought the flowers. So I think I had like, $600 that we had kind of saved up for the initial inventory for Easter. And I went and bought the flowers.
And I didn't know what to buy, and it was Mr. Parady (ph) who owned Parady's Wholesale Flowers (ph) in New Haven who kind of pointed me in the right direction to say, you know, you got to buy the pinks and the blues and the lighter pastel colors - that's Easter. Buy some tulips, do this, do that. And he kind of directs me because he saw I didn't know what I was doing, so he kind of helped me out.
FARID: He directs me, I pay him cash. And, hey, good luck, kid. And off I go. Show up at the shop, the cooler was shut down for a long time. And I'm looking at the cooler and I don't know what temperature it should be set back. Then, there was no Google to look up flowers' temperature. So I am looking at it, and it has a one, and it has cooler and coldest, or something like that. And it was one through nine. And I'm thinking, you know, I want these flowers to do well, so I'm going to set it to nine. But I didn't know the cooler had a freezer functionality.
So put the flowers in, made all the arrangements, got ready for Easter, went home, came back the next day - everything in the cooler is frozen because I had turned it on freeze temperature. And that was the only money I had. So here I am, I'm trying to revive the flowers. I mean, I didn't know you can't revive them. I'm trying to get them into, you know, room temperature water and see if I can save them.
I can't so I show up at Mr. Parady's (ph) Wholesale. He knows I just bought the stuff yesterday, so he's like, what, did you sell out? And I'm embarrassed to tell him, you know, I'm like, kind of shy. I'm like, no, no, I just need some stuff. And I'm picking a few things out, and he notices that I pick a few things because I don't have that much money. I only had a couple hundred - 100-something that I got from my parents. And he goes, what happened? And I told him what happened. He got a laugh, and he said, just take whatever you need. Take - pick - pick the stuff and pay me whenever you can. You're good for it. And that was probably the most amazing kindness that somebody could ever have. So he saved me.
RAZ: That's incredible. So you go back and, presumably, you set it to the right - the right temperature. How do you - how do you get customers to come into the door?
FARID: You know, I learned a lot from Charlie, that you - it's all about customer service. You know, I didn't see Charlie advertised. I didn't know anything about advertising, but what I did see was the great customer service he did. So we put up a banner outside, did some specials. And I think, you know, majority of the people that come to you, if you understand the customer, most people want to impress or want to wow someone, so that's what I always focused on. That have things that I know will sell and people will really like, and make them in such a way that it impresses.
So we would make the arrangements, have the flower bouquets and make it real easy for the customer. I mean, the one thing we did - I looked around at what flower shops did, and everybody closed by 5:00 or 6:00. I stayed open until 7:30, 8:00. And then we started to get a lot of customers coming home after work, and they would say, oh, I'm glad you're open late because I needed something, and I couldn't get to the shop and it was closed. All of the shops are closed. So we started to do more and more of that - that I would be open very late. And then the other thing was, you know, you started to get regular customers. And with those regular customers, you started to figure out what they like and what works.
RAZ: And so what - what did they like? What were you doing for them?
FARID: Well, I remember about a year in, there was this gentleman that used to come to us, and he used to buy flowers for his fiance every week. About six months in, he comes in. And he goes, we're getting married, and we want you to do our wedding. And...
FARID: And I was honest. I said, I am sorry, I've never done a wedding. And I remember, you know, it's just - it's an amazing guy. He goes to me, well, I never been married before, too, so we're both in the same boat. Don't worry about it. So - and we'll figure it out. And it was a large order. I mean, it was couple of thousand dollars. And I remember doing that, and along the way, learning every aspect.
I had never been to a church before. I didn't know what a altar is, or what a aisle runner is or these, you know, the carpets you lay down and everything. But once we did that, and after that, the wedding business became really big because, you know, it was something that we did good, and we had a reference.
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RAZ: And who worked there? Who actually ran the place besides you?
FARID: So I was in high school, so the first person that ever worked there was my mom. You know, so my mom, really, is the foundation of all these businesses. My mom would kind of wake up early in the morning, get all the kids ready for school. And by 8 o'clock, you know, I would drop her off. We had one car.
I'd drop her off at the shop. And then she kind of knew what to watch. She didn't speak much English, but she would just, you know, watch the shop. And then I hired another employee to take the orders. So when I come back at 1, they would have the orders ready. I would make the orders, and then I would go out on delivery.
So that happened for the first five or six months because I couldn't really afford to pay anyone except that one person that would take the orders in the morning. And she had kids, so I had to be back by 1 so she could go back and pick up her kids, and then I would take over.
RAZ: How soon after you opened up the flower shop were you profitable?
FARID: I think breaking even or making some money, we started to do that within five to six months because you never really had a value for how much you pay yourself. You just saw that, at the end, some money's left. And as long as there was some money left, then there was a profit. You did well.
But what we did really good with is that the holidays were really good for us. I always focused on bringing customers back for Mother's Day, and Christmas and Valentine's Day. And they always came back, and that's when you really made the money.
RAZ: So this is like 1988, '89, around then.
FARID: Yeah, '87, '88, yup.
RAZ: And once the store kind of started to hit its stride, did you think about expanding?
FARID: Right away - opened the second store in Milford, Conn.
RAZ: And how did you guys come up with the money for it?
FARID: I remember writing a business plan for a flower shop back then and what - going to the bank, say that I - hey, I want to open this. It'll be really quick. It's $120,000 I need. And I did a business plan and presented it to the bank. And of course, they denied me.
RAZ: Yeah, but you - I'm assuming you were, like, 19, 18 years old when you went to the bank asking for money.
FARID: About 18, yeah.
RAZ: So, I mean, it's sort of - you can't really blame them for not wanting to give an 18-year-old $120,000, right?
FARID: I don't blame them at all.
RAZ: So what'd you do then?
FARID: I had to go back to plan B, which was go buy something you can afford. And it's probably run-down, and it - probably have to build it from scratch. And that's exactly what we did.
RAZ: How much was that second shop?
FARID: Oh, it cost about I think $70,000. It was a - but it was a fully functional shop. But it was a note that the owner held. So he said, I'll give you a loan, you just pay me, every month, something. I think I paid him off within a year and a half or a year.
FARID: And by then, I had moved on to a third project. I computerized my first shop.
RAZ: When you say computerized, what do you mean?
FARID: Put a POS system in.
RAZ: A point-of-sale system.
RAZ: ...Because it was done all by paper up until that point.
FARID: Everything was manual. And this was a single IBM PC you would buy. Everything was on floppy disks back then. And then we were, just in '88, starting to get into hard drives. And so I put in a Novell network. And the reason I ended up putting it in myself was that I wanted to computerize my first flower shop. I'd wanted to put a POS system in, bring in the wire service computers. And it was just so expensive.
It would - people would come in and said, $12,000 for a Novell network, and it'll cost this much. And I just started to play around with it myself, and I put in the system myself. And once I did that, the company asked, hey, you know, there are other shops that are looking for this. Do you want to do this? And by '88, '89, I was helping other shops put in POS systems. And by '90, I had launched a company that was doing that.
RAZ: So basically, this company was providing an installation service. I mean, you weren't actually making the software. You were doing what a few years earlier, somebody said to you, hey, yeah, we'll wire your system up for 12,000 bucks. But you just thought, well, I can do that for other people.
FARID: That's right.
RAZ: ...So go from, essentially, like, a ledger book where they were, like, writing in their sales, and they're doing their accounting by hand, to a computer system where they were entering numbers into a computer that would then file them away or create spreadsheets.
FARID: Yeah, so it was paperless type of a format where - what we were trying to do at that time was - everything was done in triplicate with carbon paper or those duplicates, where you would take an order, then give you the yellow sheet, and then the pink one would go to accounting, and the white one would go to the designer to make it, and the driver - so this company called Daisy Systems out of Memphis had created this software. And it was - they owned flower shops, as well. So it totally automated the flower shop.
RAZ: It's amazing because, I mean, obviously, we, you know, we take that for granted now. When you call - oftentimes, when you call up a shop, they already know who you are simply by the number that appears - the phone number that appears on their phone. But, I mean, up until that point, I mean, this - most businesses were not using computer systems for their sales, right?
FARID: ...And especially not flower shops, you know? So if they were, they were expensive. So we started to do a lot of work. And I, by '90, '91, I was doing 100 percent of my work into automating flower shops.
RAZ: I mean, at this point, you are barely out of high school. I mean, you've still got the flower shops and then also this new business, which is kind of incredible.
FARID: You know, we were blessed. I - you know, I had more work than we could ever do. We couldn't hire people because when I would tell them to say, hey, I have this company, and we automate flower shops, they were like, flower shops? OK, no, never - you know, you couldn't hire somebody from IBM to come help you to automate flower shops. It just didn't think the industry was that but it was enormous.
There were thousands of flower shops. And they all wanted to get that efficiency or manage their customers. So, you know, we were doing stuff, and there was a lot of money in it because there was hardly anybody doing it. And we couldn't do them fast enough or process the orders fast enough.
RAZ: So you were traveling. You were probably on the road every single day of the week.
FARID: I was probably home three days of the month. And the rest of the days, I was on the road.
RAZ: What kind of - I mean, at its height, what sort of revenue were you guys doing?
FARID: Oh, there was a year that I did over a million dollars in sales.
RAZ: Wow. In the network or in the flower shops?
FARID: In the network, in the computer business.
RAZ: So what happened to that company?
FARID: So the parent company sold. So in 1997, Teleflora bought Daisy Systems. And they asked, would you like to work for us?
RAZ: You sold your networking company as part of this.
FARID: That's right.
RAZ: So Teleflora, which is now, of course, a huge - it was a huge company. And they bought this company, and they said to you, hey, we hear you do great work. Why don't you come work for us? And you thought, OK, great.
FARID: Yeah. By then, you know, I had a 4-year-old. And I was traveling a lot, and I was ready to not travel as much. And I thought I would really enjoy the part of working for someone and not have to work for myself, and kind of work as hard as I did and travel as much as I did. So I thought I was ready for a corporate job.
RAZ: And how long did you last there?
FARID: Physically, month and a half. Mentally, about two weeks.
RAZ: Wait, you worked for them for a month and a half?
FARID: Yeah, month and a half, two months at the most, yeah.
RAZ: That's interesting. I mean, you must have really disliked it.
FARID: No, it's not that I disliked it. I just think I missed that part of the craziness that I thought I wouldn't like, the craziness of owning a small business, and kind of going day to day and wondering what's going to happen if I - am I going to be able to do this? I realized that I liked that, and I enjoyed that, that I wanted to go back to that. So what do I do? I go and start a flower shop from scratch - another one - and bought a building, and started building a flower shop in '97. And within a few months, I was back running the shops again.
RAZ: So is that basically what you thought that you'd be doing for, you know, like, for the foreseeable future?
FARID: Yeah. But then Edible got in the way.
RAZ: Edible Arrangements.
FARID: Yes. I had seen the fruit business being done. I had interacted with it, where people were doing it.
RAZ: Doing what, selling fruit?
FARID: The fruit arrangements.
RAZ: Oh, fruit arrangements.
RAZ: Oh, this existed.
FARID: Yes. You know, and then, there was a show on cruise ships that would make these big masterpieces of fruit. And so I saw that, and with it, I started to dabble into the - you, like, well, how do you make this model scalable? How do you make it where it's not a hobby or a small operation? That - I saw the opportunity in it of kind of scaling it but, you know, where you can open a few shops and really give a unique experience to the customers.
RAZ: And what'd you do? Did you start to experiment with this idea at your flower shops?
FARID: So, yes. You just got some tools, and got a knife and started to make them.
RAZ: ...Just, like, stamped out, you know, flowers from cantaloupes, and melon balls and things like that.
FARID: The same way as we did the flowers in the beginning - you just experiment. And you keep trying until you get it right. So I spent most of '98 doing that.
RAZ: So, Tariq, for people who have no idea what Edible Arrangements are, could you just describe what it is, what it looks like?
FARID: So it's really evolved. You know, so it started out with a fruit arrangement that looked like a flower arrangement from a distant, but it was all cut fruit that you could literally remove the wrap and eat every piece. And it was bite-size strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple flowers with a cantaloupe center. So it's a flower arrangement that, you know, the objective is to wow, and then the object is that it disappears. It disappears really quick.
RAZ: So after you started making, like, samples of these arrangements, were you testing them out with anyone?
FARID: Yes, towards the end of '97 and beginning of '98, I started to send it out to friends. And some thought it would be great, but majority of them thought it wouldn't work. You know, they're - who's going to buy fruit on sticks in a basket? I mean, come on.
RAZ: Yeah, I mean, I could completely see, if I was your friend at the time, I would've said the same thing or said, who is going to buy fruit arranged as flowers? I mean, what a weird idea. Why would you even think this is going to be successful?
FARID: And my father was so I think worried that he bought one of his friends to - who was a professor at a university. And my father's saying, my son is starting this. And, hey, I bought in so-and-so and, you know, I figured he could give you some feedback. And he looks at me, and he goes, hmm, interesting. Why do you think this is going to work, you know?
And I'm like, well, because I see the reaction of the customers. I think this is great. He goes, does anybody else does this? I said, no, that's the brilliance. And he goes, well, if no one else does it, why do you think you will be successful? So I would encourage you to stick to your daytime job. You have very successful flower shops. Stick to that.
And I said, no, no, no. I'm going to do this. This is going to be really successful. You know, and then, I - you know, he asked me about a focus group. I actually, you know, I didn't know what a focus group was. But he asked me to do a focus group. And I kind of said something to him that I think he didn't like. I said that I did do a focus group. I took it home, and I put it on the dining room table. My mother looked at it and said, oh, my God, honey, this is going to be big. I said, yeah, so if mom says it, I think it's going to be cool.
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RAZ: Coming up - how many, many, many more people besides Tariq's mom came to love Edible Arrangements, and how Tariq took this idea to a level that even he didn't think was possible. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. Stay with us.
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RAZ: Hey, welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's 1999, and Tariq has set up the very first Edible Arrangements inside one of his flower shops in East Haven, Conn. It has a very simple layout; there's a hand-carved logo on a sign behind the counter, and a small cooler in the back for the fruit. And because that first store opened right before Easter, from the beginning, business was pretty good.
FARID: And I sent out brochures - I made these brochures and sent them out to customers. And the phone started to ring and were - people were more curious. They would call and say, hey, I saw this. Is this really what I think it is? You know, where is your shop? And we'd tell them. And so then people - I think we got 28 orders on Easter, and I remember the number. It was 28 orders because it took us all day to make them.
And, you know, the biggest questions and the concerns these customers had was that, hey, you know, cantaloupe doesn't really taste good. How do I know it's going to be good? And that's where my mission statement came from. And I remember getting on the phone with a customer and saying, I guarantee you that the person who gets it will call you and use the word, wow. If they don't use the word wow, you call me back. I will actually give you your money back - hundred percent of it. And they're like, really? I said, yes. I never had to give anybody money back because people loved it.
RAZ: And at the time, where were you getting all this fruit from?
FARID: We would go to the market in the morning and buy the fruit.
RAZ: And how did you - how could you guarantee that it was going to taste good? Because even, I mean, cantaloupes aren't always good, and melons aren't always good. Sometimes they're just not that sweet - pineapples, right? I mean, how were you able to make sure that the fruit was good?
FARID: There's always good fruit. You just have to, one, pay more. Second, spend a lot more energy making sure what you're putting in - it's sort of like the chefs. You know, you have to sample it. You have to learn about the fruit.
So now, you know, we have a whole team that does this. We have a whole team called the fresh team that does - you know, goes all the way to the farms and sources the fruit. Back then, you know, you went and you shopped - right? - even when the fruit cost me a lot of money and I was losing money, I wanted the customers to get that experience because I was building a business. I was trying to build a brand.
So with that, we made sure that the experience of the recipient and the customer was nothing short of a wow. And you did that by making sure, and then you threw away a lot of fruit. You couldn't use it because, you know, when you buy a case, there would be some pieces in it that you can't use. You buy strawberries, third of the box you couldn't use because either their shape wasn't right, or they looked a little tart, or, you know, you pick the best ones and you make it better. But, you know, eventually as we grew, we were able to source it properly and get it right from the farm of knowing exactly the variety that we want.
RAZ: Yeah. How long did it take before it actually - you felt comfortable that it was going to take off?
FARID: About a year.
RAZ: About a year. Did you have a vision at that point that this was going to be a national or international brand? Or did you think, alright, maybe this will work and we'll, you know, I'll make more money and then I'll take that money and buy, you know, build another outlet, or another shop?
FARID: So I never thought it would be national, and that national journey started in 2000, where a gentleman walked into our shop and said, look, I was just visiting my mom from Boston, and everybody loved this arrangement. Can I open one of these in Boston? And he goes, can I buy a franchise?
Now, of course, I knew about franchising, but I hadn't thought about franchising Edible Arrangements. I thought about building a brand. That's why I spent so much time on the logo and the name. So I kind of composed myself and said, oh, that sounds wonderful. We've thought about opening franchises. Where would you like to open? And he goes, Boston. I said, wonderful. Let me talk to my attorney - I didn't have one - and I will get right back to you.
And so I called my attorney, who was a real estate attorney. And I called him up. I said, look, you know, I need a franchise document. He goes, I know nothing about that. So, you know, so he looked it up. He goes, this is complicated, you know? So we started that journey of then getting the documents ready and doing everything sort of for franchising. And one year later, we opened our first store in Waltham, Mass.
RAZ: So after that first franchise, how did you attract more franchisees? Did you kind of connect with a - like, a law firm or a company that does this and then they put it out there to the world?
FARID: I never - no, we did it one at a time. So it was all word of mouth. So up to our first 10 or 15 shops, it was all word of mouth because I was more concerned with doing it right. But what happened with us was that then somebody called - visiting Boston, calls from Atlanta and is like, I live in Atlanta. I want to open one of these in Atlanta. Then I think the fifth call was from somebody in Northridge, Calif., to say, hey, I just saw this. I'd like to open one in California.
RAZ: That's where I grew up - Northridge.
FARID: Oh, you did?
RAZ: Yeah, worked at the Northridge mall. So you - so you - how were you able to maintain quality? Like, how were you able to make sure that a franchise owner wouldn't try to cut corners by buying, you know, cheaper fruit, or cutting them smaller - cutting the pieces smaller. Like, how were you able to maintain the quality that you want - that you've kind of laid out in your store?
FARID: Well, first it's the owner. So with that, it's first choosing the right franchisee - the right person. After that, just having an amazing training system, where you just kind of train on how to make the arrangements, how to do the customer service. We were the ones going to each one of these shops and literally replicating everything.
RAZ: So were you guys just kind of growing, like, one store at a time?
FARID: Well, what happened in, you know, in 2004, the business started to take off. We started to get a lot of phone calls. I was able to hire someone that can start putting together structure and start selling. And at that point, it just pretty much got automated and got bigger than me. And, you know, I had a staff. I hired a team, and that's when the magic happened. When I hired that team, and all these things that we had automated and put into systems. We were, by 2004, 2005, we were selling 300 stores a year.
RAZ: And were you, I mean, at this point, I mean, I think one might imagine that you had tons and tons of cash coming into the business. Or was it more complicated than that?
FARID: It was a lot more complicated because as soon as we got to a certain size, we opened a warehouse to start doing the supply chain. I expanded the computer business and started hiring a lot of the developers. Now the website was being devolved - you know, a next generation of software was being developed. So a lot of the money was going into building the infrastructure because I was more interested in scaling it. So there was never really much money.
And I remember, you know, I would invite people to my home. And I drove around a 1994, you know, Volvo 850. And people would come by saying, oh, wow, you know, you have hundreds of stores. And they would look me like, you know, it doesn't look like he's that successful, you know, because I lived in a little raised ranch. And for me, that wasn't important. I knew that I can always do that later in life.
FARID: But building the brand is very important. So all my money and all my energy - everything was invested back into the company. And it paid off.
RAZ: So even after you already had, like, a few hundred stores, you were still in reinvesting because - right? - because to really scale, I mean, in many of the examples that we've had on the show, it seems like at a certain point, entrepreneurs have to turn to outside investors. They have to bring in outside investors to really, really grow big. And is that what happened with you guys?
FARID: So we didn't bring on any investors, even though by 2006, 2007, many people were interested in buying into the brand, or investing in the brand. And I had many offers of private equities wanting to get involved. I just didn't see any benefit of it at that time. Since I was self-funding and doing it, why dilute? You know...
FARID: ...So we just kind of kept going.
RAZ: And you were working, like, just like a dog the whole time?
FARID: I think dogs even get a break sometimes, you know? So, you know.
RAZ: I mean, obviously, Tariq, you were - and you did - incredibly well. And we'll talk more about that in a minute. But I mean, is that sort of the tradeoff - you know, that to have professional success at that level, you kind of have to give up some family time? I mean, I read that your first marriage ended in divorce.
RAZ: And then you had three girls that, you know, presumably you weren't able to spend much time with. So there was a price to be paid for that success.
FARID: A very heavy - very heavy price, yes. Yes, there is a - there is a price that you pay. And it's something that people, you know, you have to be ready for. And our business is very unique, even with the franchisees. I mean, when people are taking time off, we're working harder. So on the holidays is when we're busy. So when - as people are going into the Christmas holidays, we're just getting started. And so we're going to be busy through that. You know, I think the biggest thing that you look back at and you wish you did it differently is probably the children, you know, the - you know, the kids - because I don't think they understand, you know? And then, they don't care if you're rich or poor, you know? They just want their time. And they want their love. And a lot of times, you're spending all this energy where you think you'll be big, but they're not seeing it.
You're not taking them off to fancy vacations. You're not - you know, you're working night and day. You have no money. You can't get a bank loan. So if you're telling them this is going to be big one day. And, you know, the nice thing is that they continue supporting you, and they stay behind you. And that's critical to someone who wants to scale a business and work in a business and build a brand. And this is - you read about everyone, Steve Jobs and everything, they tell you how much - what the price they paid for that success. It is very costly at times. You know, now my oldest is working with me. And I tell you, everything is worth it because I see her, and God-willing, you know, I'd love to hand it off to her...
RAZ: How old is she?
FARID: ...Something that she could be - she's 23.
RAZ: And she works for the company now.
FARID: She's a brilliant young lady - brilliant young lady. I'm glad my daughter is much smarter than me.
RAZ: So, OK, so you - you're building this company. It's growing really fast. And then I guess at a certain point, you did actually take some private equity money - right? - in about 2012.
FARID: 2012, yes.
RAZ: And what - why? Why did you decide to accept that money when you guys were doing great without it?
FARID: You know, I come from simple background. And, you know, I didn't know anything about business. I've never had any training in business. My family has never really had any good experience in business. And so you're always in doubt that - are you the person who can run it, who can scale it? Do you know what you're doing?
I remember my attorney asking me that, hey, should we list you as a CEO? And I'm like, CEO? I'm not a CEO. I don't know anything about CEO. And I remember reading books about what CEOs are and interviewing people for the CEO's position. So there's always this doubt. You know, you've worked very hard to build this company. You want it to grow. You don't want to make a mistake. And so that was the thing. It was more for what I didn't know.
RAZ: So here's something I'm really curious about. You started this company, which is your company. It's your brand. It's your idea. You franchise it, all these people are running it. It's really great, you know. But then, in 2010, a bunch of your franchisees - they file a lawsuit against you. I guess there was a dispute about how long the store should be open and things like that. And that - that lasted - I read it lasted for, like, three years. Was that...
FARID: It did.
RAZ: Was that tough? Did that take a toll?
FARID: Emotionally, yes. You know, I put my heart into everything, and I just was - you know, I was - you know, you're heartbroken. You can't believe it happened. You know, I remember - I have a very good friend of mine, who's my attorney, who's kind of a right-hand person who has guided me. And I remember him saying something when I got served with the lawsuit saying, well, you know, this is just a matter of time. You know, I'm surprised it took so long. You know, the lawsuit is part of the culture, and this will happen. Franchise is like a family, and even in families, there's disagreements.
FARID: And when you're a leader, even if a leader of a family, sometimes you ask the family to do something, and everybody - and sometimes everybody is against you to say, we disagree. And we were kind of running the business from our point of view instead of the customers' point of view, from hours and convenience and, you know, deliveries and all that stuff. And the world was changing around us.
So we made some decisions at that point that we need to pivot the brand this way. And we had some that disagreed, and at that point, they took legal action. The outcome - it was nice at the end. All the initiatives that we talked about did work. And you know, the lawsuit was withdrawn.
And you know, I think the relationship - anybody that's thinking about getting in a franchise should realize that it is a relationship, that you are actually now getting into a partnership with another entrepreneur. You're going to have to spend a lot of time listening and making sure and inspiring and understanding what you're doing. And you may disagree at times, but you better have your act together, and you better have your concept together because they'll let you fail once or twice, but they won't let you feel too many times or do goofy things because it's their livelihood you're playing with if you're just simply putting initiatives together that aren't really thought through.
RAZ: Do you - is it important for you to be right, or are you prepared to be wrong?
FARID: Oh, I'm very prepared to be wrong. And you know, what I learned a long time ago was that when you're wrong and you admit that you're wrong, everybody around you will help you to kind of dig out of it and to help you learn a lesson. But if you have an ego or you think you are right, people at that point not only will but have the right to stomp on you.
And I'm not - I haven't gotten to where I've gotten to because I've been right. It's just, I've asked the right people and bounce ideas off the right people. I love calling people up out of the blue and just saying, hey, I'm thinking about this. What do you think?
FARID: And I love building businesses. So I'll just - you know, I'll be on a - in Bahamas with the family, and we're on a fishing. And you know, somebody's not really doing it right. I'm like, you know what? If we got a couple of boats that did it this way, set up this customer, set up a website - it's like, stop. Just enjoy the fishing. You know, you just - you kind of see opportunity and everything, and you think you can do it because I think as a business owner, you - your job is to build businesses.
RAZ: How many Edible Arrangements stores are there now in the U.S. and also around the world, right?
FARID: About 1,300 - close to 1,300 operating and...
RAZ: Wow. And how many many countries?
FARID: Probably about 10 countries.
RAZ: Thirteen-hundred around the world.
RAZ: And do you have a sense of, like, what combined revenue is for all the stores - annual revenue?
FARID: About 600 million.
RAZ: From Edible Arrangements - from fruit.
FARID: From cutting fruit
RAZ: From cutting fruit.
FARID: You know, so - I tell people - and I spend a lot of time when people bring me ideas. Don't underestimate anyone, and don't underestimate the power of kind of the market that we have here. And it's amazing. And you know, as you were saying, that I have to kind of pinch myself because I am still - I remember. You know, my mother said something amazing when I was a - 17, 18 that really changed me for the rest of my life.
You know, I used to struggle. I would come home, and I would talk to her like, OK, we're doing this much. We're not - you know, we're not making enough money. I got to do this. It's expensive. And she just - you know, she - in Urdu, she said it. And you know, she turns around, and she goes. Honey, you have to stop chasing money because money runs really fast. You should go do the right thing. It'll chase you. And and at that point, I stopped worrying about making money. So when the bank said, no, I didn't go there and say, oh, my God, this won't work. I went and figured out how to make it work.
RAZ: Your dad came to this country penniless from a village in Pakistan. He was a machinist. He was working at Burger King and McDonald's on the weekends with five kids. I mean what did your parents make of your success?
FARID: You know, I mean they're just as awed. My father is retired now. You know, he enjoys his life. He, you know, he gets to travel a lot, do a lot of those things that you want to do and that you want to be able to do for your father. My mom, you know, never really got to see - you know, it was 2005 that she passed away, and she was sick for a while. And she was instrumental. I mean she literally - you know, she was that person that when I wanted to stop and give up and couldn't make the bills, she would always kind of, you know, remind me that you'll make it. And you know, as long as you have your, health, honey, yield to it. Keep going.
So that's what I miss the most that I wish she got to see this because she spent a lot of time wanting her children to be very successful and wanting to me to be very successful and pushing me. I think she - she'd be on top of the world right now if she was around to see what we were able to do in starting with this little flower shop that I used to drop her off in the morning and go to high school, then she would watch the shop. And you know, so that's the part that - that's - you know, I wish it was a little different that she was able to see it. But my father - he's in awe every single day as we are.
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RAZ: Tariq Farid, the founder of Edible Arrangements - a few years after his mom passed away, Tariq founded an elementary school in her honor, the Salma Farid Academy in Hamden, Conn., not too far from where he grew up in West Haven. By the way, Tariq's original mentor, Charlie Farricielli - you know, the guy who taught him and his brother how to run a flower shop when they were kids - well, we called him to find out what he thought about his mentees.
CHARLIE FARRICIELLI: I actually turned to my brother, and I said, how do you like these kids? They picked my brain, and they opened up flower shops. Now I'm in competition with them. But you know, it was a beautiful competition. I'm happy with that kind of competition, for sure.
RAZ: After 38 years in business, Charlie Farricielli sold his flower shop this past December. He's still in regular touch with Tariq. And when we spoke, they were planning on meeting up for lunch.
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RAZ: And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.
Hey, thanks for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That.
BROOKLYN GOULD-BRADBURY: My name is Brooklyn Gould-Bradbury. I'm based in Tacoma, Wash. And I am a co-founder of a company called Five12 Apparel.
RAZ: And Five12 Apparel is athletic wear, something Brooklyn knows a lot about because since she was a kid and right on through college, she was a pretty serious volleyball player.
GOULD-BRADBURY: So years and years of volleyball, wearing different uniforms, different brands, you really start to pay attention to what kind of materials you like and what bothers you about a uniform and what's uncomfortable.
RAZ: And as it turns out - and you may know this if you play volleyball - those uniforms can be really uncomfortable in many, many ways.
GOULD-BRADBURY: They have itchy seams or if they're too tight in certain spots or they won't stay down in other spots. And some of them - they're way too thick, and they don't breathe. And so you just - they're way too sweaty and gross, and you just can't wait to get them off.
RAZ: Luckily for Brooklyn, her stepdad, Jeff, is a designer in the clothing industry. And the two of them started to talk about maybe going into business together to make a new line of athletic wear.
GOULD-BRADBURY: As an apparel company, it's very difficult to get started because consumers have the brands that they like, and it's hard to pull somebody away from a brand that they know and love.
RAZ: But Jeff started to think of an idea that could set their company apart, especially in a place like Seattle. And he had heard of a textile mill in Taiwan that used coffee grounds to make fabric. And apparently it's great fabric for athletes.
GOULD-BRADBURY: It's a very, very breathable fabric, but it's also odor controlled. So as you sweat and, say, you work out and then you go do something afterwards, you're not worried about your clothes smelling badly like maybe some other spandex material would or like a cotton T-shirt would.
RAZ: And in case you were wondering, the clothes do not make you smell like coffee. Anyway, Jeff and Brooklyn decided to work with that mill in Taiwan, and most of their coffee comes from the local Starbucks.
GOULD-BRADBURY: The mill picks up the grounds, and they extract all of the oil so that what's left is the coffee ground oil and then a very fine powder. And that powder - it's infused in the yarn, and that's what gives it its properties. So the coffee grounds are blended in with the yarn that we use.
RAZ: So once Jeff and Brooklyn had the fabric they wanted, they started to work on a bunch of prototypes. And they started with long-sleeved jerseys. They handed them out to volleyball players and other athletes and then asked a lot of questions.
GOULD-BRADBURY: How does it feel around the shoulders, and how does it feel when you're, you know, bending up and down? Is the fabric moving, or is it staying in place? And yeah, that was a huge part of it before we actually launched and ordered our full line.
RAZ: And now that full line is out and available on the company's website. They've been selling for about a year and have made around $200,000 and are repurposing a lot of coffee grounds.
GOULD-BRADBURY: Right now, for our last collection, we used close to 2,000 pounds of reused coffee grounds, which equates to about 45,000 cups of coffee or 90,000 shots of espresso. And we love that idea. We love that it's eco-friendly, that we're using something that we all drink daily to make our clothing.
RAZ: That's Brooklyn Gould-Bradbury. Her company is called Five12 Apparel, and it's based in Tacoma, Wash. If you want to find out more about it, check out our Facebook page. Just search How I Built This on Facebook. And of course, if you want to tell us your story about the business you're building, go to build.npr.org
And, hey, thanks for listening to the show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to howibuiltthis.npr.org You can also write us. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to send a tweet, it's @howibuiltthis.
Our show is produced this week by Rund Abdelfatah with original music composed by Ramtin Arablouei. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Claire Breen, and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Lawrence Wu. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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