USA TODAY Blueprint For Success
Each week, the USATODAY.com Small Business Center profiles a successful small business, its owners and how they achieved their dreams. This week: Arthur Conforti, president, Beneva Flowers & Gifts, Sarasota, Fla. Beneva Flowers & Gifts President: Art Conforti Location: Sarasota, Fla. Started: 1986 Service: Flowers, gifts and top-notch customer service. Says Conforti, “If we have the product or are able to get the product then we will do it. No ifs ands or buts.” Employees: 26 Contact information: Beneva Flowers & Gifts 6980 Beneva Road, Sarasota Florida 34238 Toll Free: (800) 226-1177 or (941) 923-7401 Fax: (941) 924-3797 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org In what particular product does your business excel? Beneva Flowers excels in a unique formula: “Quality Product + Superior Service = Value and Customer Satisfaction.” If this does not add up, then you know where your first problem is. Multiply customer satisfaction with the amount of hours and the dedication you are willing to give of yourself and that will lead you to the ultimate goal, success! Beneva Flowers & Gifts is ranked No. 34 in the country by Teleflora, the world’s largest flowers-by-wire service. This is among 25,000 members. Four years ago our ranking was about 16,000. It was not a goal I was trying to reach, but by doing your very best every day, you will eventually be pleasantly surprised with the results. Just don’t count the hours along the way. How long have you had this business? I started with my father in 1986 after moving to Florida from New York. How long were you running it before you realized it would succeed? I knew it would succeed the day we opened because I was willing to do whatever a customer wanted to make them happy. Today our company policies are still written by our customers. Beneva Flowers employees are not allowed to turn down a customer’s request. If we have the product or are able to get the product then we will do it. No ifs ands or buts about it. Why did you choose this product? My father was a florist and had a shop in the Bronx, N.Y. I never got to see him much. But he taught me when I was young to “learn a trade and you will never be hungry.” That was the best piece of advice I could have been given. How did you finance this business? I worked the store from the very beginning. Dad was ready to retire and I was ready for the challenge. I gave him $5000 down and financed the rest. Do you plan to continue with this business in the long-term future, or do you plan on doing something else? I have almost 20 years experience and still learn something new everyday. I have not mastered this profession yet and have a long way to go. I turned down an offer recently to sell and would not even consider it. There is not enough money to buy something you enjoy as much as I enjoy this business. I cannot be bought. What if I sell? Then what? Start something else? What is the purpose? If I get all the money I will ever need, where is the challenge? What do you do with yourself? A complete person is priceless. I once read something I believe in and live by: “Idleness is the vacation of fools.” Every day is a new challenge, and every day I am one day more conditioned to take the challenge and conquer it. Starting something new is like being in top condition, then letting yourself go six months and starting all over again. What are some of your best memories in starting this business? The first customer that walked in the door and made the first purchase. I delivered it myself! Delivering flowers to a new mother on the birth of her child. Meeting someone at dinner, giving him a card and seeing an order from him in a few days. You never know where your next order will come from. Doing a wedding for a couple, their first anniversary then their baby then graduation. I am only 35 – I’ll keep in touch. It’s the little things that start in the florist – you feel like a part of people’s families. And your worst memories? Call waiting. My father did not feel we needed another line since the invention of call waiting! Today we have 12 telephone lines and six 800 numbers! How many people do you employ? Today we employ 26. Four years ago it was about five or six. What are your hours like? Who counts hours? Any successful businessman who counts the hours he puts into his business would be very disappointed. Success begins far before the realization. If it is a doctor, it began in high school. How many hours did he or she work before they were paid what they deserve? Pharmacist, lawyer or teacher? Does a teacher log the hours checking homework? How about the research for higher education? Whatever it takes to be complete is success and that can never be measured by the hour. As for our hours of operation, Sundays we are open 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. -6 p.m. I felt we needed to be open on Sunday to be available seven days a week. My father said, “Who’s going to run Sundays?” It was my day ever since, and we have never been closed since 1986. What is your educational background? Three years in high school, all freshman. I wish I was taught how to study. I was never taught and I never knew how. I wanted to do well but did not understand how to study. I understood things but did not know how to put the pieces together to move to the next step. I knew how to make money. It seemed that I was able to do so much if I had money – cover the bus ticket and a general admission seat and I was at Yankee stadium. Ten dollars up front and I was on a nice bus ride to Atlantic City, then they gave me $15 in casino chips. Talk about an education. Sometimes I took the money, sometimes I rolled the dice and gave it back. All in all, I think it was more fun creating ways to make money than having the actual money itself. I remember borrowing my father’s van, running 15 minutes in front of the bus going into New York. I would pull up to the bus stop and ask who wanted a ride into New York. The bus cost $1.70. I charged $5! I filled the van with six people, put on some relaxing music and chauffeured them into Manhattan. Wow, 17 years old and 30 bucks in an hour’s work? Two trips a day was not bad for a day’s work! Dad found out and I learned a new word real quick: LIABILITY. It was fun while it lasted. What do you like to do in your spare time? Spare time? First is my family. When I come home it is time for them. After spending quality time and everyone is in bed, I go back to work but yet I am home. Sometimes it is 2 a.m. when I get to bed. I watch very little TV. Most of the time I watch the Yankees or any big game that is televised. I also enjoy going to sporting events and shows, but dining is No. 1! We have an Internet web site that we have operated almost six years now. When I first started, nobody, including me knew what this was all about or why I was there. It sounded right, the world was my marketing area and – what the heck – for $35 per month it was worth being there. Ever since, our site has grown to almost 5% of our gross sales. I spend most of my spare time researching. The Internet mostly. Technology is changing so fast that it takes lots of attention to keep up. The industry. I love to read. Anything I read is motivational or business related. There is not enough time to learn it all so you have to make the most out of the time you have. Most of my spare time is spent reading.