Reviving a Legacy Brand: An Interview with Stephanie Stuckey, Stuckey’s Corporation (Dental Law Radio, Episode 14)
How do you revive a brand name which the world has left for dead? CEO Stephanie Stuckey joined host Stuart Oberman to share the compelling story of how she and her team are resurrecting Stuckey’s Corp. Stephanie discusses why she plunged into this rebuild even when she was discouraged by others, the importance of having a management team which balances each other’s skills, the power of sharing not just victories but setbacks, and much more. It’s must listening, not just for dentists thinking of acquiring practices, but any entrepreneur considering a brand reconstruction of their own. Dental Law Radio is underwritten and presented by Oberman Law Firm and produced by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX®.
Stephanie Stuckey, CEO, Stuckey’s Corporation
Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s, the roadside oasis famous for its pecan log rolls. The Company was founded by Stephanie’s grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr. as a pecan stand in Eastman, Georgia in 1937 and grew into over 350 stores by the 1970’s. The company was sold in 1964 but is now back in family hands and poised for a comeback.
Billy Stuckey, son of the founder and former U.S. Congressman, reacquired Stuckey’s in 1985. Stephanie took over in November of 2019 and, under her leadership, Stuckey’s has purchased a healthy pecan snack company, undergone a rebranding, added three new franchised stores, expanded its B2B retail customer base, ramped up its online sales with a new website and will soon acquire a pecan processing and candy manufacturing plant.
Stephanie received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia. She has worked as a trial lawyer, elected to seven terms as a state representative, run an environmental nonprofit law firm that settled the largest Clean Water Act case in Georgia history, served as Director of Sustainability and Resilience for the City of Atlanta, and taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law.
Stephanie’s achievements include being named one of the 100 Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend Magazine and a graduate of Leadership Atlanta. She is active in her community and serves on many nonprofit boards, including the National Sierra Club Foundation, EarthShare of Georgia, and her local zoning review board.
Intro: [00:00:01] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, it’s time for Dental Law Radio. Dental Law Radio is brought to you by Oberman Law Firm, a leading dental-centric law firm serving dental clients on a local, regional, and national basis. Now, here’s your host, Stuart Oberman.
Stuart Oberman: [00:00:26] Welcome everyone to Dental Law Radio. I know usually we’re talking about dental law, and employment law, and compliance. But, today, we have an absolute amazing guest in-studio, Stephanie Stuckey, the CEO of the famous world-renowned Stuckey’s Corporation. Stephanie, it is an honor, honor, to have you in here.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:00:48] Well, thank you. The honor is all mine. I’m delighted.
Stuart Oberman: [00:00:51] You know, being the CEO of Stuckey’s, you have now reached the pinnacle of your career being on Dental Law Radio, right?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:00:57] I absolutely think so. And the irony is not lost on me that a candy company is being featured on a dental radio show. I think it actually makes a lot of sense because we have sent you a lot of customers over the years.
Stuart Oberman: [00:01:12] Our clients love that. Thank you.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:01:14] Right. You should be serving pecan log rolls in every dental office in this country because we are giving you a fair amount of clientele.
Stuart Oberman: [00:01:22] I appreciate that. It sort of keeps us paying the rent. So, you know, you are amazingly busy, amazingly. First of all, thank you. I know we scheduled this about two months ago to get you into studio here. So, I know how busy you are and your schedule. But, you know, the interesting part is, I think this says a lot about you and what you’re doing with Stuckey’s.
Stuart Oberman: [00:01:45] So, I remember one Saturday, I’m just playing around on LinkedIn and I pinged you. And I was going to introduce you to a client of ours that is in the industry that you’re in, in the pecan industry. And then, you, almost immediately, sent me a message back like, “You know, hey. [Inaudible].” And then, we’ve kept in touch a little bit. And then, you know, I’ve watched you take this brand, this iconic brand, that was almost on the brink of failure, I guess would be a good word.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:02:19] Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I thought it’s generous.
Stuart Oberman: [00:02:21] Yeah. It was not doing well.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:02:25] Not well.
Stuart Oberman: [00:02:26] And then, you know, this sort of American dream is you became CEO – and I want you to get into this little bit later – but you’ve taken this brand to a whole another level. This not only applies to our dental guys, but in the podcast, we have construction companies, all the way from a $1,000 a year to 500 million, that are listening to the podcast. And we’re very fortunate we have clients in about 35 states. I thought, “You know what? Really, this is a story that anyone who has any ups and downs in business that wants to rebrand can really benefit from hearing your story.” So, I’m just very, very grateful that you’re on the show.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:03:11] Well, thank you.
Stuart Oberman: [00:03:12] And then, you know, Stuckey’s is a roadside iconic brand. I mean, I just stopped at one from Florida. You know, I bought a pecan roll and got a picture, and I’ll send that to you.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:03:23] So appreciate that. Yes. Please stop.
Stuart Oberman: [00:03:26] And that’s what’s it really all about. So, we wanted to bring you in and talk to you really about a few things of what you’re doing. You got an amazing background, what I want you to get into a little bit. And then, how you got to rebrand and bring this company back. You’re a CEO, you graduated from UGA Law School, and House of Representatives, and you were recently named 100 Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend Magazine. That is an amazing, amazing accomplishment.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:03:57] You know, that was actually not for Stuckey’s. That was related to my work with Sustainability.
Stuart Oberman: [00:04:03] Really?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:04:04] Yes. So, that was only a couple of years ago. But I’ve only been running Stuckey’s for a-year-and-a-half. But prior to this, I was Head of Sustainability for City of Atlanta, and got that acknowledgment as part of my work with the City of Atlanta. So, I feel like I share that honor also with all the work that we were doing in Sustainability and Resilience. My position was actually Chief Resilience Officer. By the time I left the city, it had advanced to include a lot more functionality. But, anyway, it was a fun ride working for the City of Atlanta.
Stuart Oberman: [00:04:37] So, tell us a little bit about you and then how you became the CEO of Stuckey’s.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:04:43] That’s a crazy journey. Yes.
Stuart Oberman: [00:04:45] I know. We can talk about it for like five days. I assure that –
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:04:49] I’ll condense it. Yeah. Yeah. So, I think the important takeaway – and I’m very mindful that this is a diverse group of people listening, so I’m going to try to make sure my comments are relevant – I was literally sitting at my desk one day happily in Sustainability world, which is what I had been doing for two decades, practicing environmental law and working on sustainability initiatives not only with Atlanta, but had advanced to working with cities throughout the southeast.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:05:19] And I was at my desk and I got an email from one of my dad’s former business partners asking me if I wanted to buy their shares of Stuckey’s stock. And that’s how it began. It was initially just a financial transaction, “Do you want to buy stock?” And I asked to look at the financials, which is what any of us would do if you’re given an opportunity to add to your business portfolio. Or, in my case, I had no business portfolio.
Stuart Oberman: [00:05:50] Now, what did you think when you saw that message? What was your initial reaction? Did you fall off the chair? Or you thought, “No way.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:05:57] I was not surprised. And I’ll give a very quick recap of the Stuckey’s history, because it puts this into context. Stuckey’s was founded by my grandfather in 1937 as a roadside pecan stand in Eastman, Georgia. And from those incredibly humble beginnings, he grew it with my grandmother to 368 stores and 40 states, all over the nation’s Interstate Highway System.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:06:22] We owned a candy plant. He owned a trucking company. Had a sign company. And he built that and sold it in 1964, which is not uncommon for a lot of entrepreneurs of that era. Howard Johnson’s, Holiday, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, all these entrepreneurs that we know that were household names, they sold. And that was sort of what you did, you build this company and you sold it and you made a lot of money. And he was a product of the depression, so he sold.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:06:50] It was out of family hands for decades. There was a series of corporate takeovers. The company was really floundering. My father got the company back in 1985. He was already running several other companies at the time. So, Stuckey’s was a bit of a side hustle for my dad. He owned and operated Dairy Queen franchises on the Interstate Highway System. He had the exclusive rights to Dairy Queens within a half mile radius of a highway exit.
Stuart Oberman: [00:07:19] That’s a heck of a side hustle.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:07:20] Heck of a side hustle. So, dentists should totally love my family because we are sending you all sorts of patients.
Stuart Oberman: [00:07:27] That is one side hustle.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:07:27] Right? So, no, no. Stuckey’s was his side hustle.
Stuart Oberman: [00:07:31] Yeah. That’s what I mean.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:07:31] His main business was Dairy Queen. And when he got Stuckey’s, it was in bad shape. And it was a little over 100 stores at that time. So, he just combined the Stuckey’s with the Dairy Queen, and so built on the Dairy Queen. And he also started putting Stuckey’s in other travel plazas, a store within a store cobranding concept, and that proved to work for decades.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:07:59] And then, my dad and his business partners sold their Dairy Queen business to Warren Buffett – some of the listeners may have heard of him – in 2014 – 2012 – I should know the exact date – like, about a decade ago. And they all retired. So, they went home. They left only a very small skeleton crew, basically two people running Stuckey’s. It didn’t have a CEO. It didn’t have a marketing budget. There was really no franchise system to speak of. Most of the remaining locations were the store within a store concept. We had a rented distribution facility and that’s it.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:08:43] So, I knew that the business had been floundering. What I didn’t know was how much it had been floundering. And so, when I pulled these financials, and I consulted some financial experts, and they were looking at the books. And I talked to three experts, two said, “Do not do this. The company had been losing money steadily for several years.” And the third person said – and I kept the third person because I kept shopping it around. I wanted a different answer, right?
Stuart Oberman: [00:09:13] You want the right answer. My clients do that.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:09:14] They’re like economists, they have a different opinion. So, you keep going until you get the one who will tell you, “Yes. You should do this. It’s a good idea.” The one who said do it said, “I know what’s not on the balance sheet, which is the value of the brand,” which is what I knew, too.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:09:30] And even though my entire childhood, Stuckey’s was no longer owned by our family, I knew and loved my grandfather. I vacation like everyone else and stopped at Stuckey’s. I knew innately that this was something really special. And that it would take a Stuckey, frankly, to bring it back. It needed that special touch. And with a little love, I figured we could bring it back.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:09:53] The fact that it was not bankrupt, despite all the ups and downs over the year also told me it had some sticking power. So, you know, that’s what I thought. Like, I wasn’t surprised. I immediately also knew that I was not the first choice. I’m number four of five kids, they went through the roster and I was the only one. I’m like Mikey in the Life cereal commercial. The one kid who will try it. I was the only one who said yes.
Stuart Oberman: [00:10:19] So, here’s a key point, because as a firm, we do a lot of mergers and acquisitions in our dental clients and all those things. So, who did you consult with before you made the decision to go, the CPAs, the lawyers? Who were your advisors? Because that’s key in any transaction. And our guys have got to know that.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:10:39] I went with people I knew and trusted. So, I think often what’s overlooked in business is the value of relationships and relationship building. And throughout my career, even though I never worked in business, I served on boards and I had colleagues on the nonprofit boards that I served on who had financial backgrounds. So, I went to some CPAs who served on boards with me, and I really respected their opinions.
Stuart Oberman: [00:11:10] So, what did you have to do? Obviously, was this a huge learning curve for you.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:11:14] Yes. Absolutely.
Stuart Oberman: [00:11:16] What did you do to get through that learning curve?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:11:17] A huge learning curve.
Stuart Oberman: [00:11:18] What did you do?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:11:19] I surrounded myself with really smart people who understood areas where I lacked expertise. And I also spent a ton of time, which I still do, learning. I read Harvard Business, magazine, books.
Stuart Oberman: [00:11:34] I was going to ask you about that. I read that somewhere.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:11:38] Yeah. Harvard Business School has a whole series of books, basically entrepreneurship 101. They have a book on mergers and acquisitions, and I read that several times. I also watched webinars. So, much of this is available, basically, for free. There’s a ton of webinars available. And so, I watched webinars. And, honestly, this is how big my learning curve is, I didn’t even know what EBITDA was. Somebody used that in a sentence and I’m Googling it during the conversation. Thankful that it was a phone call so they wouldn’t see me having to look up basic financial terms. So, I had a huge learning curve.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:12:19] But at the same time, I also sought out people who knew what they were doing. So, I knew what I could do well. So, that’s the other thing, you fill your gaps and then you really double down on what you know you’re good at. So, what I knew was this brand. I’ll never forget when I first decided I was going to do this – well, frankly, it’s my father who said this, he asked me why I thought I could run Stuckey’s when, he said, “You can’t even run a lemonade stand.” And I thought for a minute and I said, “Well, you’re right. I can’t run a lemonade stand. But I can run Stuckey’s.” And it occurred to me what I knew about Stuckey’s was the brand. And I could tell the story of Stuckey’s unlike anyone else. I have that personal emotional connection.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:13:08] And so, I just started going online and learning, how do you do social media? How do you do storytelling? And I just started practicing. That’s the other thing, you can learn and then you practice. And I made a vow to myself that every single day I would post on LinkedIn. I figured that’s where I need to be. That’s the business network. And I just started posting my story every day on LinkedIn. And I went from a handful of likes to, now, my posts routinely get a 1,000 plus likes, engagements, comments. My followers grew. I think I started with a couple hundred and I think it’s 36,000 in a year. And it’s just posting every day. It’s having personal discipline and having focus, which I constantly work on. I tend to be one of those people who has 50 things going at any given time. And I throw it against the wall and see what sticks. So, that’s more my personality.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:14:11] So, it’s really important to surround yourself who, not only fill in your gaps with your skills and expertise, but also emotionally. So, I tend to be very high energy and a little high strung. And I have since gotten a business partner, and he is pretty chill. I mean, he’s a hard worker, but he’s unflappable.
Stuart Oberman: [00:14:34] Would you say your type A?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:14:35] I am type A. But I think there’s different type A’s. Like, you can be really ambitious and a go-getter type, but also not easily excitable. And I do tend to get really – you know, like something will happen that’s really great and I am just on the moon. Like, “This is the best thing. We’re going to totally be like a $20 million in sales company this year.” And then, something bad will happen, I’m like, “Oh, my God. We’re going to go bankrupt.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:15:06] And my business partner just set nice, even keeled influence on me. So, he’s very financially savvy and he also knows the pecan market inside and out, which is very important with what we do.
Stuart Oberman: [00:15:18] So, you surround yourself with people that know more than you, which is key.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:15:23] Yes. And balance my personality. If our leadership team are a bunch of people who are super high energy, I think our heads would all pop off. So, you to have the chill people with the energy folks. And I’m an eternal optimist, even though I do occasionally have these, “Oh, no. Everything’s falling.” But I am very, very optimistic. And one of our key team leaders is – I’ll just say if he hears this, he’ll agree – he’s a curmudgeon. And any time I have an idea, he will literally come up with 20 ways that it won’t work. And I need someone like that around me because it forces me to think through all the details. And I’m not a detail person. So, I’ve got this person who’s, like, overly detailed and that will say, “Oh, that will never happen. You are overthinking this.” But I need that. I need that balance.
Stuart Oberman: [00:16:20] So, you’ve got a variety of personal experiences. You’re practicing law. You’re a state representative.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:16:25] I’m still practicing law. I am in-house counsel for Stuckey’s. I do a lot of – I’m serious.
Stuart Oberman: [00:16:32] General counsel, CEO.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:16:32] Welcome to being an entrepreneur. You know, you wear 21 hats. I’m Chief Brand Officer. I was Chief Sales Officer, and it got to be overwhelming so my business partner and I have split up those duties. He does a large retail accounts and I do the small sort of mom and pop, which is really what I thrive at. And I do the marketing. And I’m Chief Storyteller. Yeah. I love it. I’ve got a lot of roles.
Stuart Oberman: [00:16:59] Welcome to Business.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:17:03] Yes. Yes.
Stuart Oberman: [00:17:04] Then, you have been running Sustainability for City of Atlanta. So, you know, what lessons – and I know it’s been a long, long journey being in the family and then becoming CEO. So, what roles helped you for this new CEO position? I mean, what have you learned? What previous roles helped?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:17:24] Politics and –
Stuart Oberman: [00:17:27] That’s a blood sport.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:17:29] Right. And being an attorney. I started out actually as a public defender in Fulton County, Georgia. So, City of Atlanta, that was overwhelming. I had 200 clients at any given time, which is welcome to the world of being a public defender. So, I learned not only the ability to manage a lot and perform under pressure. And know it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Like, the ability to just put things in perspective has been critical.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:18:01] One of my favorite sayings since I’ve taken over – and I stole it from another candy maker, Goo Goo Cluster. I stole those comments from their chief marketing officer. But she said, “When I get stressed out, I think it’s just candy.” So, that’s what I think. When I get overwhelmed with running Stuckey’s, like, “It’s just candy.” But having managed politics and running my own campaigns and working the City of Atlanta, which can be a blood sport. Just being able to roll with the punches and not get easily overwhelmed is critical.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:18:35] The other thing I learned was almost all of my roles, I was fighting for the underdog. As a public defender, I would represent some really hard to represent individuals. As a politician, I was very active in environmental issues, which isn’t always the most popular, the Georgia General Assembly. And then, as an attorney, I practice environmental law representing Riverkeeper, Sierra Club. So, I represented environmental groups against large corporations. Many of the corporations with whom I now partner. So, it’s interesting turnabout.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:19:08] But what I learned was the ability to persuade. If you can stand up for a tough cause – and that’s what you learn in law school – whether you believe in the cause or not, although it certainly helps if you believe in the cause, you’ve got to believe in something fundamental about the cause in order to really have it be a compelling case. So, like when I was a public defender, I may not have thought that my client’s case was the best case, but I believed in the justice system. So, you have to have a core set of values and beliefs that stabilizes you. But being able to stand up and persuade is a critical skill.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:19:45] And everything I’ve done, and most critically in Stuckey’s, because I am trying to persuade financial investors, potential financial investors, potential large retailers who are used to doing business with established brands. And, yes, Stuckey’s has sticking power. We’ve been around for 80 years, but we’re a dusty brand. We’ve been losing money. We don’t have market share. And so, here I am trying to make the case to large, big box retailers, “You need to carry Stuckey’s products.” That’s a tough sell sometimes. So, just the ability to persuade and connect with people, it’s, I think, the most valuable skill you can have.
Stuart Oberman: [00:20:27] So, you had taken this audacious challenge of reviving this family brand. Most people that have had your experience are not even looking for a second career. They’re winding down their career. They’re like, “You know what? I’m just going to ride it out. I’m good.” And you’ve done a total career pivot. It’s this whole another world. Why?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:20:48] Well, it’s interesting. I really think that this is what I was always meant to do. I just finally figured it out and it was later in life.
Stuart Oberman: [00:20:56] So, the message is, you know, from a goal standpoint, no matter what you do, who you are, it is never too late to start what you love.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:21:05] Absolutely. And there’s so many great examples in business. I look at Harland Sanders with Kentucky Fried Chicken, he was in his 60s when he started that chain. I was the exact same age, age 53, as Ray Kroc when he bought the McDonald’s franchise from the McDonald’s brothers.
Stuart Oberman: [00:21:22] I wasn’t going to ask you your age.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:21:23] Well, I don’t mind. Like, I know. I’m a Southern woman. My mom has cautioned me, “You got to watch what you say your age is, because suddenly I’m going to be ten when you were born.” So, I am very mindful that that is a fine Southern tradition, that we like to maybe not broadcast our age. But it’s relevant for this, because 53 was when I made that pivot. And I think it’s an excellent age.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:21:52] And here’s why, especially for business. When you’re starting something that’s entrepreneurial – and I consider ourselves an 80 year old startup. I could not have gotten the financing to buy a manufacturing facility. And I got a business partner. I’ve mentioned him, but his name is RG Lamar. He’s a pecan farmer. He’s 17 years younger than me. Great age gap there, where we really do complement each other well. And he and I jointly acquired a pecan shelling and a candy plant in January of this year, so about six months ago.
Stuart Oberman: [00:22:25] So, not only are you reviving, you’re expanding out even more, taking more risk.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:22:31] That’s right. Well, I’m getting back to our roots, which is we started as a pecan stand on the side of the road. And my grandfather had a candy plant. And I realized the way we were making our profit was through the sale of our product. Eighty percent of our profit is being driven by product sales. So, you double down on what’s working. That’s the other lesson, especially if you’re buying a distressed company, look at what does move the needle financially. And then, you hunker down on that.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:23:01] So, the point I was getting to as far as my age, though, with buying this candy plant, which was a multimillion dollar acquisition, I could have never done that earlier in my life. It’s because I had a strong credit rating. It’s because I had some financial assets that I had acquired over the year that, actually, age 53 was the perfect year. Because at age 40, I would have never gotten a bank to approve a loan of this size. So, I think 50 plus is the best time to start a new venture. Financially, you are in a good position to be able to do that.
Stuart Oberman: [00:23:38] So, it’s taken you 30 years to be an overnight success.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:23:41] Absolutely. And we’re not even done yet. Like, we’re just starting. The brand – I know I’m an optimist – we’re on the brink, really, of hitting it.
Stuart Oberman: [00:23:50] That’s a great point, because the roadside competition on the highways is brutal. Retail is brutal. I don’t have to tell you that. What’s sort of the plan going forward? What’s the growth plan? And I know certain things are obviously trade secrets and you don’t want to reveal, but what’s sort of the position going forward? How do you revive that?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:24:12] Well, that’s why I take a lesson from politics. Because when you’re running for office, people frequently say, “Well, who else is running and tell us about your competition. How are you different from your competition?” And I learned pretty quickly to say, “I’m not here to talk about my competition. I’m here to talk about me. And more importantly, I’m here to talk about you. What can I do for you if you vote for me? What’s important to this community? What can I bring to the table that’s going to align with what you want?”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:24:43] And so, yes, I’m very aware of the competitive market landscape on the Interstate Highway System. But at the same time, I’m more focused on what is the unique differentiator that Stuckey’s bring that will add value to customers. Having said that, I shop all the time at every roadside establishment. And I actually posted on LinkedIn the other day – I throw stuff out there on LinkedIn and I never know if it’s going to resonate or not. I put posts up that literally get, you know, 20 comments or likes. And then, I’ll put one up and it gets 3,000. So, this is one that really did resonate. And I put up that I was shopping at Bucky’s.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:25:25] People always ask me, “Have you ever heard of Bucky’s?” And I try to be polite but I really want to scream. It’s like asking Pepsi if they heard of Coke. I mean, not that I have any pretense that Stuckey’s is at that level. But, you know, of course, I am aware of the competition on the highway. And not only am I aware of it, I stop all the time at Bucky’s. I stop all the time at T.A. I stop all the time at Pilot. And I’m taking notes. I’m paying attention. I’m looking at the customers and seeing what they’re interested in. I study the cars in the parking lot. Where are the cars coming from? What states are they coming from?
Stuart Oberman: [00:26:00] So, you’re doing your homework.
Stuart Oberman: [00:26:00] Are these families? Are these motorcycles? Are these people on a vacation, because you can see all the luggage? I study retail, and that’s exactly what my grandfather did. And I’m less concerned with beating the competition as I am with winning the customer. What is it that the customer wants? And I look at what is the competition offering where there’s a gap? Where is there a gap in what they are providing? Now, that’s where it’s trade secret. I have a whole list I compiled.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:26:33] The other thing I do, I think, you got to use what you have as an advantage, even if others may see it as a vulnerability. We don’t have a big budget. We don’t have a big marketing team. In fact, I do the marketing for Stuckey’s, by and large. I have a few outsource 1099s who help me, but I pretty much do it myself. So, I use that to my advantage. I do my own LinkedIn post, and guess what? People respond because it’s real and it’s honest. And I don’t have the money to do market research to find out who’s stopping at Bucky’s and what do they think of that? Or what do they think of Pilot? So, I do my own research. I go on to Yelp. I go on to Google reviews. I read what people are posting. Now, some of that I think is fabricated, but some of it is authentic.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:27:23] So, you do your own research and you pay attention. And you know what the market trends are and you read the industry publications. And I have a whole plan for how Stuckey’s is different. But more importantly, how we’re growing the brand right now is selling our product, because we do not own or operate any of our stores.
Stuart Oberman: [00:27:40] Did I [inaudible] that your growth is, like, 550 percent?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:27:44] Oh, that was on the Internet. Our e-commerce.
Stuart Oberman: [00:27:47] Got it. Okay. Which is huge.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:27:50] It’s huge. Yes. Because when I started we, basically, just had a Bare Bones website. And even then, we have done so little with the e-commerce because we just don’t have the capacity. We’re actually having a big confab this afternoon with our team trying to figure out how we’re going to prep for Q4, because we don’t have the capacity right now to make sure we can fulfill orders. But we will. We’ll have it together.
Stuart Oberman: [00:28:15] So, you bought a shelling and a candy plant in Wrens.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:28:18] Yes.
Stuart Oberman: [00:28:19] Why? Because that was an enormous step for where you guys are at now. Why? What was the purpose of doing that? And from a CEO standpoint, what are your thoughts on manufacturing in America right now?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:28:31] Well, there’s two questions here.
Stuart Oberman: [00:28:32] At least two.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:28:33] Right. We could talk for an hour. But it gets back to the point I raised earlier, look at where the money is coming from. And Michael Coles taught me that. It’s a very basic concept but, still, having someone on the outside with that different perspective advising you. Michael Coles founded the Great American Cookie Company. He went on to run Caribou. And is just such an incredible businessman. And gave me a lot of advice, and he said, “Stephanie, you need to really look at where your money is coming from.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:29:03] And so, I put it in buckets and I realized the bucket that was sale of our product, not only to branded Stuckey’s locations, because there’s only 65 of them. And of those, only 20 are standalone stores. And of those, we don’t own or operate any of them. So, we have very limited control over that line. I realized that the biggest potential for growth was selling our product to third party retailers. So, Ace Hardware stores, tourism’s gift shops, you name it. High end gift shops is really what I’m looking for, and we’re getting a lot of those accounts.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:29:41] And then, I was thinking we could get into big box retail. Well, we couldn’t get into big box retail because we couldn’t make the margins, because we’re not producing our product ourselves. They run their margins so tight, especially if you want to get into like a Walmart or Costco, and that’s a whole other conversation about whether or not you should get into those markets.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:30:03] Because there’s two sides to getting into Walmart, right? They have low prices for a reason. And I don’t blame them, they want to offer that value to the consumer. But it’s not always a good deal for the business and their vendors. It depends on whether it’s a good fit for you or not.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:30:22] But we couldn’t even play in that space unless we were making the product ourselves. So, we had to manufacture. The other thing is you can control the quality better. You can control the margins. And you can play with the big box retailers.
Stuart Oberman: [00:30:38] How was the quality before you became CEO? And where is it today?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:30:42] It was okay. I would give it a C. Where it is today, is an A. It is the absolute best ingredients you can find at this facility that we have acquired. And that’s really been the differentiator. We’re not changing the recipe. This is not New Coke. But we’re getting the best ingredients. We’re getting the absolute most premium quality pecans that we are shelling onsite and going right next door and putting it into the candy, literally, as soon as it’s shelled. You can’t get fresher or better tasting.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:31:15] We’re using real chocolate. I don’t think people always realize that if you buy a candy bar and the chocolate’s not melting, guess what? It’s not chocolate. So, we’re using real chocolate. We’re using real vanilla, not imitation vanilla. And you can absolutely taste the difference. And a lot of our product is made by hand. And I swear, you can taste the difference if it’s been made by hand versus going through an extruder, or any of the enrober, or some of the other. And we do use some of that machinery. But a lot of the process – and I filmed that and I put this up online – is done by hand.
Stuart Oberman: [00:31:54] So, you took a whole quality control overview. No matter what business you’re in, services, products, you took that overview and said, “This quality is a C. I want to get it to an A.” So, you just drilled down on the whole process on how to improve that. Which every business owner should do from a services or products standpoint.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:32:14] That’s how we’re making our profit, is the sale of product. So, what can we do to improve the profit, and improve the quality, and improve the quantity of the product? And that all gets down to you have to control it. You have to do it yourself. And so, I knew I needed support with that. I got a business partner who could help me with the financing and help me with the negotiations. And RG negotiated the sale of buying an existing candy plant, existing pecan plants that was turnkey ready. And we are really turning the company around with that. And we’re expanding our market. So, we’re now exporting product. We exported three container loads of pecans to the Taiwanese.
Stuart Oberman: [00:32:59] Wow. Yeah. So, you’re taking a small little company, and now we’re doing exports.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:33:03] Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, you realize, like, so once you get into that market then you think – so your other question was about manufacturing. So, we’re manufacturing, so that opens up this whole world where we can offer direct to our customers. Most of our customers are other businesses. So, we’re more B2B, even though the front facing is what a lot of people remember about Stuckey’s. The way I’m rebuilding the brand is this B2B piece, and it’s by making it ourselves.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:33:35] So, manufacturing, I really believe, is the key to turning our economy around, not just the key to turning Stuckey’s around. Making stuff ourselves, controlling the supply chain, not having to ship things from abroad. And even though the labor is cheap, the shipping costs are astronomical. And the delays are incredible. And you don’t have these relationships like you have if you are producing things domestically. And I try as much as possible not only to have vendors and partners, like who’s making our packaging, have them be U.S. I prefer Southeastern and even Georgia.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:34:16] Because you can build those relationships. And it’s those relationships that if you’re in a bind, they’re going to back you up. They’re going to help you out. You’re going to say, “Oh, my gosh. I’m in a rut. I need packaging for a big order to fill. Can you provide it for me?” If you’ve got that relationship, they’re going to deliver, and vice versa.
Stuart Oberman: [00:34:37] You said bind, so if my research is correct, after you bought the company, you had a massive fire in one of your locations.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:34:47] That’s right. Day two. Day two of ownership
Stuart Oberman: [00:34:50] And then, you had to work through the pandemic. So, tell us, as a business owner, head of this company, how did you get through those struggles?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:35:01] Well, like I said, we do not own or operate any of the stores. So, that store burning, we did not own that store. But it was a big account for us, so we were losing the income from that account. They not only purchased product from us, but they paid a franchise fee and we waived the franchise fee for them the entire time. They were just building.
Stuart Oberman: [00:35:21] Which is another hit as soon as [inaudible].
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:35:23] Yes. Yes. And we just had to think about where else can we get revenue. And that fire made me look closely at how our branded locations were being run. And you’re a lawyer, this is lawyer show, so not to get too much in the weeds, but I realized that what we were doing was not running a franchise. We were licensing because we don’t have an operations program. We don’t have an operations manual. We don’t have a point of sale system. We don’t charge a percentage of sales. We don’t do any of the traditional indicia of owning and operating a franchise. We don’t even meet the legal definition. And so, that process of figuring out how we were going to deal with this one location that had closed turned into an opportunity for me to really hunker down and try to understand.
Stuart Oberman: [00:36:12] So, you took a failure into an absolute success.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:36:15] Yeah. And I realized we really aren’t making our money through – and I’ve got air quotes here – the “franchising”. Because we’re not franchising and we don’t have the capacity financially or logistically staffing-wise to be running what’s a franchise system, either legally or realistically. So, we are transitioning all that to a flat out licensing program. And what we’re doing to make our money is we are selling product. So, that got me to reorient.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:36:46] And I think the hardest thing when you are taking on an established venture like this is being able to let go of what that venture was. And in order to move it forward, you have to change things.
Stuart Oberman: [00:37:01] Dramatically.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:37:01] And I had this total emotional attachment to Stuckey’s as this roadside store. Because, like so many of us, especially a certain era, I pulled over. I had that experience. And I want that again. But we’re not there yet. We don’t have the money to do that. You have to take a cold bath of reality and realize, “If I’m going to turn this company around, I have to let go of things to bring on new things that are going to grow the company.” I had to let go of that emotional and financial attachment that was weighing us down of we’re going to build back the stores. I still want to do it. I’m putting it on a shelf. But we’re making our money from selling our product. So, I got to do that. And not only just say I’m going to do it, I’ve got to go all in, hunker down on what’s working. And so, we bought a candy plant.
Stuart Oberman: [00:37:48] So, you’ve had to gut and rebuild, essentially, from square one.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:37:53] Yes. Yeah.
Stuart Oberman: [00:37:54] Now, how did you get through the pandemic? Not that we’re out of it, but how did you get –
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:37:57] Online sales.
Stuart Oberman: [00:38:00] You had a whole different strategy, a regroup?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:38:02] Online sales and getting new accounts with retailers who were thriving during the pandemic. So, I had to take a hard look at there are some businesses that did very well during the pandemic. Hardware stores is a great example. So, I mentioned Ace earlier, we got into over 250 Ace Hardware stores. So, you start going after the businesses that are doing well in a pandemic that are continuing to have their doors open.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:38:35] Now, especially that we own manufacturing, have more opportunity to get into grocery channels for grocery stores who did well in the pandemic. So, we started opening up into more grocery channels. So, we’re in some food lines, not in all of them. And then, I started learning the grocery store business, which, frankly, the main thing I did in the grocery store business is to get a business partner who knows a grocery store business and let him do it.
Stuart Oberman: [00:38:58] Again, surround yourself.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:38:59] My business partner, R.G., knows grocery channels. He understands slotting fees. He understands how they do their different pricing. He gets the promotional schedule. And so, he is running with that. And it’s amazing. You will soon see us in quite a few grocery store chains. I can’t wait.
Stuart Oberman: [00:39:18] I really can’t wait until the interview is over because there’s a lot of notes I need to make for myself.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:39:24] Yeah. Thank you. I’m glad. I’m hopeful that, you know, this has some lessons.
Stuart Oberman: [00:39:28] It’s an amazing story. I mean, you started out in a very difficult spot growing, you know, 550 percent in this area. You took a risk. You bought a new plant, growth. I mean, it is truly a success story. It really, really is. And that’s why I wanted you to come in, because you had so much to offer, not only to our dentist, but, again, we’re talking about bankers that came up to us at the conference, “Hey, we’re now following Stuckey’s. What a great story.” So, it’s truly, truly a great story.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:40:04] I love it. Tell them to get us some capital so we can actually rebuild the stores. But, you know, one thing I’ll add about that, because, yes, I did face a lot of challenges and I still do every single day. I heard Ralph Nader speak once – and you may love him or hate him, whatever, but this was good advice – he said, “It takes a certain amount of naivete to be a success were you don’t realize how hard it is or how rough it is.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:40:27] And he said when he took on the Big Three Automakers with his Unsafe at Any Speed book, he had no idea the immensity of what he was taking on. Because he was a really young Harvard grad, full of all this venom vigor, and he just went and did it. And he said, “Looking back on it, I realized how naïve I was and that was actually my strength.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:40:50] So, that’s when you take what may be a vulnerability and you turn it into your superpower. It probably was good that I didn’t have a business background. Because if I’d had a business background, I wouldn’t be sitting here today talking to you. I would be working on my sustainability initiatives
Stuart Oberman: [00:41:06] As we close, is there anything that you want to add that we haven’t covered, or what’s the future plans, or anything else we could add?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:41:17] I think one of the the most important things I want to highlight – and this gets back to LinkedIn – because I scroll through LinkedIn all the time and I look and see what other people –
Stuart Oberman: [00:41:27] I was actually surprised. I have to say so, I was surprised you even got back to me. I can be honest with you, I’m like, “Okay, [inaudible].” So, here’s where I was even more surprised about, so I said, “You know what? This is a story I want our guys who listen to know this.” And I thought, “I want to invite her on the show.” I will tell you never in a million years that I think you’d even respond to my email.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:41:48] Well, thank you. Yeah. I try to be accessible, and that is something I learned from politics. I remember when I first ran, I did this mail piece, and it went to, what seemed at the time, like an immense number of households. It was like 10,000 homes. And it gave my personal number. This was back when we had home phones. I gave my home phone number. And I remember my mother just being appalled and she said, “Honey, you can’t do that. You’re going to just be overwhelmed.” And I said, “Well, I want people to know that I’m accessible.”
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:42:15] And, you know, I didn’t get overwhelmed with calls even after I got elected. People will call you when they need you. And so, that gets back to the LinkedIn. I try to be accessible. I will say I am so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of LinkedIn messages. I’m getting now about 100 a day. It’s not personal if I don’t respond. And what I did was I put an auto response that says, “Please email me. I’m better at managing my email.” But I think I’m going to have to hire someone to help me manage the email.
Stuart Oberman: [00:42:45] You’re going to need people soon.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:42:47] If I’m not responding, just try again maybe or email me. My email information is in my profile for a reason. A lot of people don’t put their email. You can actually email me. I will respond.
Stuart Oberman: [00:43:00] So, LinkedIn, how can they reach you on LinkedIn? And do you want to give us your email address?
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:43:05] I would rather people email me. So, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And you know, I took a page. I’m nowhere near anywhere even in the stratosphere of these men, but Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban both post their email addresses, and they will sometimes respond. And, actually, Mark Cuban and I had a really nice exchange. I emailed him and asked him for some advice and he responded, and it was just amazing.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:43:29] But I did have a final point. Sorry, we’re kind of all over the place. But you asked if I had a parting thought, and I was going to say, scrolling through LinkedIn, what we often see – and I do this too – is accomplishments. I won this award. We opened a new store. We were named best at blah, blah, blah, whatever, which is good. We should all celebrate those wins. But what you don’t see as much are the losses, are the hard times, are the missteps.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:43:58] And so, I posted that the other day. I posted about how I’d gotten rejected from Tractor Supply. And I didn’t say that to shame Tractor Supply. I absolutely love Tractor Supply. If anyone’s listening, I would love to do business with you. Give us a second chance. I put it up more to say, you don’t always win them. We just don’t talk about that. And that we actually should be talking about that more. Because I think if you’re being hit with these rejections and all you see out there is people who are winning, winning, winning, it gives you this false sense of success.
Stuart Oberman: [00:44:32] It’s easy. Right.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:44:32] Or yes, that it’s easy. It’s not. For every yes I get, I get nine no’s. I can’t tell you how many private equity investors have turned me down. I had one that said, “Well, we would be interested in Stuckey’s, but we would need to put in a real CEO.” Like, they basically said they were going to replace me. And I literally got off that call and cried. I had myself a good old fashioned cry. So, you get that every single day.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:45:00] And I guess that’s what I want to leave with, is, you just have to keep going and you have to not let the successes get to your head. And you can’t let the losses bring you down. Otherwise, you’re just not going to move forward. I always say, I’m two steps forward, one step back. I really feel like I’m overall moving forward, and I just focus. Every single one of us has down days, every single one. It’s just your turn. So, you just accept it like, “Yeah. It’s my turn. It’s my turn to have a bad day.” But it doesn’t have to be because you learn from it.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:45:40] And so, I’m just like such a huge advocate of – the Marines call it – embrace the suck. Just embrace the suck. Like, that is part of the learning. We should celebrate those losses. You celebrate them because you learn from them. If you don’t learn from them, then you just wasted a good loss.
Stuart Oberman: [00:45:57] Well, I mean, again, I can’t even thank you enough for coming on.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:46:01] This is fun.
Stuart Oberman: [00:46:03] Literally, I learned something. You know, every time I talk, I learn something. I can’t even begin to start writing stuff down. I just can’t.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:46:11] Thank you.
Stuart Oberman: [00:46:13] So, it’s an absolute pleasure. I know you’re extremely busy. So, I can’t really thank you enough for being on here. And I know that this will benefit to our listeners. There’s no doubt about it.
Stephanie Stuckey: [00:46:23] Well, I’m grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to to tell our story. Because that’s what it’s all about is getting the story out. So, thank you.
Stuart Oberman: [00:46:30] Yeah. My pleasure. Well, thank you for joining us on the Dental Law Radio podcast. And we’ll look forward to seeing you on air. If you need anything, any comments, concerns, anything we need to pass on to Stephanie, please feel free to email us at email@example.com. Thank you and have a fantastic day.
About Dental Law Radio
Hosted by Stuart Oberman, a nationally recognized authority in dental law, Dental Law Radio covers legal, business, and other operating issues and topics of vital concern to dentists and dental practice owners. The show is produced by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX® and can be found on all the major podcast apps. The complete show archive is here.
Stuart Oberman, Oberman Law Firm
Stuart Oberman is the founder and President of Oberman Law Firm. Mr. Oberman graduated from Urbana University and received his law degree from John Marshall Law School. Mr. Oberman has been practicing law for over 25 years, and before going into private practice, Mr. Oberman was in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 Company. Mr. Oberman is widely regarded as the go-to attorney in the area of Dental Law, which includes DSO formation, corporate business structures, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory compliance, advertising regulations, HIPAA, Compliance, and employment law regulations that affect dental practices.
In addition, Mr. Oberman’s expertise in the health care industry includes advising clients in the complex regulatory landscape as it relates to telehealth and telemedicine, including compliance of corporate structures, third-party reimbursement, contract negotiations, technology, health care fraud and abuse law (Anti-Kickback Statute and the State Law), professional liability risk management, federal and state regulations.
As the long-term care industry evolves, Mr. Oberman has the knowledge and experience to guide clients in the long-term care sector with respect to corporate and regulatory matters, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). In addition, Mr. Oberman’s practice also focuses on health care facility acquisitions and other changes of ownership, as well as related licensure and Medicare/Medicaid certification matters, CCRC registrations, long-term care/skilled nursing facility management, operating agreements, assisted living licensure matters, and health care joint ventures.
In addition to his expertise in the health care industry, Mr. Oberman has a nationwide practice that focuses on all facets of contractual disputes, including corporate governance, fiduciary duty, trade secrets, unfair competition, covenants not to compete, trademark and copyright infringement, fraud, and deceptive trade practices, and other business-related matters. Mr. Oberman also represents clients throughout the United States in a wide range of practice areas, including mergers & acquisitions, partnership agreements, commercial real estate, entity formation, employment law, commercial leasing, intellectual property, and HIPAA/OSHA compliance.
Mr. Oberman is a national lecturer and has published articles in the U.S. and Canada.
Oberman Law Firm
Oberman Law Firm has a long history of civic service, noted national, regional, and local clients, and stands among the Southeast’s eminent and fast-growing full-service law firms. Oberman Law Firm’s areas of practice include Business Planning, Commercial & Technology Transactions, Corporate, Employment & Labor, Estate Planning, Health Care, Intellectual Property, Litigation, Privacy & Data Security, and Real Estate.
By meeting their client’s goals and becoming a trusted partner and advocate for our clients, their attorneys are recognized as legal go-getters who provide value-added service. Their attorneys understand that in a rapidly changing legal market, clients have new expectations, constantly evolving choices, and operate in an environment of heightened reputational and commercial risk.
Oberman Law Firm’s strength is its ability to solve complex legal problems by collaborating across borders and practice areas.
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