“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of Edible Brands”, With Tariq Farid

Remember that every major success story had to start somewhere — As Edible Arrangements began evolving from a small local business to a larger chain, I was really intimidated at the thought of my little brand potentially becoming a household name. When you are a small business owner, you are in awe of the big brands that everyone recognizes. I’d drive by a Walgreens or a Burger King and dream about having a brand presence like that, but small business is about being realistic; taking a dollar and turning it into two. What I failed to realize, and what other people often fail to realize, is that these mega-organizations started small as well; they didn’t just become global sensations overnight. It’s important for a CEO to be the visionary that believes in the potential an organization has to reach the next level.
Anoutstanding example and supporter of American entrepreneurialism, Tariq Farid is Founder of Edible Arrangements®, the pioneer and worldwide leader in high quality, artistically designed fresh fruit arrangements and Chief Executive Officer of Edible Brands, the parent company that includes other businesses as well as the Edible Arrangements brand. In addition, he has founded or acquired successful companies in the fields of technology, distribution and supply chain management and has established a charitable Foundation designed to support causes both at home and around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us Tariq! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Asa young boy growing up in Pakistan, I heard stories from my grandfather about the tremendous opportunities he witnessed while working in the states. This convinced me from a young age that the “American dream” was a real thing. When my family moved to the U.S. when I was just 11 years old, I could barely speak English and knew very little about American culture. I was certain though that I’d come to the right place to pursue my dreams, so an entrepreneurial spirit was within me from the first day I set foot on American soil.
Because our family did not have a lot of money, I began working at a young age and took jobs at fast food restaurants and a neighborhood florist to study how they ran their businesses. At the age of 17, thanks to a loan from a family friend, I bought a flower shop in East Haven, Connecticut. My mother would help in the store while I was in school, and I would head straight there afterwards.
I made a lot of mistakes early but learned a lot each time and eventually opened several stores. Spending so much time on floral displays made me start to think about food presentation in different ways and in the late 1990s, I began experimenting with creating arrangements out of fruit. At the time, there was no one was scaling or turning the concept of food presentation and design involving fruit into a big retail business, so I decided to go for it myself. When I opened the first Edible Arrangements store, the location was very small and the concept was totally new in the eyes of customers, but my team and I poured our hearts and souls into the shop to make it the best it could be. Two decades and lots of hard work later, Edible Arrangements is now an international franchise, with locations open or under development around the world.
I’ve since stepped out of the role of CEO for Edible Arrangements, having shifted my attention to some of my other entrepreneurial efforts such as my technology companies and newly launched hemp CBD business, Incredible Edibles. But Edible Arrangements was where it all began for me, and the lessons learned from my years spent as the company’s CEO still guide the way I lead to this day.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
One of the major challenges I encountered early on was the mixed feedback I received when I first began experimenting with fruit arrangements. The reactions from customers in my flower shops when they saw the fruit arrangements made me believe it was a concept with tremendous potential, but business leaders and professors I knew told me it was a terrible idea and said I should stick with what I knew, which was flowers. In fact, my father’s friend who was a college professor blatantly told me it would never work. He asked if I had conducted a focus group about the idea; I didn’t even know what a focus group was.
There was one person, however, who believed in me — my mother. She told me that she thought it was a great idea and if I thought it would work, I should do it. When I tell this story, I often say she was my “focus group of one.” I still seek out feedback from others, but I learned that sometimes you have to trust your own instincts when it comes to making big decisions.
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What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
One key factor that I believe led to my success was an early decision to take advantage of technology. Back when I opened my first flower shop, I couldn’t find an off-the-shelf software package that fit my needs, so I created my own and later began selling it to other flower shops. When I started Edible Arrangements, the Internet was in its infancy, but I quickly realized that we could use technology to separate ourselves from our competitors and create a barrier to entry for others that might try to copy us. We created our own technology company, Netsolace, Inc., and as the Internet and e-commerce evolved, we were able to respond very quickly and take advantage of each advancement.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
Remember that every major success story had to start somewhere — As Edible Arrangements began evolving from a small local business to a larger chain, I was really intimidated at the thought of my little brand potentially becoming a household name. When you are a small business owner, you are in awe of the big brands that everyone recognizes. I’d drive by a Walgreens or a Burger King and dream about having a brand presence like that, but small business is about being realistic; taking a dollar and turning it into two. What I failed to realize, and what other people often fail to realize, is that these mega-organizations started small as well; they didn’t just become global sensations overnight. It’s important for a CEO to be the visionary that believes in the potential an organization has to reach the next level.
Trust yourself — As we grew, people began telling me I needed a CEO, but because of the lack of self- confidence I had at the time I didn’t think I could handle the job, so I began seeking out a CEO other than myself to lead the company “the right way.” I had been reading about other CEOs and the prospect of me filling that role was daunting — like shooting for the stars — as I realized my resume was nowhere near as extensive as theirs. I knew I had a vision of where I wanted us to go, but I didn’t have the confidence that I was the person to get us there.
But when I started interviewing potential CEOs to take over leadership of Edible Arrangements, I found that the candidates were consistently sharing with me how impressed they were with what I had done for the company thus far, followed by what their plans were to keep that momentum going.
In my mind, I thought that what it took to go from 0 to 60 wasn’t the same as what it was going to take to go from 60 to 100. I was looking for someone who could take us to the next level. And I realized after talking to all these people that I was the best choice because I had a vision of how to get to the next level and that I did have what it would take to make my business a success — I had been doing it for quite some time already, so I made myself the CEO!
Launching a business and expanding a brand are more alike than you think — As a CEO, a major focus is on leading the continued growth and development of your organization. There seems to be a common myth in the business world that getting from 0–50 locations is vastly different from turning 50 locations into 100, and I assumed this to be the case myself when we started getting more aggressive with Edible Arrangements’ growth goals. However, over time I realized that building one location from the ground up really is not all that different from building an entire chain from the ground up. Of course, the tactical approach needs to be scaled, but the same work ethic, commitment, and big picture mindset are all necessities whether you’re a struggling entrepreneur or the CEO of a million-dollar corporation.
Consistency is essential — For any business leader, it’s tempting to lose sight of your original vision for your organization when new opportunities arise for growth or evolution. As Edible Arrangements began to grow from one tiny storefront to a global chain, I realized early on that I couldn’t let the excitement that comes with change distract me from the big picture vision the company was founded upon. To hold myself accountable in order to stay consistent, I always turn back to the “5 Ps”: Promise, Product, Place, People, and Purpose. It’s important to have standard operational guidelines to abide by, and if I lose sight of any of the “5 Ps,” it’s easy for me to lose sight of my original mission.
Just do it — Nike said it best. Over the years I have seen so many examples, even within my own organizations, of paralysis by analysis. That can often be a cause of friction between an entrepreneur and someone who has come up through the corporate world and is used to detailed studies and analysis of everything. The result is that a great opportunity may be missed. Of course, every idea is not going to be a wild success, and some may be spectacular failures, but that is the secret to innovation. As the old sports saying goes, you miss every shot you don’t take.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In my mind, burnout is a symptom of frustration and compromise when things are not going as you had hoped. There are people who have a vision; they can see not only the destination but also the journey and as long as you stay on your path you constantly feel energized. The trouble begins when you compromise and travel down a different path with others and do things that are not going to work. That can really burn you out. The secret is you have to stay true to yourself. I also think it’s important to get away a few times a year to give yourself a break. I like to get away whenever possible especially if it is somewhere that I have access to a boat.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A lot of people have led to my success, but the most important person was my mother. She was always encouraging me, especially during tough times, giving me advice and even keeping my feet on the ground.
After Edible Arrangements first year was completed in 2000, we had $190,000 in sales, and I was obsessed with how we could grow the company even more. My mother could see that my mind was consumed by money. She sat me down and told me I needed to stop chasing money. “Instead, talk to your customers,” she said “People work hard for their money and then give some of it to you. Go take care of them and then you won’t have to worry about chasing money because the money will chase you!” My mother couldn’t have been more right. When she passed away in 2005, we already had several franchise locations, and I still follow her advice to this day.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I am an entrepreneur at heart, and I am always looking for new opportunities. For example, over the past few years as states began legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes and CBD products hit the market, the term Edible began to take on new meaning. At the same time, we were rebranding our store to Edible, so I spent a lot of time and money trying to protect our brand and keep others from using the term as part of the drug culture. During this process, I began to learn a lot about the difference in CBD and marijuana and the health benefits of CBD. It occurred to me that we already have a perfect name to take advantage of this exploding market, so I recently launched a new concept called Incredible Edibles, focused on producing high quality, fully traceable CBD products that promote health and well-being and my goal is to build this into an even bigger brand than Edible Arrangements.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I love the Frank Sinatra song that says, “I did it my way.” It may not be the way to become a billionaire, but the amount of money I make doesn’t really impress me. l would rather have a legacy of values-based living, always striving to do the right thing both professionally and personally, as opposed to being remembered for compromising my standards just to make more money.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
If I could start a movement, it would be to focus on doing the right thing, teaching our children to do the right thing and then funneling all of that energy into finding ways to improve the community around you. I truly believe we all have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it. The best way to make that happen is to start within your own family and your own community. For example, I won’t add sugar to our smoothies because it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps we could sell more smoothies or charge more if we just added sugar and most people wouldn’t care, but it’s more important to me that we stay true to what we are all about and do the right thing for our customers. Everyone has similar things they do all around them and regardless of whatever small part you can play in building a better community, it will have an impact on the next generation who can then build on what you have done and continue the process. Source: https://medium.com/authority-magazine/5-things-i-wish-someone-told-me-before-i-became-the-ceo-of-edible-brands-with-tariq-farid-99e24e3fa4e1