How New York Won The Web

Before leaving @d:tech, I returned to where I started, a table at a coffee shop in the Sheraton Hotel. This time I sat down with Sim Mann, whose card calls him a “marketing and advertising executive” at Flower.com, which recently moved its offices from the East Side of Manhattan to the West Side.

Mann is one of those fast-talking dealmakers New York has produced for centuries. I wondered as I sat down whether the web really needs another floral start-up.

This is a market where 1800flowers got the first mover advantage, where PC Flowers built a web-centered business, and where Proflowers is lining up the growers for freshness. Then there are FTD and hundreds of local floral chains to be heard from.

I ordered the Sheraton’s equivalent of bagels and lox, and got a plate piled with enough salmon to feed half of Long Island. Mann ordered toast and coffee – he doesn’t want anything in the way of his pitch.

The fact is Sim Mann lives for making deals. It’s in his blood. It’s the fire in his eyes and the spring in his step. He’s building a large affiliate network using Linkshare, offering what he calls a record-high 16 percent commission. He negotiates the big deals himself, and I had to admit he’s hard to resist.

Mann is especially enthused right now about his new deal with Sports Illustrated, for whom he’ll deliver team-themed bouquets through the holiday season. Mann also did a deal with Out.com, supporting its first gay online wedding. If you’ve got big traffic, Flower.com wants to help you capitalize on it.

Mann sees flaws at all his competitors. He said 1800Flowers hasn’t paid proper attention to customer service, that PCFlowers didn’t scale properly, and that Proflowers is weak on presentation. He said Flower.com will scale, it will quickly deal with any problems, it will offer the best presentation, and it will offer the best price.

He went on about nuances of the online floral business, like how Asians use the word “flower” when they mean “flowers.” (Some screen redesigns will solve that problem.) He said he likes to take customer service calls himself, that he learns a lot that way. Then he placed in my hand a card for his latest special – a dozen long-stem roses for $14.95, good through November 8. The selling never sleeps.

For folks like Mann, New York is heaven. Inside five square miles they can find most of America’s big media and big money. From the new offices in the garment district (Big Web is moving out the sweatshops at a frantic pace, Mann said) any of these offices are just minutes away. In a big deal, there’s no substitute for looking the man (or woman) in the eye.

The point here is there are no longer any technical impediments to building a scaled web store. Silicon Valley showed how to build it, companies like Amazon showed how to support it, and the time has now come to sell it.

Sim Mann is a man for his time. He even asked me for ideas, and I suggested he hire a merchandiser who will make sure SI has a big Christmas. That’s your entrie into a deal with CNN, with Warner Brothers, and with all the other outfits (like WebMD) they partner with, I said. Mann said he’d consider it, and maybe he will.

Wednesday was a very pleasant morning in New York. The sun came out after a long rain, and 7th Avenue came alive with foot traffic. The salmon was excellent, and the company amusing. I had seen the future, it lies in deals, and one of the masters of this universe had bought me breakfast.

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