Guest blog by Jennifer Palma
Maybe it was fate..
On September 21st 2015 will mark a ten year anniversary of the end of my life as I knew it and the beginning of a new life I never thought possible. You see on Sept 21, 2005, I lost my husband, the love of my life, to cancer having moved here from New Jersey to try to give Jim his last wish which was to retire and move to Florida.
We went back to New Jersey for the funeral services. After the funeral services we received this Huge Beautiful Fruit Bouquet from a friend, it was delicious, refreshing and it even brought a smile to my face even in my darkest hour, we all enjoyed it. I still remember Jim’s Brother Alan saying “Hey Jen you & Jimbo always wanted to open a business when you moved to Florida this would be perfect.” He took the Hangtag on the bouquet and stuck it in my purse.
I came back to Florida trying to give my teen age son & daughter some normalcy, Matthew & Michelle were devastated but we slowly started accepting and healing. I went back to work the kids back to school. It didn’t take long to see that things were far from normal, Matthew & Michelle were still grieving and it showed in their school work and behavior and I was having a hard time keeping up with a full time job, medical bills, and nurturing my children was of the utmost importance, so I took a personal leave of absence.
As I was going through bills and papers at home, I came across the Hangtag from Edible Arrangements and I told my neighbor about it. At the time there was only one store here in Southwest Florida which was in Naples. My neighbor Kathy said why don’t we open one here in Bonita? So we called and there was no availability in Bonita because of demographics, they did have Fort Myers location open. So we researched the company went to Discovery Day at Edible’s Headquarters and signed up for a franchise.
I went back to work only to see drastic changes in my office. I stayed long enough to make sure the new manager was fully trained and I resigned. I am forever grateful for all the skills that I have learned in my banking career of 25 years without it I know I wouldn’t have succeeded.
On December 2006 just before Christmas my neighbor/partner backed out on me.
My biggest challenge was financing, with a partner backing out and no income to borrow against I used my home equity credit line, depleted all my savings, sold my house and even sold my jewelry to keep cash flow with the downturn of the economy in 2008.
I truly believed in my heart that was my husband’s last gift and I was going to do it with or without her and so on June 4, 2007, I opened my first location in Fort Myers.
Once the store opened we started to get busy and everyone embraced the concept of fresh cut fruit, just like me everyone that received their fruit arrangement was wowed. It was beautiful, healthy, delicious and impressive.
I refused to focus on the finances and joined BNI and the Chamber of Commerce to market my new business, sent hundreds of free arrangements and advertised locally. We made sure we offered a great product and excellent customer service. In 2008 with the economy downturn, I kept on going and even though a lot of businesses were shutting down we were growing in double digits. I also met John Kubicek who owned a weight loss center in the same plaza and he had 30 years of restaurant experience. I was telling him one day how I wish I had someone that has kitchen management experience to help me with the growing pains I was experiencing in my store, he said he is very slow in his weight loss business and would love to help out, he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Our love for the product and passion to do the right thing by our employees, like offering health benefits & vacation, appreciating our clients helped us grow to four stores.
In 2010, we opened our Bonita Store still no funding from banks or brokers. I used my 401K to open the store. We had so many people say why can’t you deliver to Bonita? The Naples store had that territory and they serviced it when they were slow and when they got busy they didn’t. Three years of customers complaining about the Naples store. Finally, our Bonita store opened serving Bonita Springs, Estero and North Naples; it was a hit from day 1.
In 2011 I was contacted by Edible Arrangements Corporate about the North Fort Myers location the owner was going to close the store so we purchased the store owner financing and a small loan from BankUnited. The store, staff and customers needed a lot of TLC, but now the store has more than doubled their sales.
In 2013, the opportunity came to purchase the Naples and finally for the first time we actually were able to purchase with a Loan from Bank United . What a relief! Finally, no financial worry and we get to take over a store that has tremendous potential. Our Naples location also needed a lot of TLC and now sales are up 47%.
All of this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for our communities’ support including BNI, Chamber of Commerce and our customers.
I am most grateful to my daughter Michelle who has been with me since day 1.
I am grateful for John his tremendous help in managing and nurturing our team members.
I am grateful for all the team leaders & members we have now and we had in the past, many of them come to help out on holidays we couldn’t do it without them!