During 30 years of growing roses, I have seen the rose world has change significantly; in fact, the changes that have come about are unbelievable. Mrs. Daisy and I had a comfortable life grafting and growing fortuniana rootstock roses. Before we began to grow fortuniana, we acquired and had old garden roses. Rosarians did not want them, so we discontinued and destroyed our mother plants. Our mentor, a lady from Gulfport, MS, who had the largest selection of old garden roses in the South, supplied us with cuttings for all of these roses. Almost every major city in Mississippi had a rose society. The nearest rose society to us in Mobile, AL, had over a hundred active members. We supplied rosarians in the societies across the South with roses. We only had about a hundred varieties of roses, and we were constantly running out. People came from all over the South to Buckatunna, MS, just to purchase our great roses. Selling a hundred roses to one rosarian was a very common procedure.
When the older Rosarians quit buying roses, the younger generation didn’t continue to grow roses. A scare arose about the danger of using pesticides even though pesticides are not necessarily dangerous if the directions on the pesticide are followed. The younger generation found other things for their hobby. Then, the knockout roses entered the market. This was the final nail in the coffin. The American people had found a rose that didn’t need any care. Just plant it, and watch it bloom. This was only partially true. The rose societies began to diminish, and one by one they have disappeared. There isn’t even a rose society in Mobile, and only one small one remains in MS. So, the market changed drastically. I had propagation rights to knockout roses and had considered going that route, but the company that owned the patent rights thought I wasn’t large enough for their market and revoked my license.
After many years of growing roses, we had to make a decision. Did we get out of the business, or did we try to modify our market? There were still rosarians, and a few in each society grew exhibition roses but not enough for us to make a living. So, we began to grow roses that were great garden roses and not exhibition roses. We began to go to garden shows across the South with our new product, garden roses grafted onto fortuniana rootstock. People couldn’t believe the difference of putting a rose on fortuniana after they had been growing roses on other rootstock. This market was also not large enough to make a living. As time passed, we were fortunate to get a license for David Austin roses. I got a phone call from a man that at one time had represented Jackson and Perkins. He had left them and had gone to representing the Kordes Company from Germany. He began to tell me how disease resistant the Kordes roses were and thought they would do great on fortuniana rootstock. We purchased mother plants and began to grow them for graftwood. We began to graft them to fortuniana rootstock, and the way they grew and produced flowers was beyond belief.. So, now I had exhibition roses, garden roses, David Austin roses, and the new Kordes roses.
I was at a rose convention, and a gentleman by the name of David Clemons invited me to sit with his group for dinner. David suggested that we put minis and miniflora on fortuniana. David is the premiere hybridizer of these roses. We did what he suggested, and we had good success with them. With all of these roses, we now had 14 greenhouses instead of the 2 we originally began with. With all of these different types of roses and much more inventory, we still were just making ends meet. I didn’t know what to do because the small mail order and garden shows weren’t generating enough money to make a profit.
I was invited to a growers’ conference in Biloxi, MS, sponsored by Mississippi State University. At this conference, a couple of young ladies from Mississippi State explained the importance for small businesses to be connected to cyberspace to expand their market. I was really interested. They helped develop a great website, coordinated all my electronic equipment, set me up on Facebook, and gave me leads on how to find more markets. We entered the real world of marketing our roses. We had built a great reputation over the years for putting out a quality product and then standing behind that product. As people began to buy our roses and tell others on social media that there was still a small company that produced great roses, our business began to grow; however, we made a big mistake, We were not ready for this explosion of business and couldn’t fill all of the orders. I had watched other businesses over the years take credit cards, run them, and then be unable to deliver the product. This practice ruined their business. I had made a policy many years ago to never take payment in advance. So, our policy was to take a card but not charge the card until we shipped the roses. In the past, I also had an honor business of shipping on open account, and then the customer would send me payment.
In the cyber world, this policy hasn’t worked. For the first time in 30 years, I have delinquent accounts. My new policy is the following: The day we ship your roses we must have a credit card to charge for the shipment. Also, we now have a 30-day warranty on our roses. When you receive your roses and find that you are not pleased with your roses, if we are not notified of a problem within 30 days, we consider the sale final. The problems in the cyber world have resulted in the changes in the way I do business. My assistant Elizabeth, who is from a younger generation, said, “Mr. James, you are from a different world than we live in today.” I trust this explanation makes sense as to why we have had to change our policy. Also, now with the cyber market, we have found that there is a market for old garden roses, and we are entering the market as well. We have realized in our mini market there is a great demand for them as well on their own roots.