Cary Living Magazine celebrates 14 years of publishing in Cary and Midtown Magazine 10 years in Raleigh.
By Kurt Dusterberg
Photo By Davies Photography
When you pick up this magazine, you’re getting a little piece of Ronny Stephens. He’s never written an article, but as president/owner of Midtown Magazine and Cary Living, he has made these pages possible.
Stephens moved his family to North Carolina from a small town in Florida in the late 1970s – nothing wrong with small towns, a lot of wonderful things come from them – he simply felt that greater opportunities would exist for his family in Raleigh…particularly for his children. A North Raleigh resident since 2000, Stephens is slowing down his activity in the publishing business, but has no interest in retirement. If another business opportunity or idea comes along, Stephens says he may give it a try...but he will always be grateful to the many people who have helped make the magazines successful.
Where were you raised?
Stephens: I grew up in a small two-traffic light town in north Florida, a place called Havana. I lived there through high school and when I went to college [at Florida State University], I commuted. I lived in Florida until 1978.
What did you study in college?
I had aspirations of being in advertising design, but honestly did not have the talent. A little later on I was a real estate agent – I even had my own small company. I had a few office jobs, yet I was looking for something that offered a little more opportunity and independence.
How did you get started in publishing?
When I was in real estate in Tallahassee, I became acquainted with the Tallahassee Homes & Land [magazine] representative. At that time they published 10 or 12 magazines in various cities; they later grew to a few hundred magazines, and fortunately when I came along the Raleigh area was available. In 1978, we packed up and moved to North Carolina. I knew very little about Raleigh, absolutely nothing about the printing business, and very little about the advertising business. Just based on my familiarity with Homes & Land, I thought this could be a good opportunity. So we moved up here, and it was certainly a challenge for the first year or so. Yet I stuck with it, eventually establishing many good relationships. Over time the magazine became a fairly rewarding business.
What other business ventures were you involved in?
I bought a telephone answering service, where you have the operators who answer calls for a small business. That was before the days of cell phones…I believe we were one of the first companies to introduce voicemail to the area. I did that for a few years and sold it. I have been involved with a few other publications over the years – some good and some not so good.
So you have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, is That right?
I always had to go out and create a job. If I’ve ever had an idea, I’ve never felt like I needed a whole lot of opinions. Most people would have told me, don’t do it. When I’ve seen a need or an opportunity, and if I could convince myself, I would have at it. Sales were one of the best opportunities for me. I’ve always had a keen interest in talking to young people who are starting their own companies. I think it’s very interesting. If you find somebody willing to do that, you’ll find somebody who has a lot of independence and more than a little bit of nerve.
You started Cary Living in 2003 and Midtown Magazine in 2007. You published Homes & Land for 30 years. What is common to those experiences?
You must believe in your product. You go out there and pound the pavement, knock on doors, face a lot of rejection – then go on to the next prospect. While I did have good sales assistance, I’ve never considered myself a good salesperson. What I have considered myself good at is building relationships, convincing people that, if you give me a try, I’m going to work hard for you. I consider myself honest and ethical – certainly a hard worker. What I had to do was convince you to let me go to work for you. Overall, I suppose I/we were successful doing that.
What role do you want your magazines to play in your community?
I’ve always wanted the next magazine we publish to be better than the last one. With Midtown and Cary Living, we’re not going to get into politics or controversial subjects. If you want that, watch CNN or Fox News. I want our magazines to be of general interest, and I want it to be a feel-good magazine. We do want to produce articles that are informative and beneficial to our readers. Health articles, for example, might help someone along the way.
Do you get much feedback?
I hope I don’t sound like I’m being boastful, but everybody I talk to about our magazines says, oh, it’s one of my favorite magazines. That just elates me, because that’s what I’m trying to do. But I can’t take a lot of credit for that. I’ve always tried to surround myself with great people and great talent. The magazines aren’t published with a lot of input from what Stephens said to do. We want a lot of feedback and input from as many sources as we can get. Our staff meets with our freelance writers, who constantly supply us with story ideas, and we often receive great ideas from our readers and advertisers. When you have people telling you that you’re doing a great job, it makes everyone more enthusiastic. I am very proud of and pleased with everyone who makes Midtown Magazine and Cary Living better and better as the years go on.
What can you tell me about your family?
I have four adult children and 10 grandchildren. They live in Charlotte, Jamestown, and Raleigh. I’m very proud of every one of them. I’ve been so blessed when it comes to family. Everybody’s healthy. They’re all doing well in the professions they’ve chosen.
What kind of interests do you have away from work?
I do enjoy going out fishing from time to time with my son. I have played a little bit of golf, but not a lot lately. I still hope to get back into it. It’s a good game and I’ve always enjoyed it. [Years ago] I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scoutmaster. I used to umpire Little League, and when we lived in Chapel Hill I even coached a few teams when my two sons were playing baseball. I wanted to be there for them. We had a lot of fun with that.
What is the best part of living in the Triangle?
It is a clean, wholesome atmosphere. Our growth is based upon top-notch industries coming to Raleigh, Cary, Wake County, and RTP. I like the education opportunities here. I think it’s incumbent upon the younger generation to go to college and become part of something the Triangle offers. You couldn’t find a better place to raise a family than here. As I mentioned earlier, when we moved to North Carolina, I knew very little about Raleigh. We were extremely fortunate and lucky to have chosen this area.
You mentioned you are 74 years old. You still have your hands full, don’t you?
I’m not tired of working, but I’ve worked very hard over the years. I’m slowing down a little bit. If I get to the office at 9:15, that’s all right with me. I go home at two or three o’clock. At my age, you just don’t have the energy that came with being younger. I really want to emphasize this: You’ve got to have some help from people – good people. Our distributors, graphic designers, sales people, and our publisher/editor. They’re the parts that make this business work.
Any final comments?
Finally, a word to our readers and advertisers: Thank you! You are the main part of our success with Midtown Magazine and Cary Living!