Episode 76: Our Best New Accounts Are Coming Through LinkedIn

Our Best New Accounts Are Coming Through LinkedIn

Introduction:

This week, in episode 76, Stephanie Stuckey talks about how she’s been winning her biggest retail accounts for Stuckey’s candies without a sales pitch. She also explains her latest manufacturing snafu, which she calls, “the case of the squishy pecan log rolls.” Laura Zander, meanwhile, tells us about the supply chain challenges she’s faced getting product from China, Vietnam, and South Africa. Plus, she talks us through how her latest price increases have resulted in a doubling of orders.

— Loren Feldman

Guests:

Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation.

Laura Zander is co-founder and CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome Stephanie and Laura. Stephanie, we haven’t spoken to you in a little while. What’s going on?

Stephanie Stuckey:
So we’ve had some ups and downs. I think the world of small business, it’s often two steps forward, one step back, but as long as you’re moving in the right direction, that’s positive. I’m gonna start on an upbeat note. We’re opening new accounts, and we just launched in 250 E-Z—that’s E dash Z—convenience stores. We’re in all of their units, mostly in Texas, but also Arkansas. And they are selling our pecan log rolls, our divinities, our pralines, and our milk and white chocolate gophers. So that launched this week, and we’ve got a couple of other big retail chain accounts in the pipeline. That’s super exciting.

Loren Feldman:
Have you done anything different to win those accounts? Is this a change in strategy or just continued hard work that paid off?

Stephanie Stuckey:
It’s continued hard work that’s paid off. And here’s the interesting thing: The vast majority of our new accounts are from LinkedIn, especially the large retail accounts. It’s LinkedIn connections. People will message me on LinkedIn and say that they’re interested in our brand.

Laura Zander:
No kidding. How involved are you in these new accounts? I mean, are you the first contact?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, I do the lead. I do the pitch, and my partner is more of the closer. But he is also really adept at negotiating these large retail accounts, and I hand almost all of those over to him after I do the initial pitch. And quite often, I’ll bring him in on the initial pitch. I think we’ve got a good vibe going where we know what each of us does best. And he’s very good at figuring out the logistics and figuring out the pricing. Because even though we have a main price spreadsheet, we alter that, depending on the model and the distribution. Are we shipping to a centralized distribution center? Are there slotting fees, which is what you’ll find in grocery channels? Do they expect us to bake in quarterly promotions? There’s different pricing formats that they’ll often ask for. So we’ll take a base price sheet and then curate it based on what the individual source wants, or the chains, and that’s what my partner is really good at.

I frankly really enjoy the smaller mom-and-pop retail outlets that are more brand-forward, and I’ll coordinate with them on social media posts, which I really think help to elevate our story. They’re more intimate. And most of those accounts actually we get from trade shows. So between trade shows and LinkedIn, that’s where we’re getting our leads from. We always have stuff in the pipeline. It’s just when it finally hits, it’s a bit of a celebratory moment. So I had that this week with E-Z Mart.

Loren Feldman:
I’m really curious about using LinkedIn this way. Are you actually doing a pitch on LinkedIn? Or—I know you have a big following on LinkedIn—is it just a matter of big accounts coming to you? How does this work?

Stephanie Stuckey:
This has been absolutely fascinating to me. I am just telling my story on LinkedIn, and it’s not just my story—it’s the story of Stuckey’s, it’s the story of the road trip. But I’m so entwined with the story of Stuckey’s, since it’s a family brand and it’s my name. But if you read my posts and you follow what I do, very rarely do I actually put out there a sales pitch. It’s just talking about my journey as an entrepreneur and the Stuckey’s comeback story. And then people are messaging me and saying, “I want to be part of this. We’d be really interested in talking with you about carrying your product in our stores.”

Loren Feldman:
And that’s what happened with E-Z, the account you just mentioned?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, so that actually goes higher than that. It was the parent company. The CEO of the parent company reached out to me—GPM Investments—and we had a call. And that’s a company that owns small C-store chains. I say “small.” To me, it’s a good size, but their sweet spot is convenience-store chains—sorry for using lingo—that have about 200 to 250 units. And they’ll buy those. They’ll keep the brand name and the brand integrity intact, but they provide support and management. Under the GPM umbrella are about 2,300 C-store units. So this is our test. If we do well with E-Z Mart, then there’s the potential to expand out across our portfolio.

Laura Zander:
It’s so neat to see the validation of: Just be yourself, and just tell your story. You don’t have to push it to be a successful small-to-medium-sized business. I just love that. That makes me feel so good.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I did a post called “The Myth of the Girl Boss,” which I think Laura can relate to. And it’s to the point of being yourself. I got very frustrated seeing these posts on LinkedIn, which is just your typical, “I’m at a ribbon cutting,” or, “I just got this award, blah, blah, blah,” which I post too. It’s important. We all want to share those wonderful attagirl/attaboy moments, but it gets a little redundant or repetitive. And I just had a day where things had been really hard for me, and I thought people just need to post more about what the reality is of running a small business. So I posted up there—

Laura Zander:
Amen.

Stephanie Stuckey:
“The Myth of the Girl Boss.” It was a photo of me in a T-shirt. I was completely unglamorous. I was working at the warehouse, helping put together new concepts for our gift boxes. And I said, “There’s a lot of days that are hard. There’s a lot of days you’re not glamorous. There’s days when you’re putting in insane hours. In fact, those are most of the days.” And I know that there are women out there—I was talking about women in particular—who just look so polished. And they have the perfect husband and they have the perfect families, and they put it all out there. And it just seems so wonderful. More power to them if that is actually their lives. But that’s not me. My life is messy. I’m a divorced mom. I’ve got two kids. I’m raising them—of course, I have support from my former husband. Still, it’s messy. It’s tough.

Laura Zander:
It’s messy. What a great word. Yeah.

Stephanie Stuckey:
And so I just put that out there. It got, I don’t know… the last I saw, it was like 3,000 likes, about 600 comments, and I think 400,000 engagements—whatever that means—views. So it was a lot. It was a lot of responses, and I really paid attention to the comments. And there were a lot of women who said, “Thank you. I feel that way too.”

Laura Zander:
I love that.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I’m on a mission to make LinkedIn interesting again. Or, I don’t know if it was ever interesting. I’m on a mission to make LinkedIn interesting.

Loren Feldman:
That’s quite a cause. You’ve got a lot of work to do, Stephanie.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I want more interesting posts from CEOs and from everyone. I think what people connect with is just rooting for us to make it. Everyone loves a comeback story. You like to root for the underdog. There’s a reason why Rocky is such a great movie, or I just watched Hoosiers again, and we love to root for the underdog. And so I think there’s a sense of, “Yeah, we want to see them make it, and how can we be a part of that journey?”

Loren Feldman:
Okay, so Stephanie, you told us that you were starting with some good news. You seemed to be suggesting that you had some other experiences to share.

Stephanie Stuckey:
And now for the messy part. So, the case of the squishy pecan log roll. This was not a fun call. I get a message from our warehouse, and I get in touch with them. And they said, “Our new batch from our new candy plant of pecan log rolls—our signature item—arrived. And the top layer in every box was flat.” So they weren’t pecan log rolls. I don’t know what you’d call them. Pecan flats, pecan log flats.

Laura Zander:
They’re bars. They’re power bars.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, and squishy.

Laura Zander:
Easy to chew.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yeah, so our distribution facility is in Eastman, Georgia. So I drove down personally to check out the situation. It’s the shipping process, and also, I think it’s a factor that it’s summer. That’s not helping. It’s been very hot in Georgia. And so it was a variety of factors.

We had a long conversation with our candy plant manager, and we changed the caramel recipe. We make our caramel from scratch, and so we added some more thickening agents, so we just changed the quantities around. You have to be very careful because we’ve already done the packaging and the labeling and the nutritional contents and ingredients. You can’t add new ingredients, but we could change up some of the processes. We let the pecan, the log roll nougat, sit out overnight to harden up. Not to get into too much of the detail, I think the big thing is that we had a big strategy session. We came up with a plan of action. We tried it, and it does appear to be working.

Laura Zander:
How much bad product do you have? Or not bad, but squishy product?

Stephanie Stuckey:
It actually tastes delicious. We’re talking about, I think it was 4,000 units. It was a good number. It was not an insignificant amount.

Loren Feldman:
And how big a problem is the adjustment that you had to make to prevent it from happening again?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Not that bad, fortunately. It’s just changing up the processes, and we’re still in a bit of a trial and error mode. We bought a candy plant. They had to figure out our recipes, our ingredients, and make sure that the process works for us. This is a building year for us. We’re building our team. And there’s going to be some days like that.

Laura Zander:
So 4,000 of them. I mean, what did that cost you? You know, like, what’s the opportunity cost?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Our costs are 69 cents per unit.

Laura Zander:
Okay, so if you lost a couple thousand bucks. Let’s say, if you were to sell those, maybe you sell them for $1.50 or something. So $1.50 times 4,000, about $6,000. I’m just thinking, you know, we have a factory in Texas. t’s funny, I often talk about on the podcast and with people, about all of the people issues and problems we have. And it doesn’t even occur to me, until right this second, we have these sorts of factory issues once a week, all the time.

Our supplier just ran out of a dye that we use for our yarns. Granted, I don’t have the FDA and food quality and all that stuff. We don’t have those restrictions, so it’s a little different. But like we just ran out of a dye, and we knew we’ve been trying to order it for three months, and the supplier doesn’t have it. And it’s affected 20 percent of our business. And so we’ve got the head kitchen manager in there redoing all the recipes to try to figure out, “Okay, if we could use a little bit of this and a little bit of that,”—we have about 400 colors that we work with—”how could we recreate some of these colors and not lose business and blah, blah, blah?”

And then, there’s a yarn that we got $100,000 worth of it delivered to us. And we dye it and it doesn’t dye the right way because of the way it was treated, and so it’s been a six-month process. We sent stuff out to Tennessee to try to get it fixed. We’ve tried to fix it locally, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So, I guess it’s funny, because now, having this factory for a year and a half or two years, I have come to terms with the fact that these sorts of things are just a daily part of business. We’re never not going to have some sort of product issue, some sort of supply issue, some sort of QA issue, because I’ve just been watching it and watching it. So now I’m just surrendering to it, and just accepting the fact that that’s just the way it is. And I guess that’s kind of like people issues. You’re just always going to have somebody who’s not going to get along, there’s always going to be some sort of drama. And to try to get it to not be that way is just like banging your head against the wall.

Stephanie Stuckey:
So true. The thing I just learned is act quickly and don’t try to minimize it. Really address the problem right when it happens because it will only get worse. And my initial reaction with the squishy pecan log roll was, “Just roll it. It’ll get better.” And then I went for a walk, and I thought about it. I’m like, “No, you’ve got to get a handle on this. Get your butt down to Eastman. Go see it. Go have a pow wow with the candy plant manager. We need to tackle this ASAP.” No problem gets better by just letting it sit there. You just have to get a handle on it.

Laura Zander:
You know, Stephanie, I have found for me, just for my personality type—and maybe this is yours as well—but these kinds of things are actually my favorite part of the job, because I get to come up with creative solutions. When I heard about the squishy rolls, I’m like, “Oh my God, this is awesome. Could you could you just mold it a little bit and make it into a cane? Could you change the shape and put a Christmas sticker on it?” And all of a sudden, you have limited edition log cane, or pecan canes for Christmas.

Charge twice as much for them, and then you can see if they sell really fast. And then all of a sudden, you have this new product that you would never even have realized. Or can you turn them into a heart? These kinds of issues are where we get a lot of new product ideas, and it gives us a chance to test things out that we had never planned on testing before and had never really thought about.

I subscribe and I purchase clothes from this place called Imogene and Willie in Nashville, and it’s so awesome. They do hand-designed t-shirts—$60 t-shirts—and every once in a while, like I just got an email from them, that they made some mistakes. They’re selling the mistake t-shirts for $235 because they’re one-of-a-kind. And they sell out. And I’m like, “This is so brilliant. Absolutely freakin’ brilliant.” And so we do the same thing. Like, if we mess up—quote-unquote, “mess up”—a whole batch of stuff, then we’re like: “One of a kind! You’ll never be able to get this again! Limited edition!”

Loren Feldman:
Okay, I want to ask you both about whatever supply chain issues or shipping issues you may have recently had. But first, we’re gonna do something we’ve never done here before on this podcast, which is: We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor, Work Better Now. Have either of you ever tried a virtual assistant?

Laura Zander:
No, but I would love a virtual assistant. I’ve thought about it. I’ve just never taken that leap. It seems so intimidating.

Loren Feldman:
Well, I’m about to talk to the co-founder of Work Better Now. So listen up, and we’ll be right back.

[Message from our sponsor]

Loren Feldman:
All right, we’re back. Laura, we’ve talked about a lot of issues involving your business. We haven’t talked about the companies that you operate in China and Vietnam for quite some time. And with all the supply chain issues that have been in the news, I’m curious, what’s going on with them?

Laura Zander:
That’s a great question. Vietnam has been locked down, and the lockdowns continue to slow things down. So our general manager and product developer, she actually has taken on all of the development and the work in China and Vietnam for the last year or so. But last I heard, Vietnam has been locked down. China has been okay, you know.

Loren Feldman:
You have a bag manufacturer.

Laura Zander:
We do, it’s called Della Q. We actually have two different brands: We have Della Q, which was produced in Vietnam, with a business that we purchased. And then Namaste was a business that we purchased that was produced in China. But we brought the two of them together. So we dropped the Namaste brand, and we are now selling everything under Della Q. So now, Della Q—which is bags—we’re doing some of the production in Vietnam and some of the production in China.

Loren Feldman:
Have you been able to get product during the lockdown? Or has this shut things down completely?

Laura Zander:
It’s shut things down. We had a heads up that it might happen, so they were pushing really, really hard before that happened to get some stuff to us. We’re just kind of rolling with it. We’re placing much larger orders, just in case this happens again. It’s affected us. What’s affected us more, actually, is right now in South Africa, we had a container of yarn that was supposed to be here now. And we just found out a couple of days ago that our shipping company, DSV, did not realize that the container never made it on the boat, so they lost our container. They just got it on the boat a couple of days ago. But it sat in South Africa, like in a yard somewhere, for a month without anybody realizing that it was there.

So now my task this week is to talk with them and negotiate, and we’re going to have to figure out how to airship some stuff, because it didn’t make it on the boat. And then we’ve got the issues, like I mentioned before, with the dyes—the products that we use to create our products. The shipping industry is still overwhelmed and just can’t get stuff out. A year and a half ago, we would say, “Okay, I’ve got a container’s worth of stuff. Can you ship it out? Can you fit it on a boat next week?” And they would say, “Yes, absolutely.” And now it’s like, “Can you fit a container on the boat in two months?” So, the delays are just super significant.

Loren Feldman:
Stephanie, have you had supply chain issues?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Absolutely. With our packaging from China, we ordered the packaging in February. The shipment got lost in the port of Savannah for a couple of weeks, but it was delayed for months. It was in that Panama Canal mess when there was the blockage and everything was delayed. We did not get that packaging until about two weeks ago, in late August.

Loren Feldman:
It actually got all the way to Savannah but then got lost?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes, couldn’t find the tracking number, the something number. There was a certain documentation paperwork and delay, delay, delay at the ports. And it’s not just the port of Savannah. I’m not picking on the port of Savannah. This is every port. It is due to worker shortages. This is what I’m reading in the industry and the trade publications. And the cost of containers has skyrocketed. If you’re all stuck with delayed shipments in port, and they’re not turning the containers as rapidly, there’s a shortage of containers, sSo that’s jacking the cost up. Containers usually cost a couple thousand, like two to three grand for shipping. It’s gone up to $20,000 and up.

The big retailers like Walmart and Target are coming in and paying these exorbitant prices because they want to make sure that their customers are guaranteed to be able to get the product they want. Which means the smaller businesses like Stuckey’s, we are not able to afford the shipping costs. So we either look for domestic manufacturers, or there are some distribution centers or some vendors here in America that had the foresight to see this coming and started stockpiling inventory. We’re working with some of them. Or we’re getting a lot of product from Mexico. We’re not having the shipping container issues from Mexico. We get falsa blankets and baja jackets out of Mexico.

So you just get creative, and certainly we always like to buy American anyway. We want to support our local economy. The tariffs are pretty exorbitant, depending on what your product is, especially from China right now. So there’s just a myriad of issues related to supply chain. Most of it, the finger of blame would be pointed to: It’s all COVID delays. It’s been a tough year.

Laura Zander:
Are you passing on some of these extra costs?

Stephanie Stuckey:
We have not yet. We’ve held tight, and we’ve been fortunate in that, now that we own a manufacturing facility, we do make our product ourselves. So that is saving some cost. But it’s coming. We’re not going to prevent ourselves from being profitable and earning the kind of income that we need to for our team. So it’s coming. And every time we get a price increase from one of our partners, we save it. I have a whole folder—it’s labeled “price increases”—where I save all the messaging, so when it does happen for us, I’ve got the messaging points. I can read what others have done, and we certainly will be consistent with our partners. The one we got most recently, just a couple days ago, was MoonPie. We do a lot of business with MoonPie.

Laura Zander:
I was also going to ask you: What about the wages? The people in the factories, the people in your factory, and the people who work for you. Are you seeing a huge wage increase? Because we are. I was just talking to a guy last night that owns a trucking company, and he’s increased his hourly wages by 40 percent in the last year. And I mean, we’ve done some similar things.

Loren Feldman:
As much as 40 percent, Laura?

Laura Zander:
Yeah. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, but we’re really evaluating our business model. We have been moving toward less volume, less revenue—not necessarily less revenue, but not trying to grow revenue and trying to grow profit margin, so that we can increase wages the way that we need to. So we’ve raised our prices. We announced a price increase for next year—for our factory, for our products in Texas—and we sold out. What we’ve been doing now, because we can’t keep up with the demand, is we say, “If you want some of our products next year, tell us now.” And within three days, we double-sold what our capacity was for next year.

Loren Feldman:
At the new higher prices?

Laura Zander:
Yes, at the new higher prices, and we added an MOQ—a minimum that was double what the minimum was before, like per product—so that we can get some efficiencies, so that we can increase margins, so that we can pay our people more and provide a better environment. I mean, that’s what it’s always really boiling down to. It doesn’t change anything for the bottom line, necessarily. We’re just trying to shift money around.

And also, what I believe, is that the really astute business owners who purchase from us, they recognize that if we raise our prices, that means they raise their prices, which means they actually make more money as well. And the consumer is happy to pay an extra dollar, or an extra $2, or an extra 50 cents. Most of them don’t notice it.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Well, the timing of it is interesting, that you went ahead and announced, “Q1 of 2022, we’ll have an increase.”

Laura Zander:
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Stuckey:
I’m surprised you’re getting all these pre-orders. That’s really interesting to me. I would think that people would start buying up your product now before the increase goes into effect. We have found that what has worked well for us, both on the retail side and on the wholesale side, is that if you’re going to do a price increase, you give people maybe a month—either a month to six months, depending on if it’s direct to consumer or whatever. And we have driven sales so high when we announce it. So if you say, “Okay, in three months, there’s going to be a price increase, so stock up now.” Then, it’s amazing. It’s really cool. It’s human nature.

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yeah, I think three months sounds like a sweet spot, but I need to give some more thought to it. And we have had to increase wages, Loren, in answer to that earlier question. I don’t know the percentage. But we looked at it more holistically and we’ve already added some additional benefits and more holidays and more leave time. We also put together a program to allow folks to advance more and get higher salaries as they get more responsibility and can get promotions. So we’ve tried to put a whole structure in place.

Loren Feldman:
Are you short-staffed right now?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Yes. But we are trending—I always try to look at the trend, not just the point in time—we are steadily adding staff. We’re getting there. We need to add more, but we are adding to the candy line and the pecan roasting line. Pecan season is upon us, and the shelling plant will be in full operation very soon.

Loren Feldman:
And you think you’ll have enough people for it?

Stephanie Stuckey:
To be determined. I think so.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, are you still short-staffed, or has the increase in wages made a difference?

Laura Zander:
In Texas, this production manager who we hired is apparently a hiring rockstar, because he brought in five people yesterday—or earlier this week. He’s got five interviews today. We hired three people yesterday. We’re killing it. It’s incredible. Really, really incredible. So in Texas, we’re doing really well.

In Reno, it’s harder. Like I said, the wages here are just unbelievable. The competition—because this is such a distribution center—you’ve got all of these distribution companies. We’ve lost, I think, five or six people in the last month. And we’re really trying to decide: Do we want to replace them? And how do we want to replace them? We’ve been able to hire some customer service, but it’s the fulfillment side of things and the warehouse side of things.

Loren Feldman:
Did they leave because of money?

Laura Zander:
Various reasons. Like two of them, people cashed out. The housing prices here have just skyrocketed. Like one guy sold his house, moved to Michigan, and was able to buy his house in Michigan for cash. Another girl did the same thing in Idaho, so they moved to Idaho. So people are just leaving. One guy, after COVID, decided that he wants to be a pro roller skater and bartender, so he left, but he’d been there for six or seven years. Somebody else left who we kind of wanted to leave. We’ve had a couple people leave who we pushed out a little bit. So it hasn’t been altogether horrible, and we’re surviving. I mean, it is what it is.

Loren Feldman:
Have either of you had changes in your COVID situation recently with Delta?

Laura Zander:
We have in Texas. I mean, two weeks ago was a tough week. We had a number of people out. A couple of them had just gotten vaccinated. They’d just gotten their first vaccines too. But in Nevada, in Reno, over the whole year and a half, we’ve had one instance with one person test positive, and that’s been it.

Stephanie Stuckey:
We’ve had a key worker in a supervisor level in the candy plant and the manager of our distribution facility—neither of whom was vaccinated. We have been trying to be proactive and encouraging our staff to be vaccinated. The main staff is at the manufacturing facility, so we had the local hospital—Jefferson County Hospital—actually came on-site and gave free vaccines on-site to make it super easy. We let people have time off from work to get the vaccine. Obviously, if you have any side effects, to take the day off and rest up. And so we offer that, too, as an incentive. We did have some staff do that, but we had several who did not.

Our candy plant and our shelling plant requires—health regulations require already—that hair nets, gloves, masks. And the person who came down with it, it was a supervisor who was not actually working hands-on with the food production, only supervising within the facility. So it’s rough, especially the distribution facility. The No. 2 person has had to step up to the plate and manage everything, and she’s got close family members with COVID.

Laura Zander:
Do you give them a bonus? Or do you just say, “Thanks?” Or like how do you handle that?

Stephanie Stuckey:
Good question. This just happened this week.

Laura Zander:
Yeah and I’m asking for myself as well.

Stephanie Stuckey:
To be determined. That’s worth consideration. I’m thinking out loud here, but it might be more appropriate as part of the year-end bonus to have some recognition for the hard work.

Laura Zander:
I know, and we thought last year was gonna be rough, right? We thought that was it.

Loren Feldman:
It was rough, Laura.

Laura Zander:
Oh, yeah. No, you’re right. But I mean, we thought that was it and we were done. I mean, January 1st, it’s all gonna be better, right?

Loren Feldman:
All right, well, lots of threads that we will continue to follow. My thanks to Stephanie Stuckey and Laura Zander. As always, thanks for sharing, guys.

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