Things are coming up roses for James Stevens this Valentine's Day


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James Stevens, AKA Mr Roses, has been selling flowers since he was five. His parents ran florists in Sydney railway stations, where learned about buying, arranging, and marketing. After graduating with a commerce degree, he remained in the flower business and took over his parents' shops. In 1999 started Roses Only, one of the first big businesses to go online.

Seven years after selling Roses Only (retaining the brand in Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and UK), he's back with Mr Roses.

Stevens says nothing makes him happier than seeing a recipient of his flowers walking down the street. "They are telling the world that they are loved by someone and that takes it beyond product and price and takes it to emotion."

james stevens mr roses hot seat

This is your busiest time of year. Does it feature prominently in your annual planning, and how long does it take to prepare?

Typically February amounts to 20% of the annual revenue, Mothers' Day is 12%, and then the 10 months sharing the remaining 68%. You also have to bear in mind we're also a roses business which skews it to romance - anniversaries, birthdays, and mothers' day. Prepping starts and the anxiety comes in from September or October at the latest. You have to know packaging is ready, marketing plans are in order, and then there is additional marketing that takes place around that time and we have relationships and joint venture promotions.

How did you end up in roses? Are you a romantic?

So romantic! I grew up in flower shops, our family business from 1964. The entire industry always marketed itself to women, <others' Day is typically a woman ordering for her mother and mother-in-law. I suppose there was no one marketing to men and when I thought of men buying flowers I thought most would probably struggle to name three flowers but they'd know roses. I'd typically see men walking into the flower shops for anniversaries, Valentine's Day or for special occasions, or to say 'I'm sorry!'. So that's who I decided to make my target market - and hence roses!

What was your first job?

I sold my first flowers as a five-year-old at our store in Town Hall Station in 1970. Slave labour! That being said, I loved helping my parents in their business. I considered finance and real estate but fell into the family busines and effected a lot of change including the eventual trend to online sales.

What's the best money advice you've received?

Stick to what you know. The minute I've ventured away from my core which is really gifted retailing, I feel like I've lost money or wasted a lot of time so when I've invested in a couple of things where someone has said this is a good idea - jump on board - I've lost money. I can invariably get it right in the sweet spot of what I understand and know.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

Passive property investment brought in downturns. Over the years we've bought a few properties at times when demand was not there from others. We weren't leveraged and were in a situation where we could take advantage of opportunities. Over time each one of those investments has performed well.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Typically, a share tip in an industry I know nothing about. It may as well have been a horse tip or the roulette wheel.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Dark chocolate and flowers - I take them home and pretend they're for everyone but I'm the only one who really likes dark chocolate.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I'd give it to my young son Peter. He is amazing and runs Insufficient capital - he invests his own money and has created a newsletter which currently has about 2000 subscribers.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

Work harder, quickly.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Depends on when I die. If I die now, yes. If I die in 40 years' time, who knows? So many things could go wrong or go right.

What's been your best money-making career move?

Not trying to keep up with the Joneses, there is no silver bullet. I think a lot of people get caught up looking at others. I think - 'What is the best I can do in the environment I'm in with the skills I have?'. I just do my best and work hard.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... life a little easier. Not the be all and end all.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.