Almost 20 years ago, local business owner Jennifer Palma received an arrangement of fresh fruit at her late husband’s funeral service. The edible, floral-like arrangement stuck out to her among other flowers and offerings of condolences.
“It was something that she had never seen before,” said Matthew Palma, Jennifer’s son. “It was a unique experience. People send flowers for funerals; you can look at them. People bring any assortment of hot foods and things like that, but something that was cold and fresh and sweet was refreshing. It was an experience that touched her, and she wanted to have the opportunity to share that experience with other people.”
A few years later, she put herself in a position to do just that, opening her first of five Edible Arrangements in Fort Myers. Edible Arrangements is a U.S.-based franchising business that specializes in fresh fruit arrangements, combining the concept of a fruit basket with designs inspired by flower arrangements.
She opened her fifth and final store six years ago. The five locations are in Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Naples.
For all locations, her son works alongside her, primarily acting as the human resources representative.
“I assist with enrollment and benefits, payroll processing, things of that nature,” Matthew Palma said. “But because it’s a small family business, we all wear many hats.”
The Palma’s family business was threatened as Hurricane Ian approached the Gulf Coast of Florida a month ago.
Starting the weekend leading up to the storm, the Palmas and their employees reach out to customers with orders for days that were expected to be impacted to see if they could make their orders early.
“Most of the recipients would be happy to receive it on Tuesday instead of at some undetermined period in time, so we pulled those orders forward,” he said. “We tried to mitigate loss of fresh products because we had some advance notice of the storm.”
Since the storefronts have double pane hurricane glass, the Palmas placed sandbags at all the doors of each the locations, secured electronic devices by making sure they were plugged into battery backups or powered down and secured the walk-in coolers and product freezers.
All locations were closed at noon the Tuesday before the storm hit, leaving the Palmas to hunker down at home.
On their mind during the storm was not only the storefronts, but primarily the safety of their 50 employees. The closure allowed all employees at the stores to have the same opportunity to be home and secure whatever they needed to beforehand.
“As we watched the trees whip around and the water rise, we were thinking about how everyone else was doing at home,” Matthew Palma said. “At that point in time, we were trying to communicate as best we could. We were all trying to see how everyone was as long as possible before we lost connectivity and power.”
Once the storm passed and the Palmas felt it was safe to visit each location and assess damage, they stopped by each site.
“To arrive there and see something that we see every week in that state, it was surreal to see,” he said.
Each location had varying degrees of damage, with one location in Fort Myers and another in Naples being the hardest hit.
Damage ranged from water entry, ceiling leaks and water damage to minimal product and equipment loss. The cost associated with repairs is still unknown.
All store locations were able to reopen within two weeks following the storm, with four out of five operating at full capacity, as one Fort Myers location is still having issues with internet and power.
Following the storm, employees are still the top priority for the Palmas.
“Everyone has such different stories, but every single one of our employees was impacted in one way or another,” Matthew Palma said. “We’ve been trying to stay as close to their situations as we can and offer assistance where we can.”
The Palmas have been working with the team at Edible Arrangements to facilitate some assistance for their employees through the Edible Cares program, which is a way that they encourage health and well-being through charitable contributions and community involvement.
“It can help them sort of move forward and deal with some of the things that they have before them that are proving to be obstacles and are consuming their thoughts at this time, just like all of us,” he said.
In terms of business-related concerns, the Palmas have already experienced an initial loss of business due to the closure of the stores, expecting to continue seeing the trend.
“Some people are in very precarious positions,” he said. “Perhaps people don’t feel like celebrating right now. And I think that the challenge to us is to remind people that we’re here for every day and bring attention to the assortment and the new things that we have.”
While Edible Arrangements is historically known for its special occasion and holiday arrangements, many are unaware of the everyday treats offered, such as baked goods and smoothies.
The Palmas serve about 14,000 customers per year in each location, serving roughly 70,000 customers amongst all the locations per year. Part of the challenge following the storm will be figuring out what role they will now serve in the community.
“Part of our challenge is to understand what it is that we can do to sort of reinsert ourselves into the community and see in what capacity we can assist do things differently,” he said. “We’re not going to be back to normal for quite some time. We’re not going to be able to go back to filling the sorts of orders that we would, so we’re going to have to do things a little bit differently.”