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Business is flourishing for online flower retailer ‘Roses Only’ – its rapid expansion prompted the need to protect the trade mark for this distinctive brand.

Men want three things when they shop for flowers, according to James Stevens: speed, convenience and roses. Delivering the last of these has never been an issue for Stevens, the product of a family of florists who have operated in Sydney since 1967. It is his ability to deliver the other two imperatives that has seen Stevens and Roses Only revolutionise the flower market.

Using the Internet as a sales tool and boxed flowers as the marketing instrument, Roses Only has built a brand that dominates Australian online flower sales.

Roses Only was formed in 1995, when Stevens, restless with the traditional sales approach of florists, sensed an opportunity.

“I saw that flowers were over-priced,” he says, noting that today’s price of approximately $79 for a dozen roses is similar to 20 years ago. “The feeling is that it’s still luxurious, but it is affordable.”

Naming rights

Stevens recognised the importance of protecting his brand, but because ‘roses’ and ‘only’ are somewhat generic words, he decided bring in the experts. In 1998, he engaged intellectual property firm Spruson & Ferguson to register both the words and the distinctive two branches with thorns image as trade marks. When the business expanded into fresh fruit delivery in 2005, Stevens trade marked ‘Fruit Only’, again with the stylised branches.

“From day one I was trying to register the trade mark Roses Only, and now whenever anyone mentions the words ‘roses only’ you would assume that it’s our brand, not the fact that they are being used as generic terms.”

Having expanded into the New Zealand and UK markets, Stevens has the same trade marks in both regions. He has also protected the trade mark under the Madrid Protocol international trade mark system to cover the markets that are earmarked for possible expansion.

“We’re not even sure that we’re going to be in the US market for another few years, but we’ve already got our trade mark registered there – we’ve also got our Japanese trade marks locked up.”

Brand protection

There have been instances of Roses Only’s IP being infringed on a regular basis, and along with his IP firm, Stevens is quick to make a move.

“Recently another large online flower retailer registered the name ‘Flowers Only’. It’s obvious. Why else would this company be interested in the name ‘Flowers Only’? They’ve got other domain names such as too – the only reason they would do it is so that people would get confused and think it was a division of Roses Only.”

Stevens put forward a case to auDA, the Australian domain name administrator, and was successful. In its review of the case, auDA determined that the company had acted in bad faith and had to return the address to Roses Only.

Garden of growth

Stevens is a big believer in brands. “I believe my brand can be thought of if you’re thinking about buying flowers and I want it to be top of mind.”

Of course, there are competitors. International giants such as Interflora and 1800 Flowers serve huge markets, but Stevens always felt there was a market for a well-packaged, consistent brand that focused on the flower of choice: roses. “There are so many things that go wrong with a generic flower delivery. You might not like the design or the flowers they’ve put in, or the style or colours … We’ve taken out all those issues. You know exactly what you’re getting with us.”

Asked to set a goal for Roses Only, Stevens once commented that he strived for a business reputation akin to jewellery icon Tiffany & Co – that is, it has not been compromised.

“It would be nice to have this notional sense that the brand can grow for the next 100 years, but at the same time the realism sets in and you say, ‘Well, who’s going to run this thing?’”

In the meantime, he will concentrate on doing what he does best – selling roses … and gerberas, tulips, irises, orchids and lilies.

Published on: Monday, June 29, 2009

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