Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Stephanie Stuckey, and I’m the third-generation owner of Stuckey’s, the first roadside retail chain founded by my grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr. as a pecan stand on State Route 1 in Eastman, GA in 1937. With a $35 loan, he turned his side hustle into a multi-million dollar business with more than 350 stores in 40 states, a candy plant, a trucking business, a distribution operation, and a sign painting shop. My grandfather sold the business in 1964, and it fell out of family hands for decades. Under corporate leadership, we lost hundreds of stores and all of our tangible assets.
I bought the company in November of 2019 and within six months managed to start turning a profit, relying mostly on brand loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. I brought on a business partner and co-owner, and we jointly purchased a pecan shelling and candy-making plant in January 2021.
I think of Stuckey’s as an 80-year-old startup, we’re reviving this nostalgic brand by focusing on product sales and re-interest in road-tripping. Our key product lines include pecan snacks in a variety of flavors (healthy & sugar options to appeal to a wide consumer base), plus our classic Southern confections line (pecan log rolls, pralines, divinity, gophers, and delicious cheecans that are cheese puffs with pecans). We’re expanding our online and retail presence, bringing on new B2B partners every week in gift shop, gourmet food, grocery, and convenience store markets.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When my grandfather started Stuckey’s, there were no other roadside retail chains, so motorists had nowhere reliable to pull over for gas, a clean restroom, and a cold drink / hot snack. He saw a real need in the market and met it. Stuckey’s grew from those humble roadside stand origins with a $35 loan from his grandmother to at one time a must-stop for family vacations along the nation’s interstates in the 1960s and 1970s.
Fast forward to today, while the competitive landscape has dramatically changed, there’s still a need for a trusted and unique roadside experience. What sets Stuckey’s apart is that we produce a product for which we’re known, our pecan-based snacks and candies, especially our pecan log roll which my grandmother invented. The key to rebuilding this brand is to stick to the basics, providing quality snacks for the consumer that will remind them of the fun of taking a road trip and exploring America by car.
Although started in 1937, I still have a founder’s mentality given our company’s incredible rise and fall. It’s almost unheard of for a nostalgic brand to get back in family hands after being run by large corporations, and I see that as an incredible opportunity at a second chance. Under corporate control, Stuckey’s became just an asset on a balance sheet and not the unique and special brand that it was and can still be.
Our financing is limited, so we’re bootstrapping it and taking advantage of SBA loan programs to rebuild Stuckey’s focusing on creating a high-quality product that will set us apart in the marketplace. The pecan is America’s only native snack nut and is one of the healthiest nuts. By producing delicious snack and candy products featuring the pecan, Stuckey’s is well-positioned for a resurgence. Our decades of brand loyalty have been an incredible asset in reminding consumers of road trips past and letting them know that Stuckey’s is still here and ready for a comeback!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our story is unique in that the first products were created in my grandmother’s kitchen during the Great Depression, based on old family recipes handed down for generations. The Stuckey’s are originally from Germany, and there’s a rich candy-making history there that we tapped into back in those early days. According to family lore, my grandfather was sitting on the side of the road waiting for cars to stop at his pecan stand when he suddenly had the inspiration to offer something different to get travelers to pull over -- and candy seemed like the thing that would do it!
He ran the mile back to his home and interrupted my grandmother during her bridge game with his big idea. While she didn’t know how to make candy, my grandmother Ethel had 6 sisters, and they got to work in the kitchen experimenting with various candy recipes their mother had given them. From that came pralines, divinity, fudge, and our now iconic pecan log roll. These delicious confections sold so well, that my grandfather soon made enough money to purchase his first brick-and-mortar store.
Another opportunity for product innovation came during War World 2 when sugar was rationed. To get a reliable supply of his main ingredient, my grandfather was able to get a contract to supply candy for the troops in their ration kits. This required him to go from making candy on-site in his stores (he now owned three roadside locations) to producing in a small “manufacturing” plant (really just a warehouse with a few Bunson burners and copper pots).
The candy also had to be packaged for overseas shipment, so my grandfather went from putting freshly made candy in paper bags to creating cello-wrapped boxes. As a result, he had a whole new product line that he was able to market to retail locations, especially when the war ended and sugar was more plentiful. He made attractive candy boxes that were sold at high-end stores like Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta and, of course, at the Stuckey’s locations that he owned and operated.
Fast forward to today, our product line will focus on the pecan, which we think is poised to become America’s favorite nut given its taste and health benefits. As no other company is associated with the pecan, Stuckey’s is well-positioned in the marketplace given that we already have a certain level of brand recognition. We’re rolling out a mix of our classic confections that will appeal to people who enjoy nostalgia while also being innovative with new flavor profiles like teriyaki and habanero chili lime. We think the future is bright not only for our scrappy little comeback brand but also for America’s native snack nut, the pecan.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I’ve already shared my grandfather’s origin story, I’ll share how I became involved in running the family business. I’ve had a fulfilling career in public service that included fourteen years as a state representative from the Atlanta area and serving as head of sustainability for the City of Atlanta. I’ve also taught law at my alma mater, the University of Georgia School of Law. I had the opportunity to buy Stuckey’s from my father and his former business partners. At that point, the company had been losing money for five years and was basically a drain on their portfolios.
They had all retired and left Stuckey’s being run by a skeleton crew. I was inspired to take this crazy journey into entrepreneurship at the age of 52 by wanting to revive my grandfather’s vision. I was blessed to have known him and been a part of the generation that took road trips for family vacations. I believe there is still a market for folks who enjoy exploring our country by car and that market is largely under-served by the generic chains that dominate our highways today.
The only real asset that I purchased was the trademark, which is hard to quantify on a balance sheet. But I quickly launched a rebranding effort and started producing merchandise that sold well and quickly online and in our franchised locations. While we don’t own or operate any of our stores, we do still have about 65 Stuckey’s, where we can market our products plus our enhanced online presence, which has enabled us to rapidly increase revenue and become profitable.
Adding a business partner with manufacturing knowledge and financial acumen was key to re-launching Stuckey’s. RG Lamar, Jr. is a third-generation pecan farmer and was critical to negotiating the purchase of a pecan shelling and candy manufacturing facility in Wrens, GA that we now own and operate. Stuckey’s now is largely vertically integrated, with our manufacturing and distribution facilities and access to franchised locations as key to our strategic growth.
We have relied largely on word-of-mouth marketing via traditional social media channels. I think what sets us apart is our reliance on long-form narrative and storytelling. That has resonated particularly well with LinkedIn followers and helped elevate our brand presence, especially about B2B potential consumers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Business is good and trending in the right direction. We’ve experienced supply chain delays like most companies during the pandemic shut down, but we’re slowly getting our new packaging and starting to roll out our new product line at our manufacturing facility. Once we work through our logistical and staffing issues, we’ll be in a strong position to really expand the brand through more retail partners selling our product line.
We also see tremendous growth opportunities in the e-commerce sector, and our numbers are consistently performing well for our online revenue. We’re looking to partner with some online fulfillment services to help us expand into more platforms, including walmart.com and eBay.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My main lesson is that you can’t do it alone. All high-performing CEOs have one trait in common, their ability to complement their skills and character traits with incredibly talented team members. I’m fortunate to have a super business partner who shares my vision for the future of Stuckey’s, and we’re building a leadership team that can move this scrappy brand into a very successful future.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are currently in the process of integrating our platforms, as we’ve merged three companies into one in the past few months (Stuckey’s, the shelling operation, and the candy-making plant). I’m not in a good position now to comment on most of our as we’re in the process of onboarding our new tools, although we have started using HubSpot to manage our sales leads and have found that to be a very affordable and user-friendly tool.
Hootsuite has also helped schedule our social media posts, and Canva has been a super way to create original designs from our photographs. One thing I’d stress for entrepreneurs is to start with the basics. We’ve had a lot of firms trying to upsell us on technology when all you need starting is a functional system. We’ll mostly be using Microsoft programs as we move forward, they’re very accessible and offer all the functionality we need at this point in our growth.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the story of Nike, and That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix. Chuck Allen, Cool Change podcast. I’m also really enjoying conversations with other entrepreneurs on ClubHouse.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we’re looking for folks who can work in our pecan shelling plant. These are specialized positions in a rural community, but we think we can recruit talent with the help of some outreach efforts we’ll start soon.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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