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Stephanie Stuckey is Nuts for the Family Business

Kevin Wilson presented Stephanie Stuckey, former State Legislator from DeKalb County and now the owner of Stuckey’s, a national chain of franchised roadside restaurants and purveyor of a wide range of candies and sundries. Stephanie graduated from UGA, earned a law degree, and now also leads an environmental law firm. Stephanie told marvelous stories about her literally legendary grandfather who by virtue of having an out-sized imagination, incredible work ethic and a ton of seat-of the-pants-sense built Stuckey’s into a franchised national network, which at its peak grew to 368 stores in 40 states … all as a pecan farmer who started selling nuts at a small roadside stand. He made this remarkably successful business through extreme economic adversity, including the Great Depression .. all made possible by a never-stop-hard-work ethic and opportunism, like asking his six sisters to make delicious Stuckey candies. Stuckey’s did a huge business through families sending candies to the U.S. troops during WWII – which greatly expanded when the troops returned home. The advent of President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System threatened his roadside stores, but Mr. Stuckey, undeterred, found ways to acquire land where the exits were to be located before the prices of land became too high – then moved the stores near the ramps while skillfully negotiating an exclusive arrangement with Texaco for gasoline. Stephanie described how he knew where to place his stores: He would drink a cup of coffee in the morning, jump into his car and drive until he needed to make a restroom stop, which determined how far apart the stores should be placed. Stuckey’s were franchised to married couples who frequently would live in the rear of the store. They sold everything from logrolls to myna birds, plus countless souvenirs, kitsch everywhere. Stuckey’s iconic signage would start 100 miles out and the nearer the store the more signs- eventually EXIT HERE for Stuckey’s. During the Jim Crow era, Stuckey’s Stores appeared in the vaulted and essential Green Book to alert Black travelers of Stuckey’s whereabouts, assuring good, welcoming and friendly service at Stuckey’s. Kevin Wilson remembers, as a kid, family travel stops at Stuckey’s. Eventually Stuckey’s was sold in 1964, but the new owner did not have the money needed to grow and support the brand. The Arab oil embargo made for way higher gas prices and way fewer travelers, greatly reducing sales. Eventually after a number of bad deals, Stephanie acquired Stuckey’s in a deal with Dairy Queen. Despite years of struggle to gain investors (Warren Buffet even bought a stake!), the brand and franchise never went bankrupt. So in 2019 Stephanie bought the entire system with it then being $130K in debt, and gained a terrific business partner. By June 2020, despite Covid-19, Stuckey’s has been making a comeback. She says Stuckey’s is a love company. Now a 68 store system, Stephanie is working very hard to upgrade all aspects, “redoing everything,” she said. Making lots of candy, building a growing on-line business; its social media system is buzzing. She’s been visiting all stores, implementing a 4-part strategic plan, part 4 of which includes brick-mortar upgrades, closing all bad looking stores, owning a candy making plant, making sure the brand is very good in all ways, and including offering vegetarian foods. While candy is far from not fattening, Stephanie says pecans are the healthiest nuts. And she’s buying Georgia. She wants to link Stuckey’s branding to her grandfather’s remarkable story and through his story she’ll convey a family message, but also tap into a younger generation so that college kids will also see Stuckey’s as unique and reliable and a fun place to stop.

Posted by Neil Shorthouse
October 30, 2020 2:00pm

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