How Tariq Farid Made Fruit Baskets a $400 Million Business
BY Kathleen Kim
Tariq Farid says his family would "still be struggling" if they were in Pakistan. Instead, he's the CEO of the very successful Edible Arrangements.
Born in Sahiwal, Pakistan, Tariq Farid moved to the United States at the age of 12 with his parents and five siblings. From his family’s 600-square feet flower shop in East Haven, Conn., Farid started Edible Arrangements, specializing in fresh fruit baskets and bouquets. "When I started the business, I felt I had nothing to lose," Farid says. "People who doubted me asked, 'How will you make it work?' And I always said, 'It will work--I will make it work.' Failure was not an option." There are now more than 1,100 Edible Arrangements stores worldwide, with combined revenues of about $422 million.
When we got to the United States, my family was struggling. Right away, I started delivering papers, mowing lawns, shoveling snow—anything to bring some money home. A lady who lived down the street told me, “Honey, keep working this hard and you’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re 35.” That just stuck with me.
My father had friends who also immigrated to the U.S. and everyone looked up to the ones who started a business. No one asked, “Are you successful?” or “Are you making money?” We were just impressed that they owned a business.
I got a job at a flower shop when I was 14 years old. Right after school, I ran to the shop to water plants and take flowers to customers. I learned to do everything, from making deliveries to buying from the suppliers. In the process, I saw how the shopkeeper ran his business.
We bought a flower shop in East Haven when I was 17. The first thing I did was set the temperature wrong on the cooler where you store the flowers. I thought the colder, the better. So I froze our first batch of flowers--$500 worth. I went back to the supplier and was nervous because I didn’t have any money to pay him. When I told him the story, he got a chuckle out of it and gave me a new batch of flowers. After those sold, I paid him back.
From the very beginning, I was passionate about our business. When we opened up the first week, we did about $70 a day in sales. That’s a big deal to a high school student. I always tried to get out of school early so I could take orders and deliver orders. I was about 19 when we opened a second shop.
I wanted to figure out a better way to track orders and organize delivery. In 1988, I bought an IBM computer and figured out how to create a point of sales system.By then, I knew the flower industry in and out. I went around to flower shops from Washington, D.C. to New Hampshire, asking if they wanted to computerize. I was on the road constantly from 1991 to 1993, selling and installing the software.
By 1997, we owned four flower shops. That was the year I discovered a company in the fruit arrangement business. I decided to try it. My mother was the first person I showed the arrangements to. I put them on the dining room table. She took one look and said, “This is going to be big.”
In 1999, we opened a small store on the side of our flower shop in Hamden and started selling fruit arrangements. A family friend asked, “Why would people buy cut fruit if they are used to buying pieces of fruit? Have you done a focus group?” Of course I hadn’t. I didn't even know what that was. I just said, “Yea, my mother said this is phenomenal.” I remember getting 30 orders at Easter and just being impressed. Back then, we had no equipment—we cut everything by hand and it took all day to make the arrangements. But we couldn’t make them fast enough. People just loved them.
When we opened another shop in Norwalk, a man came by and said he wanted to open a store in Boston as a franchisee. I was shocked. Franchises were Burger King and McDonalds, not us. I called one of the best people in the franchise industry, Michael Seid. He said, “Well kid, you don’t have enough experience. But if you put it together right, you could be pretty successful.” I hired a consultant to put the paperwork together. A month later, I presented the franchise agreement to this first franchisee. I drove out to Boston every day to help him build the store, lay the floor, clean his windows--whatever needed to be done.
When we opened a third edible arrangement store, we got a call from another potential franchisee from New Jersey. Then one from Atlanta and then another in California. Most people told me, "Don't grow like that. Don’t spread yourself too far." But we never just planted stores anywhere. People who believed in our business came to us. We always found good partners that way.
We never borrowed or took out loans from banks. They were skeptical about the concept of fruit in baskets. So I invested most of our own money into Edible Arrangements and never had debt. But I was very careful with every penny spent. We were building stores so quickly--we had about 700 stores by 2008. I was always nervous that something would happen.
Then, the economy crashed. We had zero failures until March 2008, when our first store failed. I lost sleep over it for 10 days. I couldn't believe it. People said, “So what? Only one closed.” But it was a big deal to me. We lost close to 40 stores because of the recession. I was always optimistic, and we opened our 1,000th store in 2011.
My mother passed away in 2005. We built a school in her name--the Salma K. Farid Academy in Sahiwal, where she is buried. We also opened a hospital, which sees about 4,000 patients a month. It provides free medicine and healthcare, mostly to women and children. I'm proud to be able give back for the blessings I have been showered with. I have no doubt my family and I would still be struggling if we stayed in Pakistan. Coming to America was the greatest gift given to me.