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 www.vaceos.org.

Posted by Staff at 10:07 am
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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

10 Attributes Of a Great CEO Peer Group Member

It’s no secret that CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses get a lot out of their peer advisory roundtable groups. Roundtables supply diverse perspectives in a confidential environment and are proven to deliver advantages in decision-making and leadership, especially during challenging times. 

To ensure the roundtable performs at its greatest potential, I’ve found that those participants who receive the most from the process tend to share certain qualities.

They are, in no particular order:

  1. Intellectual curiosity.  A desire to know what makes things work, the “back story”, answers to “why”, getting to the “root cause”.
  2. Life-long learner.    
  3. Open to seeking the input of others, and willing to implement suggested solutions not your own.
  4. Committed to the process of continuous improvement. Not satisfied with the current state. Growth-oriented. 
  5. Embrace change. An innovative spirit.
  6. Strategic thinker.
  7. Self-aware. A willingness to be vulnerable, to be transparent.
  8. Secure. No inherent need to be the smartest person in the room.
  9. Humble. More concerned about being able to give as much as you’re getting, as opposed to getting as much as you’re giving.
  10. Appreciate the power of diverse backgrounds, world views, perspectives, and experiences.  

These attributes, in fact, define our members to a tee!

Is it necessary to have all of these attributes to maximize the benefit of peer group membership? No. Would it be helpful to have some of them? Definitely. More important is attitude, your approach to the process. We all get the same 24 hours per day. The only thing that we can control is how we utilize, leverage, and prioritize those 24 hours.  

Keith Hartman

About the Author

Keith Hartman, Regional Executive for Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs), has over five years of experience developing and supporting peer-to-peer roundtables and forums for Vistage Worldwide, the international leader in peer advisory groups and personal leadership development for CEOs and senior leaders. He has experienced first-hand the transformational impact that the sharing of challenges, opportunities, and experiences with trusted peers in a confidential environment can have, and is looking forward to helping the Council expand this concept to all corners of the Commonwealth. Learn more about Keith.

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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 www.vaceos.org.

Posted by Staff at 2:06 pm
Tuesday, July 27, 2021

3 Reasons Why Marie Antoinette Lost Her Head (and how today’s CEOs can learn from it)

“Let them eat cake,” famously rumored to be said in the 17th or 18th century by princess Marie Antoinette upon being told that the French peasants had no bread. Whether she actually said it or not is unsure, but it does offer small business CEOs a few lessons in leadership.

3 Reasons Why Marie Antoinette Lost Her Head

#1. Losing touch

Knowing your audience is important. As a leader, you have to be mindful of your words to avoid a potential faux pas. Immerse yourself in the wisdom of others and find better ways to handle sticky situations.

#2. Running from crisis

Respect is earned by facing problems head on. Managing confrontation is unfortunately part of the job and must always be handled tactfully. Have a trusted friend by your side.

#3. Guillotines

The world is quick to judge and it doesn’t take much for tempers to flare. You’ve done everything in your power, but are truly struggling to fix the issue at hand. Fortunately for you, we know people who can help. It will be alright.

BUT WHAT IF SHE’D HAD BETTER FRIENDS IN HER CORNER?

Life is full of missteps and mistakes. A smart leader will observe others, absorb their wisdom, and navigate through new territory much easier.

Our CEO members find that with the backing of their peers, they evolve faster and achieve more together. Listen in to what they have to say.


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 www.vaceos.org.

Posted by Staff at 1:26 pm
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Friday, June 18, 2021

Do As the Romans Do Not

3 REASONS WHY AN EMPIRE CAME CRASHING DOWN

(and how today’s CEOs can learn from it)

#1. Internal Conflict

Making an entire empire happy seems impossible. As the leader it can be draining. What if there’s a way you haven’t thought of? You’ll never know without immersing yourself in the wisdom of others with similar challenges.

#2. Wandering Values

As the empire evolves, so does its goals. The trick is to never let these goals interfere with, or take priority over a solid foundation of values. Having trusted peers as friends helps us keep sight of what matters most.

#3. Barbarian Tribes

Competition is slightly more civil these days. Regardless, it’s important to keep your spears sharp and stay aware of your surroundings. It’s easier to hear the rumblings of potential threats when you have alliances on the outside.

BUT WHAT IF THE EMPIRE HAD THE RIGHT SUPPORT?

Our CEO members find that with the backing of their peers, they evolve faster and achieve more together. Listen in to what they have to say.


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 www.vaceos.org.

Posted by Staff at 2:12 pm
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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