One of America’s fastest growing private companies is based right here in Connecticut. As WNPR’s Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, the well-known franchise grew out of an immigrant family’s new twist on an old idea.
You may know Edible Arrangements if you’ve ever gotten one on a special occasion. They're not traditional flower arrangements. Edible Arrangements are made up of fruit cut into shapes, some dipped in chocolate, and arranged in colorful cups, baskets, and theme containers.
The idea came from Tariq Farid, the son of Pakistani immigrants who settled in West Haven when Farid was eleven years old. He is a self made entrepreneur who opened up his first business when he was just seventeen.
“My father saw an ad in the paper that in East Haven CT a flower shop was being sold for about $6000 and he asked me, ‘What do you think if we buy a flower shop?’ and I think I was too dumb to know any better so I said, “Sure, let’s do it!”
They bought the small store with a cash advance on a credit card and money borrowed from a friend. Farid says one of their first days came right before the busy Easter season.
“And I remember Easter because the first batch of flowers we got we froze them. But you went through those times and next thing you know we grew it to an almost 3000 square foot shop and opened a second one in Milford, CT about three years later and got close to $800,000 to a million dollars in sales.”
Farid says their success came from the whole family pitching in including Farid’s mother who spoke no English. He says she helped prepare the bouquets during the day and once Farid got home from school, he delivered them.
While running the flower businesses, Farid opened a computer business with his thirteen year old brother, Kamran that they operated out of the family garage. It was another successful venture that they kept until 1998, when they sold the company and decided to open up a third floral shop. It was then that Farid came up with the idea of making bouquets out of fruit. He admits the idea was a hard sell.
“No one was going to give you any money. When you went to the banks ‘fruit in baskets?’ It wasn’t proven out.”
Farid says a family friend even questioned the idea asking them if they had done a feasibility study. Not knowing what that meant Farid answered their mother had liked the idea. He says today that doubt from others just fueled their desire to do things in different way.
“Where people said this would cost you $100,000 we didn’t have 100,000 so you spent 10,000 but you did a lot of the work yourself. So we’re laying the floors ourselves we’re putting the counters together ourselves, and we learned how stores can be built.”
Since then, Edible Arrangements has grown to nearly 1000 franchise stores around the world. And it was ranked one of America’s 500 fastest growing private companies by INC magazine.
Because they’re a private company, not all numbers are publicly disclosed but according to Edible Arrangements the company has shown growth of 300% in the last four years, including during the recession. And as far as local jobs, the corporate office in Wallingford employs one-hundred residents full-time and seventy-five part-time.
But a successful company is not without its challenges. In September, an independent Edible Arrangements franchise association filed a lawsuit claiming new mandates from the company is hurting their business.
Sherri Vertorano is a Franchise owner in Mooresville, North Carolina and President of the Association. She says the parent company has not responded to concerns raised by franchisees.
"We have to use a certain insurance company and a certian payroll company. Containers are our biggest costs, why do we have to purchase such large quantities?"
Other mandates include requiring franchisees to use a preferred fruit vendor even from far way rather than from local suppliers.
Despite these new demands, Vertorano says she's making money. And the attorney for the franchise Association, Justin Klein says Edible Arrangements is a great franchise model.
"These are a lot of unhappy franchisees, and quite frankly franchisees that are in a good system that makes a good product and many of whom are profitable. That's always a recipe for disaster for a franchise system when your profitable franchisees are unhappy with the way that you're running the system."
The company would not discuss the lawsuit in detail but released a statement saying that Edible Arrangements International strongly disagrees with the Franchise Associations' characterization of the facts and conclusions.
Franchise owner Fouad Algoute is one of the happy ones. A native of Moracco he started at Edible Arrangements ten years ago as a driver. Now he owns three stores including one on busy Chapel Street in New Haven.
"It's just a good company. I saw a future in it. So I started from the bottom just helping prep fruit and stuff, and you start working higher and higher, everyday you get busier and busier."
Before the lawsuit was filed against Edible Arrangements, Tariq Farid told WNPR that his business is his passion and he's not in it for profits alone. And he says despite the company's success, Edible Arrangements will continue to be rooted in Connecticut
“As we grow internationally we grow more jobs here because we have to have a support group and we have to have more R&D and more things happening here to support these franchisees internationally.”
Growth in places like India where just recently Edible Arrangements signed a master franchise agreement to bring the brand to the world’s second largest country.
For WNPR, I'm Lucy Nalpathanchil