Advertisement
09/22/2021

Third Generation of Founding Family Seeks to Revive Stuckey's Truck Stop Chain

The company's refocused business model puts an emphasis on selling its famous pecan log, pralines and fudge.

EASTMAN, Ga. — Stuckey's is aiming to reclaim its fame as the roadside travel oasis.

Founded as a roadside pecan stand in Eastman in 1937, Stuckey's evolved and peaked in the 1960s, boasting 368 stores in more than 30 states, offering kitschy souvenirs, clean restrooms, Texaco gas, and its famous candies. The company also owned a candy plant in Eastman to allow for larger production of its sweet treats, a trucking company and a sign company that produced the 4,000 Stuckey's billboards that dotted America's highways, the company stated on its website.

"We were the very first retail roadside chain that offered gas, souvenirs, a hot snack — a quick snack. It wasn't a full-service, sit-down restaurant. Clean restrooms — all the basics that the traveling public could want," Stephanie Stuckey, granddaughter of Stuckey's founder W.S. "Sylvester" Stuckey and current CEO, told CCJ Magazine. "[W.S. Stuckey] had this saying, 'Every traveler is a friend,' and he really meant it. He welcomed everyone. We welcomed traveling families, traveling businesspeople, truckers, RVers — black, white — we were one of the few locations in the South, especially during the Jim Crow Era, that was never segregated." 

By the mid-1960s, Stuckey's merged with Pet Milk Co. and within a decade, the travel stop operator had less than 75 locations in part due to an oil embargo that made traveling expensive, an expanding Interstate system that sucked traffic away from the highways and byways, and a buyout of Stuckey's parent company that didn't prioritize the travel stop business, reported CJJ.

In 1985, Stephanie's father bought the company back; however, after his retirement, Stuckey's suffered. In November 2019 she bought the company and made it her mission to restore the brand to its former glory by shifting Stuckey's focus on what it does well and what makes it unique: candy.

"We started as a pecan stand on the side of the road. And we began selling pecans, and that is how we're turning the company around," she said. "We're also selling candies that we're really well-known for — the pecan log roll in particular but pralines, divinity, fudge. All of this was what was our differentiator. I realized how my grandfather made his money — 80 percent of his profit was sale-of-product." 

The Game Plan

To support is its refocused business model, Stuckey's acquired a candy plant, a pecan shelling facility, a fundraising business and a healthy nut company within the last 18 months. Stephanie is also honing in on securing vendor relationships with travel centers and fueling stops to sell its products. Stuckey's goods are currently sold in five Pilot truck stops and over the last two years, is now sold in more than 500 third-party retailers.

"That's how we're bringing the company back," she told CJJ.

The CEO's long-term vision doesn't rely solely on developing retail relationships and is aiming to bring back some of Stuckey's formerly iconic blue rooftop locations. The company currently has 65 sites, each operating independently.

"Of those, only 25 are standalone stores, and of those 25 only 16 are the traditional stores that people recognize," Stephanie said. 

Stuckey's isn't actively seeking new franchisees or licensees for standalone stores. Instead, the company is looking to onboard locations that over the course of a generation or more have left the brand.

"Here's the crazy thing: There are like 100 Stuckey's out there that are not operating as Stuckey's but they are fully operating as gas stations," Stephanie told CJJ, noting these locations had sentimental value. "They're just operating as another business, but they've got the traditional roof — sometimes those roofs have changed color — they all have fuel companies affiliated with them. They're turnkey ready."

According to Stephanie, serving professional drivers is a big part of the company’s history. "We love truckers," she said, noting that some large fueling stations don't allow semis on their property. "We welcome truckers in the handful of stores that we have."

"Back in the 1950s and 60s, when we were being founded, there really wasn't what is known today as a truck plaza," Stuckey said, adding the company at one point owned the trucking company that moved goods to its more than 350 stores. "You didn't have these large square footage establishments on the side of the road. Frankly, Stuckey's was it for many years."

Stuckey's operates locations across Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia that Stephanie calls "full blown travel plazas," offering diesel pumps, truckers' lounges and showers.

The Goal

According to Stephanie, her goal isn't to rebuild her family's empire of gas stations and travel centers. More than anything, she hopes the resurgence of Stuckey's will build a community.

"Our brand is about getting on the road, and we want to celebrate that experience of traveling America's highways. We're especially associated with small town America," she said. "My vision is that we are a part of elevating road travel and celebrating that, and we become a nationally recognized brand for our snacks and candies and that we have a handful of destination locations that are really special; that people will go out of their way to visit. Any worthwhile endeavor is about building community. It's about making connections with people."

In her effort to revive the business, Stephanie spends a lot of time talking to travelers, including truck drivers, to understand "what makes them tick," and how she can drive the company forward to serve its communities, she told CJJ.

"Some of the things I learned — I mentioned I have this vision of this handful of Stuckey's oasis stores that I definitely want to be welcoming to truckers, even though they might be small. Part of that is I want to have dog parks," she said. "I realized how many truckers have dogs and I wouldn't have known that had I not started talking to truckers."