Undercover Boss Chris McCann Learns How to Nurture 1-800-Flowers Employees

CBS's (CBS) hit reality show Undercover Boss often features down-and-out employees whose personal stories eclipse the real problems occurring within the company. At times, these episodes seem contrived, but Sunday's episode, which featured Chris McCann, the president of 1-800 Flowers (FLWS), is the exception.

Throughout the show, McCann seemed sincerely interested in improving the Carle Place, N.Y.-based company. Part of McCann's motivation could be attributed to the fact that he wants to impress his big brother, Jim McCann, who is the founder of the company and highly competitive with his sibling.

But McCann is a numbers man (the self-described "nuts-and-bolts guy"), and it's clear that his primary motivation is to get 1-800-Flowers growing again. Shares of the company are down more than 64% over past two years. Net income from continuing operations in the fiscal second quarter ended Dec. 27 was $12.7 million, or 20 cents per share, falling short of the year earlier results, which include $14 million in net income from continuing operations, or 22 cents.

Unrealistic Goals

Disguised as "Patrick" (he wears glasses and a beard), McCann's first stint is to learn how to put together floral arrangements from Pauline. As Pat struggles to cut stems and stuff flowers into vases, he learns from Pauline that the company's designs are dated. Pauline aspires to create her own floral designs -- she even spends her own money to attend flower shows in order to get ideas. McCann grows frustrated when he discovers that Pauline has no idea about the company's training programs.

McCann's next stop is at the company's Fannie May chocolate factory where he soon discovers that workers are charged with meeting unrealistic production goals. When line operator Nicole walks away for a few minutes, he starts to lose control of the line. She comes back just in time, but McCann is soon in trouble again. He needs Nicole's help to keep him calm and help prevent chocolate from spilling onto the floor.

McCann soon learns that Nicole and her team must box 1,100 pounds of chocolate an hour. "The people from the office . . . who make these goals, they never come out and see how hard we work," Nicole says.

Pat then travels to the company's top-grossing 1-800-Flowers retail location in Boston where he meets store manager Dee. It soon becomes clear that the store's success hinges on Dee, who has built relationships with many of its customers. While working at the store, Pat meets Steve, who McCann has met before. Worried that Steve will blab, McCann reveals his identity during a flower delivery and gets Steve's word that he won't spill the beans.

A Heartfelt Story

McCann visits another retail location run by Cheryl, who was bored to tears because 1-800 Flowers hadn't advertised that her store was even open. Cheryl tells Pat that there are some days when there isn't even a single customer coming through the door. The problem, she says, is that many customers think 1-800-Flowers is only online or too cheap compared to higher-end florists.

While many of the vignettes in this episode addressed real business issues instead of personal ones, there was still one story that tugged on the heartstrings. Jose, a young manager at a store in Brooklyn, N.Y., touched McCann with his personal story of losing his father at a young age and being raised by a struggling single mom. Jose, who is only 19, has been working for years to help support his family.

It was at that same shop that we learn older brother Jim McCann is planning a surprise visit to the store. (Jim McCann couldn't be the "Undercover Boss" because he has been featured in many of the company's TV ads since 1992.) "Pat" is even charged with snapping a picture of Jim and the staff at the store.

Give and Take

At the end of the show, the "Undercover Boss" reveals his identity to each of the employees. At each meeting, McCann bestows useful gifts that can help both the employees and the company. He gives the Fannie May line operator, Nicole, a chance to have a say in her job regarding production goals and the promise of an incentive program that will pay extra should those goals be exceeded. Pauline is given the chance to flex her design muscles by helping with the company's next collection. For Cheryl, McCann promises to develop a marketing plan. He honors Dee's dedication by naming a floral arrangement after her and promises to become a mentor to Jose.

McCann figured out an important lesson that many managers fail to learn -- employees crave appreciation and bosses who provide it will be rewarded with loyalty and bigger profits.