In 1989, a conversation with Peter MacMurray-his future partner and college friend-sparked the idea for an electronic floral service.
"Peter said to me, `The floral industry is like it was in 1945. The industry knows nothing about technology marketing, but if you bring your expertise in technology and strategic alliances into the floral industry, we could own it,'*" Mr. Tobin recalls.
Mr. Tobin, 52, had started his own computer software company, Software Concepts, and he also had experience in video conferencing. He was skeptical about breaking into the flower industry until finding out it was a $14 billion business.
"That really got my attention," he says.
Since then, PC Flowers has become the most successful service on the Prodigy interactive computer network and is one of the top Florists' Transworld Delivery Association members.
In 1993, it increased sales by 20%, to an estimated $3.7 million, filling more than 120,000 orders.
The company advertises on Prodigy in a roundabout way. Before each major flower-ordering holiday, it sends out reminders on the network. When Prodigy users go on-line, they see notes that say something along the lines of "Don't forget Mother's Day."
When consumers open a Prodigy start-up kit, the first thing they see is a four-color, $10 coupon for their first purchase.
Holidays and special occasions are, of course, a boon.
"We don't have to be really creative promotion wise," Mr. Tobin reminds. "Other marketers have to create reasons for their product, but God and society have done that for us."