Thursday, July 29, 2021

Is the ‘Great Resignation’ an Opportunity for Virginia SMBs?

In April 2021, 4 million people across the U.S. quit their jobs. In May, another  3.6 million walked away

Are these signs of a turnover apocalypse in progress in the Commonwealth? And if so, what can Virginia business leaders do to retain their employees and even secure new talent in a challenging environment?

A Matter of Perspective

Let’s face it, some scary forecasts have been tossed around lately. A frequently cited survey by Prudential Financial, for example, found that a staggering one in four workers plans to leave their current employment. Even more pessimistic, the Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index estimates that  41% of employees worldwide may be moving on.

Leave the crystal ball behind, however, and the news is not as dire. Consider that over the long haul, about about 3.5 million Americans resign their positions in any given month. In April 2020, that number plunged to 1.9 million, indicating that some employees likely delayed a planned job search due to COVID-19 concerns. 

As the calendar year changed over and pandemic fears began to ease, pent-up turnover broke out. But total quits, according to the most recent data available, are now running only a little higher than historical average. 

Rewarding, Fulfilling, and Flexible

Was that the Great Resignation we’ve been hearing so much about? Is it over? 

June employment numbers haven’t yet been posted, but regardless of whether Virginia SMBs can count on continued stabilization in voluntary turnover, local CEOs are eagerly checking in on their talent acquisition and retention strategies. 

“The result of our national period of introspection—a workforce more focused than ever on finding employment opportunities that are rewarding, fulfilling, and flexible.”

Ask any experienced business owner and they’ll tell you that a regular talent review is an important best practice. The deep shifts in employee attitudes toward work right now, though, make such an appraisal especially urgent. Companies that adapt most effectively to today’s rapidly evolving employee perspectives can gain competitive advantage in a tight job market and capture the talent necessary to capitalize on a V-shaped economic recovery. 

The best news, small and mid-sized businesses might be in the catbird’s seat here. Despite perceptions about enhanced unemployment benefits and heightened salary demands, workers themselves are telling a larger story about their career goals. Although pay scale certainly matters, countless employees have reexamined their employment priorities in light of COVID-19 and discovered what matters more than money. 

The result of our national period of introspection—a workforce more focused than ever on finding employment opportunities that are rewarding, fulfilling, and flexible. 

Good Questions

As any VACEOs Roundtable participant quickly realizes, good questions are often more valuable than great answers. So here are some talent-related queries you may want to pursue alone or with your peers in 2021, whether the Great Resignation comes for your industry or not.   

#1 Mission

Some employees who took a step back in 2020 are now seeking a greater sense of purpose on the job. Take U.S. Marines veteran Jake Mancini, who was profiled in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July. After leaving a career in manufacturing to become a software engineer, he’s earning less but finding his new position as a defense contractor, with a role to play in helping the troops, more fulfilling.

  • How do I communicate my company’s mission and gain buy-in from workers?
  • How can I help employees find a sense of purpose in their jobs? 

#2 Opportunity

Mancini, mentioned above, was among the millions of Americans who used time spent unemployed to acquire new training and credentials. He’s proof positive that Virginia workers don’t just want more, they want to reach higher, too.

  • How can I benefit from a pool of newly upskilled workers?
  • How can I tap into the desire for training and advancement to re-inspire your workforce?

#3 Balance

From frontline retail, restaurant, and healthcare staff to Zoomed-out office workers, burnout is an enduring issue. What’s more, pandemic conditions led many employees to reassess the time they spend away from home. Some are now eschewing long commutes and late nights in the office in favor of remote and hybrid schedules and other family-friendly accommodations.

  • How can I help employees regain equilibrium after 18 difficult months?
  • How can I collaborate with employees to improve their work/life balance? 

Conditions for SMB Success?

Small and mid-sized businesses frequently enjoy greater agility than their larger counterparts, a key advantage in a rapidly changing talent market. What’s more, smaller companies can be particularly effective at engaging employees and valuing each member of the team as an individual. Given what workers say they want in post-pandemic employment, Virginia’s SMBs may, therefore, find that other companies’ talent losses over the coming months become their gains. 

Do you agree?

About Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs)

Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) is a nonprofit organization connecting CEOs for learning and growth. Formed more than 20 years ago, Member benefits include placement in a peer roundtable group and access to a thought leader network, and a robust program of events for learning and growth. This is not a networking group, but rather a group of CEO peers who are invested in the success of each Member. To qualify for membership CEOs must run a business with $1M+ revenue and 5+FTEs. Learn more at

Posted by Staff at 10:07 am
Friday, June 18, 2021

Bringing Back An Iconic Brand: The Stuckey’s Story

Stuckey’s is one of those iconic brands of the 60s and 70s that’s hard to forget. Peaking during a time when taking a road trip in your woody station wagon was the rage and the thought of a night’s stay at the Howard Johnson’s or Holiday Inn made you giggle with glee, brands like these became classics many of us came to know and love. 

The Stuckey’s roadside stop and its famous pecan log rolls began to lose their luster in the 80s but have now seen a resurgence, thanks to the founding father’s granddaughter, Stephanie Stuckey. But why, in 2019, would this environmental lawyer by trade take on the family business in its last hour of life?  

CEO Stephanie Stuckey

“I think what really drove me more than anything is that I knew my grandfather and I knew his vision for Stuckey’s and it just broke my heart to see how the company had floundered. Nobody either had the capacity, the capital, the wherewithal. Nobody wanted it,” she reveals during her presentation to a VA Council of CEOs audience.

Six months after buying a sizable sample of shares, the business turned a profit under her guidance. For Stephanie there was no turning back. Fueled by her love of the brand, she bought her father out. Today she is honoring what is sacred in the business but is determined to shake off what is not working.

Here is how this passionate and determined CEO is bringing back this iconic brand.

But first, a trip back in time.

Uniquely Stuckey’s

The history of the iconic Stuckey’s brand began during the Great Depression, when W.S. Stuckey, Sr. had to drop out of law school to work the family farm. Desiring a better life, he had a side hustle selling pecans on the side of the road. There he recognized a need. 

“He saw very quickly that the problem was, especially in that time, people were traveling the roads and didn’t have reliable places to pull over and get gas and have a cold drink of water. We really were the very first roadside retail chain,” says Stephanie. At its peak in the early seventies, Stuckey’s claimed 370 stores in over 40 States, every major interstate highway system, except Pacific Northwest. 

Stuckey’s was the place to “Eat Here and Get Gas” as its famous tee shirt expressed. The chain featured Stuckey’s candy products and quirky merchandise, including games for the car, small toys, and various other sundries to make the road trip convertible and memorable.

“I think a lot of it was the experience we were unlike any other roadside stop,” says Stephanie. “At one point we had talking Mynah birds in the store. We had quite a few stores that had their own honeybee hives and made honey on site.” 

Classic Florida shop. Image source: @StuckeysCorporation (Facebook)

Stephanie reports that franchisees were almost always a husband and wife team who often lived in the back of the store. Often the wife made special recipes to supplement the standard menu. This gave each Stuckey’s a similar but uniquely local feel. 

“My grandfather believed in having a unique, curated experience. So you would go to a Stuckey’s on Stuckey’s in Florida you would get fresh citrus fruits out front and there would alligator souvenirs. You would have things that were special to that area. We had a candy plant, a trucking company, a sign company. Things were going gangbusters and then he sold the business to Pet Inc.,” reports Stephanie.

“They were just going to buy Stuckey’s trademark and make a bunch of cheap, ugly chotchkies —souvenirs probably — and sell them on Amazon for cut-rate prices and cheapen the brand even further. And I was like, this is not the Stuckey’s. This is not how we finish.”

Stephanie stuckey

Fast forward, corporate merger after corporate merger, the brand became a subsidiary of a large corporation. The family became disengaged and the brand began to disappear. Hundreds of stores were lost. 

Stephanie’s father bought the company in 1985, but the store-in-store concept further diluted the brand. Financially the business was losing money. Occupied by other projects like his father before him, he was ready to sell the company and trademark. 

The final chapter of the brand was looking grim. If Stephanie didn’t step in, outside investors would. “They were just going to buy the Stuckey’s trademark and make a bunch of cheap, ugly chotchkies —souvenirs probably — and sell them on Amazon for cut-rate prices and cheapen the brand even further. And I was like, this is not the Stuckey’s. This is not how we finish,” says Stephanie.

The Brand Rebounds by Focusing on Visual Rebranding, Its Sacred Cow, Manufacturing, and Retail Sales

Stephanie immersed herself in the history of the company and religiously studied other nostalgic and new brands like Howard Johnson’s, Chick-fil-A, and Nike. She learned what makes a great CEO. “There’s no magic formula for what makes a great CEO. They have all these different characteristics and personality types and skills, but the ones that are really successful share one thing, and that is they surround themselves with people who fill in their gaps,” she reports.

Simply stated, Stuckey’s started to get back to its roots. “We’re focusing on what we started as, which was a pecan stand on the side of the road,” says Stephanie. 

The game plan is relatively simple: 

  1. Shake off the bad
  2. Keep the sacred cow
  3. Build growth with manufacturing and retail sales outlets
  4. Dream big 
Image source: @StuckeysCorporation

Shaking Off the Bad

“Bad (packaging and logo) design is what I’m shaking off,” reports Stephanie. “So I invested in storytelling and I invested in beautiful design.” She reveals that she takes inspiration from other nostalgic brands like Moon Pie and Little Debbie Snack Cakes. “They all have their classic line, but then they have fun with it,” she says. 

The logo has had a facelift and she plans to also make use of original artwork from the Stuckey archives. “I am spending very strategic dollars on what I think is the most important aspect of branding, which is designing. I really feel strongly about the look of the brand.”

Keeping the Sacred

Stephanie believes in the company’s “sacred cow”, which is its pecan log roll, described as “Uniquely sweet and scrumptious, with a light, fluffy nougat center mixed with maraschino cherries which are hand-dipped in an antique copper kettle holding fresh-made buttery caramel.” But like the packaging, the log rolls have been updated. They are larger and lack the high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients of the original. 

And because she recently purchased a factory in the heart of pecan country, Stuckey’s is literally tree to table.

Image source: @MarkhamYard 

Building Product and Sales Growth 

Manufacturing the candies in-house and focusing on retail sales are what’s driving Stuckey’s current growth. “I want to see us making more of our product. What I think what the pandemic taught us is that we have all these supply chain breakages and the closer you can get to making your own stuff and having a connection with what you’re making,” she reports. 

“We bought a manufacturing facility that shells pecans to make pecan candies. So that is the key driver of our growth is that we are selling our product to more retail channels. And we’re not just selling to Stuckey’s. We have some 250 plus, and it’s growing every day. We’re about to pick up a new chain of 250 new stores,” she reports.

Image source: @StuckeysCorporation (Facebook)

The website is revamped website, making it easy for people to go online and buy the products. Stephanie reports the merchandise is very popular. “The Get Gas shirt we made in the seventies. I brought it back. People love it! We have sold out and we are ordering more. And we’ve got coonskin caps, dunking birds, rubber alligators, and all the sort of kitschy fun merchandise that you might remember pulling over and seeing as a kid. And so we’re bringing all that back and along with the fun of taking a road trip.” 

Big Dreams

What is next for the brand? Stephanie explains that she is not fighting to win over Gen Zs or Millennials, but rather plans to lean into nostalgia. 

 “I like to say we are a small brand with big, big aspirations. I want to be the embodiment of the road trip. That’s my big dream. That is our big audacious goal. It’s when you think ‘road trip,’ you think Stuckey’s. And I want us to own our own stores and I want to be able to build the awareness of the road trip and a community of people who love to take to the open road.”

It’s not 5,000 stores or a thousand stores she hopes to build, but only a dozen or so, framed as Stuckey’s Roadside Oasis complete with souvenirs, photo booths, vending and amusement machines, and amazing local food.

In the works now, a Stuckey’s RV retro decorating line, complete with curtains and kitchie towels. No doubt this will tempt a new generation of road trippers!

We have no doubt that Stephanie’s passion for the brand will keep this piece of nostalgia alive and well.

Source for story: VA Council of CEOs event: “THE STUCKEY’S STORY: BRAND BUILDING, PECANS, AND THE GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIP”, May 13, 2021, 12:30 – 1:30 PM EST

Posted by Staff at 12:44 pm
Friday, June 18, 2021

4 Ways to Empower Your Team to Step Up in a Crisis

Is your team empowered to step up in a crisis?

Is it ready to take charge on a moment’s notice?

Is it set up to advance daily business when your chair is unexpectedly empty?

Is it really?

As a leader, I had the opportunity to find out for myself when I got COVID and was forced to completely shut down. Immediately. No transition meetings. No phone calls. No emails. Full stop. One moment I was engaged, available, responsive, involved. And the next, not at all. It was a transformational moment for me, for the business and for our team.

Throughout my experience, I truly learned what it really means to empower a team to continue advancing the business without one of its leaders. Fortunately for Fahrenheit, our team didn’t miss a beat when I went off the grid. And while it feels lucky, luck really had nothing to do with it. Fortunately, I have a great partner and Co-CEO, Rich Reinecke. Many organizations do not have that luxury.

As I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience, I’ve realized the careful cultivation of 4 key factors proved essential to our success. And if your team shows up to the office one day to find an unexpectedly empty chair in your office, the 4 factors will also prove essential to yours.


What can you learn from us about empowering your team to step up in a crisis? When the chips were down, the team at Fahrenheit was able to rise to the occasion because of 4 specific factors we already had in place. In order to ensure your team is ready to continue advancing the business without you, these 4 key factors are absolutely mission critical to empowering your team to step up in a crisis — COVID or otherwise.


Question To Ask: Have I created roles critical to running and growing the business?

Since Fahrenheit was launched in 2009 with two co-founders and one employee, we have been fortunate to experience exponential growth. At our 10-year anniversary, a natural reflection point for businesses, we took a deep dive into how best to continue to invest and grow. We embarked on a strategic journey to identify the roles that would support our growth and allow us to continue scaling the business. We created the positions, defined their responsibilities, and hired the right people to do the work (learn more about that in #2). Each area of the business critical to our success has its own champion, and that champion knows what needs to be done.

The benefit: When each team member understands what they’re responsible for, their focus is clear — whether someone is steering the ship or not. And, if I may mix metaphors, because we’ve got all the bases covered with specific key roles, we have no gaps in our daily operations.


Question to Ask: Do I have the right people in place to get the job done?

As Jim Collins tells us in his legendary leadership book Good to Great, great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus  — and in the right seats — to move forward. At Fahrenheit, we identified the right seats as part of our strategic assessment and planning (detailed in #1 above). For us, the “right” people for those seats are highly capable, experienced, hands-on self-starters with high levels of personal accountability. Our core values and the “why” that defines our culture also help us define the right people for Fahrenheit. In fact, we incorporate our core values into everything we do, including hanging them prominently in our office space.

The benefit: The Fahrenheit team was ready to roll up their sleeves and step in when I stepped out because that’s core to who they are and how they operate every day. Not a single person on our team needs their hand held to get their job done.


Question to Ask: Does my team have the freedom to make mistakes?

The entrepreneurial mindset is built on speed and failure. Yes, failure. Not only moving fast to embrace new opportunities and solve challenges, but failing fast — and learning fast. The only way to learn from failure is to make mistakes. The entrepreneurial mindset is one of our core values for a reason. Our team is empowered to make mistakes within our intentional culture of growth and improvement. We say it, we live it, and, most importantly, we support it with actions as well as words. We have long said Fahrenheit is one experiment after another!

The benefit: A supportive environment is freeing, and our team has that freedom every day. When there is no paralysis from fear of making the wrong decision, your team will make decisions — on their own, without input. And those decisions will take the company forward.


Question to Ask: Is my team in it to win it — together?

At Fahrenheit, we’ve worked hard to create a culture that embraces and prioritizes the idea of community. It may sound hokey, but we’re truly “all for one and one for all.” It’s another example of living our core values — in this case Community specifically, as well as Accountability, which is the idea that we keep our promises to one another.

The benefit: When people are part of a team, they will step up and act for the good of the team as a whole. No one wants to be the weak link who lets the team down.


I hope you never have to find out whether your team is ready to continue advancing your business in your absence. But if you do, and you’ve prepared by putting these 4 factors in place, you can do so with the confidence that your team is truly empowered to step up in a crisis.

Despite my leadership purpose “To consistently seek to understand and empower,” I’ll confess I’m still a work in progress. But my COVID experience had the surprise — and welcome — benefit of accelerating my development in that area. I learned, because I had to, what true empowerment is, and I look forward to being more purposeful in that endeavor going forward.

If you’d also like to grow in that area, there’s no better place to start than setting up your team for success by putting these 4 factors in place. Because everyday empowerment will strengthen your business, even when it’s “just” business as usual.

To find out how Fahrenheit can help you empower your team to step up in a crisis, or about how we can accelerate your progress and help you overcome challenges to find the straightest path forward, contact us today to learn more about what our team of seasoned, C-level executives and consultants can do for you.

COVID Update:

Overall I was fortunate my COVID symptoms were primarily severe fatigue and headaches. Several months after my diagnosis I am happy to report I’m doing very well, though I still continue to battle occasional periods of fatigue. I am truly blessed by the support of my family and my Fahrenheit family.


Keith Middleton of Fahrenheit Advisors

Keith Middleton is a co-managing partner and co-founder of Fahrenheit Advisors. He oversees the delivery of the firm’s consulting and fractional financial management services, as well as risk management and operations. He is a member of Fahrenheit’s Leadership Team. A seasoned corporate finance executive, Keith’s expertise in organizational strategy and a newfound passion for entrepreneurism has helped Fahrenheit expand across multiple service lines and geographies.     

EDITOR’S NOTE: Content provided by Fahrenheit Advisors. Fahrenheit Advisors is a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs. This post was originally posted here.

Posted by Staff at 12:36 pm
Monday, April 26, 2021

What is the Employee Handbook, and Why is it Important?

The employee handbook has a bad reputation. Many view it as a dull document that only serves to fulfill human resource requirements. However, when used correctly, it has a great ability to help support the company culture to set your organization up for success.

An employee handbook, also known as an employee manual or guide, is a book given to employees by the employer. This book contains job-related information that covers the company’s core values, mission/vision statement, code of conduct, general information on holidays, promotions, company perks, and policies (**policies not required by law), as well as other information modeled after employment laws. The purpose of the employee handbook is to provide a consistent set of policies and procedures. It can also protect the employer from lawsuits because it spells out the at-will employment relationship and employee rights.  It is also a supportive tool to communicate the company culture.

Why the handbook needs to be updated for 2021

It is always a good practice to review and update the handbook yearly. For some, this is maybe an unrealistic goal. However, updating the employee handbook in 2021 should not be put off and is even more critical now for two reasons. First, the new policies (related to remote work, time-off, performance management, etc.) adopted by organizations due to the COVID pandemic need to be captured in the manual. Secondly, in 2021 new federal and state employment laws took into effect—these drastic changes in how the workplace operates are a critical piece of the handbook (REF: VA Values Act)

How to update the handbook

The first step to updating the employee handbook is to review the existing handbook by checking what new rules, policies, and procedures need to be included or amended. Also, check if any of the local, state, and federal laws referenced in the handbook have changed. The manual should also reflect any changes in society, including social norms such as appropriate attire and technological advances, such as mobile devices in the workplace. Beyond that, there are different approaches to consider when updating the employee handbook. At Warren Whitney, we recommend embracing/incorporating language that promotes an open-door atmosphere. The goal is for employees to feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you.

Once you have a near final version, have outside counsel review it before distributing. After you receive the green light from your legal team, it is ready for distribution. Start by sending it to your managers before issuing it to all employees. This will give managers the time to understand the changes and prepare to answer questions. Require an acknowledgment of receipt, which will serve as evidence if an employee disputes that they were not made aware of modifications.


Updating your handbook is not a one-size-fits-all task. Warren Whitney creates tailored employee manuals that are legally compliant, clear, and concise. We work with the leaders, employees responsible for HR administration and payroll, and any other appropriate managers to develop a handbook that best reflects your organization. The Warren Whitney HR Team would welcome the opportunity to support you during this process.

About the Author

Kevin Grey is a director at Warren Whitney who brings more than 20 years of experience in human resources management across numerous industries, including manufacturing, energy, technology, distribution, and non-profits. Kevin works primarily with clients requiring senior level human resources leadership and organizational development expertise. Kevin’s approach is to design solutions around your company’s needs so that you get a personalized HR program and not just a boxed program that doesn’t embody your company’s culture. Kevin has helped several of our clients by stepping in as an interim HR leader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Content provided by Warren Whitney. Warren Whitney is a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs. This post was originally posted here.

Posted by Staff at 1:54 pm
Monday, March 29, 2021

How to Determine If Your Business is Eligible for the Employee Retention Credit

There has been a lot written about the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), and much of it makes reference to the fact that more guidance was expected to clarify some of the gray areas of the law. Recently, we received additional guidance in the form of a 102-page notice from the IRS: IRS Notice 2021-20. More guidance is expected.

I know most people will not read all 102 pages, or even a summary of 102 pages. I also know that the ERC can provide significant CASH benefits to many organizations, and some are missing out on that benefit due to the complexity of this program. In 2021, it can generate up to $7,000 in cash per employee per quarter, so it is clearly worth some effort.

Rather than summarizing what we know now about all of the fine print and calculations, I am going to focus on who is eligible for the ERC, for both 2020 and 2021, and a few other key concerns. If you cannot meet the eligibility requirements, then you don’t need to worry about anything else. Get back to your business.


  • Either:
    • 50% decline in cash basis gross receipts (think revenue) in at least one quarter of 2020 vs. the same quarter in 2019, OR
    • Operations were fully or partially shut down due to government orders related to COVID-19
  • Credit will be much more valuable for companies with 100 or fewer employees
  • Yes, you can now participate even if you received a PPP loan


  • Either:
    • A decline in gross receipts in a calendar quarter in 2021 where the gross receipts of that calendar quarter are less than 80% of the gross receipts in the same calendar quarter in 2019, or a decline in gross receipts using the immediately preceding calendar quarter (i.e., the fourth calendar quarter of 2020 and first calendar quarter of 2021, respectively) compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019, OR
    • Operations were fully or partially shut down due to government orders related to COVID-19.
  • Credit will be much more valuable for companies with 500 employees or fewer. This lets a lot more companies in the door!
  • Yes, you can now participate even if you received a PPP loan


Then you will need a team effort involving your staff, consultants, tax preparer and payroll provider. There are many twists and turns, especially concerning the interplay of payroll costs used for PPP purposes and those used for ERC purposes. You cannot use the same payroll costs in both programs, so some planning and strategizing are necessary. Know that the reports provided by your payroll provider for each program may not maximize your benefits for the two programs combined.


Determine if you are eligible. If not, move on. If yes, be prepared for some work, but know that work can result in some significant cash benefits for your business!

Need guidance on how to navigate this lengthy update and determine if your company is eligible? Reach out to me: or email us at


Doug Jones provides fractional CFO and senior financial management services to small and midsize organizations for Fahrenheit Advisors. In addition to improving his clients’ accounting and finance operations, Doug frequently serves as the link between company owners and outside advisors including attorneys, CPAs, investment bankers, appraisers, and personal financial advisors. He is skilled in identifying and integrating the full range of financial and non-financial business issues in contract negotiations and resolution of business decisions. He is a member of Fahrenheit’s Leadership Team.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Image and content provided by Fahrenheit Advisors. Fahrenheit Advisors is a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs. This post was originally posted here.

Posted by Staff at 2:59 pm