1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. CEO Chris McCann on failure and staying ahead of ‘where customers are going next’

1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc is home to a myriad of brands that customers have come to know, love, and look to when it’s their turn to give a special gift. The company was founded in 1976 as a single floral shop in Manhattan but has expanded to offer online orders of chocolates, gourmet cookies and other foods, gift baskets, fruit bouquets, personalized gifts, and more. Chris McCann has been CEO of the leading gift provider since 2016, when he took over from the founder and his brother, James McCann. In the 1990s, James brought the business into the future by being one of the first retailers to establish an online presence, with the 1-800-Flowers.com e-commerce site launching in 1995. The brand has come a long way since then, but Chris urges that the company will never stop evolving through innovation.

Ladders spoke with 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc CEO Chris McCann to hear his thoughts on managing a company that grows past 3,000 year-round employees, how the future of work will play into his business, and how the company is staying ahead of where its “customers are going next.”

What would you say is the biggest industry trend to watch right now?

“Conversational commerce. Millions of people are on messaging and voice platforms every day. It is how they connect with friends and family, and is quickly becoming a preferred way for them to engage and transact with brands. We’ve been an early adopter of conversational commerce and we’re excited about its ability to deliver a highly-personalized experience to customers at scale.”

How would you describe your management style?

“I have an informal management style and enjoy walking around and engaging with employees. I believe this has helped me become a better leader because it gives me a real-time feel for the pulse of the organization.

It also helps ensure we are fostering a culture of innovation every day. I take every opportunity to tell folks that I’d rather they get speeding tickets than parking tickets.”

What’s the most difficult part of being CEO?

“Worrying that, despite all the many initiatives and innovative projects our team is working on, we may not be moving fast enough. I think this is a worry many CEOs face in today’s fast-paced digital world.”

What’s your advice for a CEO trying to scale an organization?

“When faced with potential disruption – be the disruptor, not the disrupted.”

Does 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. have a specific work culture? What’s special about it?

“A key component of our culture at 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc is fostering innovation.

We have several programs in place to encourage our employees to think big and embrace change. One of which is our Digital Leadership Program – an incubator for young talent and a catalyst for driving innovation throughout the organization.

I firmly believe that a culture of innovation begets a culture of reinvention, and we are constantly reinventing ourselves as a company.”

What kind of skills do you look for in employees?

“We look for people who thrive in an atmosphere of doing – always moving forward, being intellectually curious, willing to experiment, taking risks and not afraid of failing. We don’t mind them making mistakes because they are trying new things.

This holiday season, we’re looking for more than 8,000 seasonal associates nationwide to join our team. These associates may also be considered for full-time employment once the season concludes. In fact, we have many employees who started as seasonal hires and then transitioned to full-time positions.”

Has 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. ever tried something that failed? What did you learn from that?

“As an innovative company, we’ve certainly tried many things that have not entirely worked out – but, that never stopped us from trying.

When social media was just starting to surface, we knew we needed to be in that game. We partnered with Second Life and launched a branded store in their virtual world. While the launch failed as a commercial endeavor, it was a defining moment in shaping our company’s culture of innovation – so, in that sense, it was a success.

We’ve had failures, and while we don’t celebrate them, we tolerate them and use them as a learning tool.”

How do you think the future of work will play into what 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. does?

“It will accelerate our culture of innovation faster and further, as the future of work is more open, transparent and collaborative.”

How do you drive the vision for a company that has grown as big as 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc.?

“Our vision is to inspire more human expression, connection, and celebration, and our mission is To Deliver Smiles. This is the filter we look through when evaluating new innovations and initiatives, and it is ingrained in our culture.

When your vision is to inspire more human expression, connection and celebration, that in itself makes it a pretty motivating place to work.”

In such a crowded market, how does 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. differentiate itself?

“We stick to what we do best: managing our brands, bringing truly original products to the table, and prioritizing the customer experience.”

In a world where online ordering rules, does the company plan to extend the products it offers?

“Our Celebrations platform is made up of a dozen all-star brands, including 1-800-Flowers.com, Harry & David and Shari’s Berries, to give customers a one-stop online gifting destination for any occasion.

While we will continue to innovate our products and services, we are also focusing on creating unique and memorable brand experiences. These experiences are designed to deepen customer relationships, build brand loyalty and create two-way conversations. These include programs like our Harry & David Hosted Dinners, where restaurants create menus with products from the brand and customers are invited to join us for an intimate meal.”

The public usually doesn’t think about the technology aspect of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc., how important is it that the business stays on top of the latest innovations?

“We’re committed to being where customers are going next. We know that technology drives consumer behavior, and we keep a close eye on how it can help us deepen lifetime relationships with our customers.

Technologies like conversational commerce allow us to make our interactions with customers more personal, on a scale that we were never able to before. Now, we’re able to recreate the 1:1 relationships we had with our customers in our very first brick-and-mortar floral shop.

We will keep investing in emerging technologies as we continue to enhance the customer experience.”