As published in the Telegraph-Journal April 28, 2013
When I first visited the Saint John Blossoms Fresh Fruit Arrangements retail shop, I assumed the shop owner saw a great opportunity and was granted a Blossoms franchise. What I quickly discovered after meeting Michelle McCutcheon and Cathy Daley, business partners and founders of Blossoms, was that the Saint John location is, in fact, a flagship store and one of over 60 locations across North America. I learned that Blossoms is very well positioned in a growth industry known as fresh fruit arrangements – a healthy option for gift giving.
We met in their corporate offices, across the street from the Saint John retail location, which gave me a chance to understand how these two dynamic entrepreneurs identified a business opportunity, created a brand and landed on an effective business model to dramatically expand their business.
Blossoms’ business model consists of giving limited licences to entrepreneurs wanting to use the Blossoms brand and use their “proven recipe for success” of creating and marketing Blossom products. At this point, they have an established market with a great network of owners throughout North America supporting their brand and each other. They also have a wire service that keeps all their owners connected.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you become business partners?
Michelle: I worked at a call center where Kathy was my boss. We became friends and took a trip to Boston one day where we saw a concept similar to fresh fruit arrangements. I had been a florist for several years and knew that the floral industry is very competitive but a lot of places, like government buildings, were going “scent free”so this was just a great alternative. We started the business and kept our jobs for about 6 months but then had to quit in order to run the new business.
Cathy: We were both looking to start our own business, so it worked out really well.
Q: What encouraged you to take the leap into the entrepreneurial world?
Cathy: I wanted to put my energy into something that was my own – where I could reap my own benefits.
Michelle: My leap was about freedom and control of my future. I had previously had businesses when I was very young and I just knew that I wanted to go back to being an entrepreneur some day – I was waiting for the right idea.
Q: What can people expect in a starting a business?
Cathy: It’s a struggle in the beginning for everybody – you’ll want to throw in the towel! But if you stick it out, it will pay off. Do what’s in your heart. When we were starting out a lot of people said this may not be a good time to start a business because of the economy.
Michelle: I think a lot of people give up too soon,right before success.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the business. What was the opportunity you saw in it initially?
Michelle: No one in Canada had the concept of fresh fruit arrangements. The concept was very successful in the States and then they were starting to move overseas. I have the same background as the gentleman that started it in the U.S., and we thought we could do this in Canada with a goal of going worldwide eventually.
Q: So it was never about having just one successful location in Saint John?
Cathy: We opened the shop in Saint John just to learn the business and to perfect the processes.
Q: How did you land on your business model of licensing locations rather than franchising?
Michelle: We did a lot of research on other successful companies that use licensing models; 1-800 Flowers, FTD, those types of businesses.
Q: How does your limited license model work?
Cathy: We sell our distinctive specialty fresh fruit, vegetable arrangements and related products through “limited licenses”to entrepreneurs. Each licensee is given full training, a specialized product line, a wire service program, a full marketing package and much more. The fee structure consists of a one time licensing fee and a very low monthly fee for our wire service program, which offers an additional opportunity to increase revenues.
Q: What makes a Blossom’s location successful?
Michelle: It’s the individual Blossom’s operator and how much they put into it. We find it’s the people that come to us and are really asking for us to incorporate the concept.They’re the best operators.
Q: How do you find people who will be good Blossom’s operators?
Michelle: Often word of mouth. We have had huge success with current Blossoms operators referring people. So that’s great for us.
Q: How do you decide where a location should be?
Cathy: Our locations are based on population. We usually only have one location per every one hundred thousand people. We did a lot of research leading up to the two year expansion including what fruit was available in every province, at every time of year.
Q: How does the decision making process work in your partnership?
Cathy: In the beginning, and probably a lot of people experience this, you both want to be actively involved in every little aspect of the business. It gets to the point that, unless you want to work 24/7 and be pulled down by every little detail, you have to start defining roles and respecting them.
Michelle: We both have departments. Kathy takes care of the financial end. If she decides something I don’t necessarily agree with she wins out because that’s her department. And for me, I’m in charge of the staff, marketing, sales and licensing. We don’t step on each other’s toes.
Q: How have you funded the start up and growth of your business?
Michelle: We were very lucky; I had some savings and Kathy had some savings from having a good job for many years and we put our money together. Then, as we got going, we landed a large contract with an American company that helped fund the growth.
Cathy: We did look at getting investors at one point but we just kept coming back to the same point that – in the end – we’re not going to be happy. We wanted to retain 100% of our company.
Q: What are your future goals for the business?
Cathy: We’ll grow in the next two years and have a Blossom’s in every city in Canada.
Michelle: Our next goal is Europe. The States is pretty much saturated with our competitor and we’re not really focused there right now. They’re putting five or six locations in a city and we just don’t want to get into the competition. We want to go to where it’s a brand new concept.
Q: How would you finish this sentence? A leader’s job is to…
Michelle: To inspire.
Q: What is your inspiration?
Michelle: My inspiration is that I like to empower people, so the fact that we can help other people be successful is my inspiration. I like seeing my licensees and my employees doing well. That’s why I get up everyday Cathy: I was just thinking along the same lines as far as licensees. When you’re meeting with trainees or when they’re coming here, it’s amazing how appreciative they are. You’re giving them the ability to go out and make a really nice living for themselves.I find this inspiring.
Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc.in Saint John.He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter@Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos,go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca.