For 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc., founder and chairman Jim McCann and his younger brother, Chris, the company’s CEO, a career in the floral industry has been more than just a chosen profession — it’s been the thing that has defined and shaped their family legacy for nearly half a century. Growing up with five brothers and sisters (with everyone working at least part time in flower shops), the two have dedicated their lives to providing the world with beautiful blooms, gourmet delights, and other gifts.
Ahead of National Siblings Day, we sat down with Jim and Chris for a conversation about the joys, lessons, and blessings to be drawn from a robust family life, one that has extended well beyond the home, into the worlds of both business and nonprofit, and the brotherly synergy that their journey has helped build.
You have five siblings in your family, which is quite a crew. What were some of the unique benefits of growing up in such a full house?
Jim McCann: Well, we never had to worry about things being too quiet. You always had built-in companions. And, in addition to the noise, there was always a lot of laughter. There were four of us born within five years, and then six years later, another one, to our surprise — Chris.
Chris McCann: I grew up in a different sibling environment than Jim did, and because he was already in college when I was growing up. He and I didn’t know each other as well. Then, after college, when he was 24 and I was 15, he first bought a flower shop in Manhattan and I went to work with him, and that work gave us the opportunity to develop a great friendship.
It reminds me of a story my mother used to tell us. As the business started to grow, the thing she was most proud of wasn’t how it grew but how Jim and I, from working together, got to know each other and became great friends.
I also specifically remember working Sunday shifts there with my sister, Julie. She would pick me up in the morning, drive in together, do our work, and then drive out together. So, work was a great opportunity for us all to bond.
Were any other of your family members involved in the flower business, beyond just the two of you and Julie?
Jim: Oh definitely! We’ve all worked in the flower business for many years. Julie just retired recently, Chris and I started our business almost 47 years ago, and our sister, Peggy, had her own store. My mom worked with us, and even our dad would put in some time, outside his painting contractor business, during big floral holidays.
It taught us a lot about shared responsibilities and, as family members, being active participants in love and support, not just passive recipients. The only sibling who wasn’t in the business was our brother, Kevin, who was born with developmental disabilities.
About eight years ago, though, Chris and I partnered with good friend Walter Stockton, who leads IGHL (Independent Group Home Living), the group home where Kevin lives, to found Smile Farms, which is an agricultural work environment for adults with disabilities. It’s all about helping those adult professionals with precious little to do learn different skills, socialize with the community, and truly have something to look forward to when they get up in the morning.
Chris: It’s been amazing for Kevin, and here’s a great example: One of our favorite get-togethers is Mother’s Day, and late in the day we’ve always all talked shop. Kevin was never part of those conversations, but with Smile Farms he helps to raise the plants that will be sold through 1-800-Flowers.com, so he’s now in the thick of that discussion — what will be ready next for Easter, how the poinsettias for Christmas are coming.
What did growing up with a brother like Kevin teach you, as both siblings and individuals?
Chris: It gave us all the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about what love really means, and how important it is to see life through the eyes of others, especially somebody with a disability of any sort. And for all our kids, seeing the way we interact with Uncle Kevin has really helped them understand and relate with the life situations of others.
Our families are all now involved with Smile Farms on a regular basis, and my daughter is working with the international Special Olympics, and to see her aiming toward that kind of life and career is very rewarding.
Jim: Our love for Kevin has also helped demonstrate for every generation of our family that they’re part of a bigger ecosystem. It’s important for us to make sure that our kids, who are now parents themselves, and their kids all understand that even when they’re going through a tough time, they’re part of something bigger.
In this case, it’s a family with a mission beyond just “us,” and that mission is to help other people in need, as we do with Smile Farms and other activities. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many in our family feel called to work in the social services. My sister, Julie, did, my sister-in-law Kathy did, and I did. And, as Chris mentioned, his daughter works for the Special Olympics in Washington.
With a family as large and inevitably as busy as yours, how have you and your siblings managed to maintain enriching relationships as you’ve grown older?
Chris: The most important thing is to just make sure we communicate, and though our daily lives don’t usually allow for 20- or 30-minute conversations all the time, just always being able to stay in touch through something like an ongoing text group.
Jim: We have a text group called Sibs, and it’s a fun way to be in each other’s lives, even just to share a cartoon or a newspaper story about the old neighborhood. Social media has also helped us all stay connected, as being a very big family there’s always plenty of new pictures, so Instagram has become our platform of choice.
Our sister, Julie, also has all the old family photographs. So, every month or two, we’ll get a ping and there’s a picture of something like all five of us on Santa’s lap from, like, 100 years ago. Or a picture of our parents, sitting on the beach together.
Things like that help keep the family relationships feeling fresh. And with so many birthdays, Sibs texts also help all of us to keep track and make sure everyone gets to hear from all their aunts and uncles and cousins.
What does a holiday like National Siblings Day mean to two brothers who have started up a successful business together?
Jim: At the end of the day, it’s a reason to pause and reflect on a relationship that you may be fortunate enough to have, or have had, and it’s something you can act on. That’s not to say you have to send a gift, far from it. In some cases, it’s all about just sending a note, or making that decision to set aside time to get together, or getting a nice phone call in at the end of the day. Whatever it may be, just take some positive action.
Chris: National Siblings Day is about reflecting on those of real importance in our lives, and remembering how crucial it is to consciously maintain those special relationships throughout life. The main thing for our family on Siblings Day is just getting in some caring communication. There are five of us, and on that day we make sure to clearly communicate to one another just how important each one is to us.