How One Lucky Meeting Changed 1-800-Flowers’ Entire Business

August 18, 2016, 1:00 PM UTC

If it weren’t for one chance encounter, floral industry giant 1-800-Flowers might have never gone public.

Its founder, Jim McCann, had launched 1-800-Flowers in 1976, with just one brick-and-mortar store on Manhattan’s East Side. He went on to open 20 more stores over the next 20 years. In the mid-1990s, 1-800-Flowers also dove into ecommerce, inking a deal with America Online to become one of its first online sellers.

Three years later, 1-800-Flowers was no longer the sole player in the market. The company had close to two-dozen competitors, many with big funding from private equity sources. Until that point, McCann was financing operations from revenue. But one encounter with Bob Pittman, AOL’s president and chief operating officer at the time, changed the company’s entire trajectory. Pittman urged McCann to consider tapping public markets to raise more cash.

McCann took the advice, and 1-800-Flowers went public in 1999. It raised $126 million, which helped it meet competition head on. Check out this video to find out more about McCann’s decision to take the company public.