Undercover Boss Chris McCann to Rearrange 1-800-Flowers

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For many family firms, the moment of truth comes when the company's founders pass the business on to younger family members. On Sunday, the CBS (CBS) reality show Undercover Boss will take a look at this moment through the lens of 1-800-Flowers.com's (FLWS) president Christopher McCann, the younger brother of founder James McCann.

Though his brother was a florist, Chris has spent his career focused on facts, figures and finances. The show will put the younger McCann in the trenches where his brother first started the family business. And, of course, he will be wearing a disguise.

Jim opened his first New York City-area flower shops in the 1970s, but his business really took off when he bought the rights to the phone number 1-800-Flowers in 1986. The toll-free number gimmick gave 1-800-Flowers an early leg up, and the company built on its early success by continuing to push into the latest technologies. In 1994, it quickly jumped on the Internet bandwagon, becoming an early advertiser on AOL (ahem) and in 1999 -- the same year the company went public -- it renamed itself 1-800-Flowers.com.

Over the years, McCann has expanded the 1-800-Flowers.com empire to include Fannie May Confections, the Wine Tasting Network, the Popcorn Factory and assorted other services. Unfortunately, the expansion has come at a cost: Last year, for the first time in the company's history, it lost money. According to founder Jim McCann, the company also laid off workers: "This is the first year since I've been in business that we've had to lay people off, and it was painful," he said in an interview in Leaders magazine.

Until Now, Flowers Heir Hasn't Had to Get his Hands Dirty


In that recent magazine interview, the difference between the two McCanns quickly emerged. While the senior McCann used clear English to discuss the company's quality of service and its relationship to its workers, Chris McCann delved into corporate-speak to discuss price points, market share and operating expenses.

To some extent, the younger McCann's emotional distance from the business is understandable: While Jim McCann was building his first flower shops in the mid-seventies, Chris was in high school; when he was putting together 1-800-Flowers, his brother was fresh out of college. And while Chris has been involved with the company since 1984, his area of expertise is not on the retail end. After leaving Marist College -- where he majored in political science -- he went directly to work on the corporate side of 1-800-Flowers.

To the younger McCann's credit, he has aggressively worked to expand his knowledge of the company. Last year, before his stint on Undercover Boss, he launched a research push, using focus groups to gain a better understanding of the company's customers. Based on that information, he expanded 1-800-Flowers.com's offerings, and adjusted its prices to suit the majority of its customer base. Still, it's clear that he has a limited understanding of the lives of his employees.

Sunday's show should provide some good entertainment with Chris McCann working as a telephone-based service representative. Last year, the company closed three of its five service centers, moving many of its employees out of offices and pushing them to work from their homes. The elder McCann lauded this transition, noting that it "lowered our costs, improved the lifestyle of our service people, and improved the quality of our customer service." One can only wonder if Chris McCann's foray into the world of a 1-800-Flowers.com employee will take place in a call center ... or in the comfort of his own home.

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