Since I started running my own Internet company in 1995, almost everything I do is virtual. I work from home, don’t go to meetings, don’t go trade shows, and hardly ever make phone calls. I have a paperless office, and my mailing address is a P.O. Box service that scans in my all letters so I can read them online. My voice mail box even tells people to email me instead of leaving a message (if they do leave a message, it is automatically converted to an mp3 file and emailed to me). So, it is kind of crazy that in 2002 I ended up buying a retail flower shop even though I had never owned or worked in any sort of store before and knew nothing about flowers. On top of that, I bought it online without ever seeing the store in person (it was 3000 miles from where I lived). Oh, and before I even closed on the buying the first flower store, I bought a 2nd one.
Here’s what happened. For several years, I was using my GetFlowers.com domain name to sell flowers by getting a commission from another online florist for every customer I sent to their site. This made a little money for me, but there was no chance it was ever going to turn into a big flower site that way, so I decided to build my own online florist on it instead. I looked into it and figured out that most online florists were just order takers and sent out all their orders through floral networks such as FTD and Teleflora. These networks route the order to a local florist who delivers the flowers. All flower shops have a computer that runs FTD or Teleflora software, which they use to print the orders that are sent to them and also to enter orders from their own customers for out of town deliveries. For example, if you walk into a florist in New York and ask them to send flowers to your grandma in Miami, they will enter your order into their FTD or Teleflora system, and it is zapped to a florist in Miami.
The florists make a profit of around 20% for each order that they send through a floral network, plus they usually charge an extra fee (sometimes called a “service charge”) which they get to keep as a bonus. My plan for GetFlowers.com was to make it 100% automated and then to do away with any extra fees since there was no work involved for me to place each order. I would set it up so that the customer just fills out the order form on my site, and their order is sent to the floral network which then relays it to the local florist. Most other floral websites at the time were not