Season 3 Episode 2
Stephen Rose, co-founder of The Peach Truck

Stephen Rose and his wife Jessica started The Peach Truck in 2012 as a local business selling peaches from the truck bed of their 1964 Jeep Gladiator. Today, The Peach Truck has over 60 booths across Nashville, hosts 25 state tours, and ships products nationwide.

In this episode, Stephen discusses the impact of rapid growth, the challenges of distribution, and what it takes to scale a business while continuing to offer the fresh products that set them apart from conventional distribution methods.

Detecting a gap in the market

Chris Allen: All right. Well, hey, I just want to welcome Stephen Rose to The Entrepreneur’s Studio.

Stephen Rose: Thanks so much for having me.

Chris: Absolutely. I was thinking, “Today we’re going to talk about peaches,” and then I was like, “No, no, we’re going to talk about a seasonal business that has to be ridiculously good at distribution and scale in a pretty meaningful way.”

Stephen: Yeah, that’s the story right there.

Chris: That’s the story. Well, you grew up in Georgia, where you had access to fresh peaches everywhere, but then you moved to Nashville and found there were kind of no peaches, or no fresh ones. So talk to me about this experience that led to the inception of The Peach Truck.

Stephen: Totally. So, it was 2010. I moved to Nashville for a corporate sales job. It was my second job out of college. And my then-girlfriend lived in Seattle, where she grew up, Jessica, and said, “I’ll try out Nashville. I’ll move across the country. This dating thing’s going all right.”

Chris: Wow.

Stephen: So she came out, and I had kind of sold her on summers in the south — they’re a little miserable. She’s used to the mild weather up in the northwest, but we do have peaches. They’re going to be great. You’re going to love it. And, honestly, at farmer’s markets, grocery stores, I couldn’t find a peach that tasted anything like what I grew up with in Fort Valley, Georgia. And Fort Valley, Georgia’s where all Georgia peaches are grown. It’s literally called Peach County.

Chris: Wow. OK.

Stephen: I lived in this little town, and our close family friends happened to be fifth-generation peach growers. So summers looked like going to the peach-packing sheds. It was kind of like a peach Disneyland. You watch all these peaches run by. You grab a couple. You eat them. And there’s nothing better than a fresh peach right off the tree. So it was on a trip down to my hometown. Before we got married, I wanted to show Jessica, “This is where I grew up,” and we were asking, “Why can’t we find a good peach in Nashville?” And they were like, “Distribution. We pick the perfect peach, but then the grocery store sends it through their channels, and it takes a couple weeks before the end consumer gets it. And most fruits and vegetables are just fine like that, but peaches need to be handled with care. They need to be eaten and enjoyed within a couple of days, and no one’s going to do that.”

So it was kind of our lightbulb moment, where we knew nothing, but we were like, “Surely we could bring them to Nashville and sell them on the side of the road.” And truly, that’s what we were. We were like a little roadside stand in front of this really cool denim store in Nashville called imogene + willie. They let us park out front. And we branded it from the beginning. We were like, “We’ve got to make this cute. We’ve got to make it stand out.” And we’ve got the brown paper bags. We were hand-stamping them with The Peach Truck logo my buddy had drawn for us. We used Twitter at the time. That was the thing. Instagram really wasn’t what it is today, so we were tweeting like, “Hey, we’ve got fresh peaches. We’ll be here.” And people loved them.

So we did it on a Saturday, sold out, and said, “All right, let’s do it again next Saturday.” We both still had full-time jobs, but those same people came back and brought friends. And week after week, that first summer in 2012, we sold more and more peaches each week, to where we’d sold 20,000 pounds of peaches by the end of the summer. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but it was just enough to where we were like, “Can we do this? Can we quit our jobs and sell peaches?” And it was after that first summer, that we decided, “Neither of us love our jobs. Let’s see what we can make out of this.” We both left our jobs and went all in on The Peach Truck.

Launching with a scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit

Chris: That’s incredible. This is happening, the first weekend, you’re literally driving a truck down to Fort Valley, Georgia. You’re packing it up and driving it right back to Nashville. And that’s, what, seven hours?

Stephen: So, actually, down at the farm, they’d ask people who were driving north like, “Anybody want to stop in Nashville? We’ll pay you a little bit.” So we didn’t have to drive down, but I remember my wife in a random Walmart parking lot meeting up with some guy who had 30 boxes of peaches for us, that kind of thing.

Chris: That is awesome.

Stephen: It was very gritty and entrepreneurial, like, “Let’s figure this thing out.” I was sitting in my cubicle at work. She had a little more flexibility with her job, so she was the one running around meeting up with strange people to pick up our peaches.

Chris: She was getting the merchandise.

Stephen: Yeah, that’s right.

Chris: All right. Well, whose idea was the branding?

Stephen: The branding, we really made it happen together. This is just... I’ve worked with my spouse for what, 12 years now? And a lot of people ask, “How do you do that?” It’s really a gift, because our minds work together so well that she really, overall, has stayed in her lane, which is more operations and logistics, and I’ve stayed in my lane, which is the advertising and growth plans and overall sales of the business.

But when it comes to the brand, we’ve really worked together. She has a great eye for the look, tone... She knew exactly the way our booth needed to look and exactly the way the bag needed to feel in our hands. And we argue over who came up with the name. It’s not that creative. We’re—

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I get it, but, I mean, it’s a pretty truck.

Stephen: It’s pretty direct. But, yeah. The truck story is a good one as well. I had traded a really crappy car, a ’95 Ford Thunderbird, straight up for the truck, to a guy who needed a family car. We had no idea we’d make this company at the time, but we made the trade. I was driving that down to work every day. Then we were like, “Oh my gosh, we have a truck. We have The Peach Truck.” So, anyway....

Chris: I love it.

Stephen: But we’ve always kind of come together in agreement as far as what the customer needs to feel when they interact with us. This is all about summer joy. We are bringing a very simple pleasure of the perfect peach at the perfect time, but the overall feeling when you interact with The Peach Truck has to be so right, and that’s where we’ve really put our mark on the peach industry as a whole.

Chris: I love it. So, I grew up in Cobb County, Georgia.

Stephen: Oh, did you?

Chris: You were in Peach County. That’s amazing. Very different environments, I’d say. Atlanta’s definitely a different city now than when I grew up there. But the thing I think is really interesting is, you used peaches to lure somebody from Seattle.

Stephen: That was my sales pitch. I know.

Chris: It’s like, peaches are the thing. You actually used peaches, and it worked.

Stephen: It worked, yeah.

Chris: That actually happened. You were like, “OK, first of all, the summers may be hot, but peaches save you.”

Stephen: It’s a true story, and it’s become a folklore of like, “I couldn’t find a peach anywhere in Nashville.” But it’s a true story. It’s how it all happened. And, gosh, what a gift to look back at what this fruit, the queen of fruit, the peach, has turned our lives into.

Leaving their safety nets behind

Chris: I love it. So, you decided to leave your jobs. What was the first year like?

Stephen: Oh man, it was tough. So, the first year happens. We went a whole off-season, then we were like, “Are we going to do this?” And February 1, I quit my job, she quits her job, we decide we’re going to go for this thing. We made every mistake in the book. I mean, I had big ambitions. Jess had a vision for how things needed to operate. And that first year was probably the biggest struggle where my vision of, “This needs to be big,” and her vision of, “We need to operate with excellence,” were really clashing.

We did go big, and we made almost no money, but we sold a lot of peaches — because peaches, once they’re picked, are like a ticking time bomb, and I didn’t want to focus on projections and getting everything perfect with the cold chain [logistics] and all of that. I just wanted to make sure we never ran out of peaches. In that second summer, we definitely lost a lot of peaches we had brought up, because we weren’t tight on our inventory and tight on projections and all of that. But, what I will say, is we never made that mistake again. So we 20x’d the business in our second year, as far as sales are concerned, and learned some really good lessons about how tight we need to be when it comes to distribution and supply chain. But we never made that mistake again after that second year.

Going all the way back, we started this business for freedom. Freedom was at the core of, “Why are we doing this? What do we want to do?” We were young. We didn’t have kids. We said, “Let’s sacrifice our summers, but then we’re going to get the fall and the winter to do anything we want.” So after that second year, we could’ve made a lot more money if we were tighter on our inventory, but we made enough money to where we left our home in Nashville and traveled the world for five months together. It was like, "Hey, we’ll sacrifice summer when everybody’s having fun and work really, really hard, but then we’re going to get this reward of taking that flight to Thailand and India and Israel and Jordan and circling the globe together.

Chris: Taking the RV to the Pacific Northwest.

Stephen: Yeah, exactly. And freedom’s really been at the core of why we do this since the very beginning. But getting that reward after that second summer… 13 weeks doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you’re seven days a week in that hot Southern sun, hustling every day, smiling to every customer, it’s really a wrenching job at the end of the day to be the face and to really provide that summer joy to people. But we learned so much that second summer that we were able to double in size again the next year, while fixing all of those issues. That’s what makes me really proud — we’re not afraid to make mistakes, but we don’t usually make them twice.

Evolving the business model and expanding distribution

Chris: Yeah. Well, as a seasonal business, your vision was to go big, and that required some scale. Let’s talk about the second year. It’s probably more than the truck outside of the denim store. Talk to me about your selling outlets, and how you had to build some relationships. Because, in my mind, there’s a value chain. You have to actually have the growers, right? And then, you have to get it up to where you’re actually going to sell. And there are people all along the way and businesses all along the way. Then you have employees and things like that.

Let’s start from maybe the selling outlets, and work our way back all the way down to the growers and how you had to reshape the business as you grew.

Stephen: Totally. So, that second year, we started the three main channels we still have today. In Nashville, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, we still do that to this day, brown paper bags of peaches or a big box of peaches. But we’re all over the city, to the point where people see The Peach Truck signs come out in mid-May, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, summer’s here.” We really usher summer into existence in Nashville. Also, that same year, we began shipping nationwide. You can order peaches on our website, and we’ll ship them to your house, no matter where you are in the country.

And the third part of the business that really became the biggest part of the company pretty quickly was what we called “the tour” at the time. And the tour was, “All right, if we can’t get good peaches in Nashville, what about the small towns outside of Nashville? They’re definitely not getting access to anything like this.”

So we would go to small towns. At the time, Facebook and Instagram ads didn’t really exist, so we were pulling a newspaper ad in every town we were visiting that read, “We’ll be in this parking lot on this date and time,” and people would show up. Not a lot of people at first, I mean, 10 people in this town, 15 in this town, “Oh my gosh, 80 people showed up in Columbia, Tennessee. That was insane.”

I’d literally pick up a U-Haul on a Friday. We’d load the back of the U-Haul up and drive to wherever our scheduled destination was, sell the peaches, and then go to the next town. That opened our minds to possible scale. You look at the map and say, “OK, we’re here in Tennessee, and there’s not a lot of population outside of Nashville, but Kentucky has some cities. Oh man, if you keep going north, Ohio has a lot of towns of 50,000 people or more. You travel 10 miles down the road, there’s another population.”

Chris: Yeah, totally.

Stephen: So, again, we learned enough in that first year. We didn’t know about refrigerated trucks. So it’s like, “These peaches, we missed projections, and they’re going bad in the back of the truck. Oh, there are trucks that are refrigerated that would keep them cold. That would be nice.”

Chris: Not the U-Haul.

Stephen: Not the U-haul, not the U-Haul. Learning all those lessons the hard way, but learning enough like, “OK, we’ve got to get to these people, and if we can get to them, they’re going to react, because they can’t get this product any other way.” It’s been a really cool journey to bring what people remember. It’s like every customer has a memory of when they were a kid on the back of their grandpa’s truck having a peach that blew their minds, and they’ve been literally seeking that out. I’ve heard this story thousands of times. And they’ve been seeking it ever since, and, “I can’t believe it still exists. Thank goodness y’all exist.” It’s really a wild thing to attach people to their memories. There’s not a more emotional fruit or food I’ve experienced than a peach.

Chris: Yeah. All right, so, you’ve got the tours. That sounds really interesting. Talk to me about who drove these trucks when it wasn’t just you. You’re in Nashville. What’s the most common—

Stephen: I mean, I had my CDL. I’m driving the trucks. A guy who worked with us at the time, he got his CDL and would drive the trucks. We had to figure it out, because we couldn’t afford to pay... we ran at the speed of cash. I mean, we weren’t funded or had any real capital at all. It was like—

Chris: Yeah, you’re bootstrapped.

Stephen: Absolutely, from day one. So, yeah, if we need a truck driver, that’s going to be one of us. Now, it’s professional truck drivers with wrapped semis, and it’s a whole thing. But at that time, it was the people on our team, and everyone agreed to come on kind of commission-based, because we couldn’t commit salaries to people. So it was like, “Hey, we’ll share the profit as we go, but I can’t promise you anything.” That turned into really lucrative jobs for a lot of people, because it really took off. But it was a bet we were all making together that, “I really think this could work, and we’ll all be in on it together.”

Chris: Well, I heard you had specific types of drivers, because there are these tour managers in Nashville who are doing music tours, and then they’re off, and you said, “Hey. Oh, by the way, do you want to do another type of tour?”

Stephen: Totally. Yeah, we’ve done that for the last several years, to where it was like, “Hey, you’ve been on these country music tours, but we’d love to bring you into this world.” They really managed the logistics of where we’re going and how we’re getting in and out more than driving the trucks themselves.

Chris: Oh, got it. Alright.

Stephen: But, yeah, that really helped us change the way we load in and load out, and there are certain ways to do this and—

Chris: That’s so awesome.

Stephen: Yeah, it’s been really cool.

Making big returns in the early days of Facebook ads

Chris: Well, one of your channels is the tour, but another one is e-commerce. You’ve talked about ads a little bit. Let’s talk about marketing. What was the evolution of your e-commerce business? Were you doing organic search and different types of things, or was it pretty much just paid ads?

Stephen: So, it’s kind of funny. Organic search never has been a big part, because most people aren’t thinking of searching for fresh peaches. You know what I mean?

Chris: Yeah.

Stephen: It’s not a highly searched term. That was the magic of Facebook and Instagram, which was using interspaced ads. It’s like, “This is the type of person who would like this, even though they don’t know.”

Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Stephen: 2013 was our second year. I think it was 2014 that Facebook ads came online. I decided to split my budget, half still with trusty old newspaper ads, and half to Facebook. We saw an immediate impact like, “Whoa.” Like, first stop, we projected, say, 100 boxes sold, and there were 250 boxes sold. It was like, “Oh my goodness, we need, A, more people to help sell the peaches immediately,” because we had a single person on the road, and that’s not going to work. But, B, “I need to put more fuel on this fire if I can.” We had built a thing for a certain size, and all of a sudden, overnight, it seemed like it was a lot bigger. I was able to iterate pretty live, like, “OK,” we’d ask them, “How’d you hear about us? How did you hear about us?” It’s all Facebook. So we needed to put more fuel on that fire.

Chris: You were running ads to get people to just come physically buy peaches?

Stephen: To come out.

Chris: OK, so it wasn’t e-commerce.

Stephen: It wasn’t e-commerce yet.

Chris: OK, wow.

Stephen: Not until 2020.

Chris: Wow.

Stephen: Yeah, and that’s a story in and of itself, but it was literally — I mean, it wasn’t the size of the Taylor Swift Eras Tour, but we were running an arena-size tour when you think of all the people at the point of sale swiping their cards in line and guessed how many people that was. We were really good at guessing, thank goodness. We had historical data, and could say, “Last year, it did this much. I bet it’ll grow 20%,” or whatever. And sometimes, a stop would pop, and we didn’t know why. Or sometimes it’d be down, and we didn’t know why. We’d think, “Oh, last year, remember that variety? That variety wasn’t good. I bet that’s why they’re not back this year,” and all this stuff. And, all along, another part of the in-person experience was, “How do I get their information?” We literally had a clipboard with an email sign-up that we’d hand down the line, and then, at night, our team would type those emails into our email system at the time to get them onto our email list.

Chris: And you’d say, “That individual email came from this location.”

Stephen: Yeah. But, these are college kids. I bet 15 to 20% of them were typos. And so, that breaks my heart to this day, the number that bounced—

Chris: Then you’re like, “I’m sending down an iPad with the validation of the email.”

Stephen: Uh-huh. Yeah, right, right, exactly, exactly. So, yeah, Facebook and Instagram were the drivers of growth of this business for... I mean, to this day, but, gosh, those golden years of ’15, ’16, all the way up to 2020, if I could rewind and figure out how to spend 10 times as much, I mean, I would, of course.

Chris: I mean, how much can you geek out on...? Because I’ll geek out with you right now on CPM (cost per mille or cost per thousand) and—

Stephen: Yeah. I love it.

Chris: Cost per click.

Stephen: I love it.

Chris: You know what I mean?

Stephen: Yes.

Chris: Seriously, talk to me about the evolution of the CPM. How much did it cost to get 1,000 impressions?

Stephen: I can’t remember right now. I mean, I just remember—

Chris: Was it like $5 to get 1,000 impressions back then?

Stephen: Probably. Yeah, it was like nothing.

Chris: It was amazing.

Stephen: It was like free. It’s like, “We’ll pay you.” I mean, Facebook put me on this small business council, and they’d fly us out to learn how our business was using the platform. It was a really cool experience.

Chris: That’s amazing. How’d they find you? They just called you up from the platform?

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They called us up, and they loved the story. They loved this seasonal business selling peaches being able to scale their business with their platform. I mean, it really—

Chris: And they probably saw the surges.

Stephen: Totally, in the summertime especially, “Here we go. It’s go time.” I’d be sitting at my kitchen table, because we didn’t have an office, running these ads. The adrenaline running through my body waiting to hear how the first stop did, “Oh, good, it’s working.” It was such a crazy, exciting time, those early days of coming up with something in my mind and being able to execute it immediately.

We didn’t build a strategy and test and test. I came up with an idea in my head and executed it. And it was a problem. I remember our customer service team member calling me, like, “Did you send out a free shipping email?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Sorry, I didn’t...” I would do this kind of thing all the time. They hated me, because I’d come up with an idea, like that—

Chris: And not tell anybody about it.

Stephen: Yeah, I wouldn’t think to tell anyone. I wanted to create more revenue. So anyway, those early days of coming up with an idea and executing immediately was just the coolest thing ever.

Chris: Yeah, getting instant responses like that, that’s pretty cool. So, what was your process running up to getting people to show up? Because this is a big deal. You are there for a moment in time, and you’re trying to get people to show up. They haven’t paid for anything. You’re trying to get them to show up and pay. So, how far out did you start running ads?

Stephen: What would be your guess?

Chris: I’m going to say 10 days out.

Stephen: It was 10 days out. And there were no brand awareness ads before that. We have an amazing VP of marketing who looks at me like I’m crazy, because she’s like, “Well, you’ve got to build the brand in a new market,” and you do, and she’s correct. And no one knew in those early days that they were looking at an ad. We weren’t conditioned like we are now to be skeptical.

Chris: But those are the ones that still work so well, as it feels like just a post.

Stephen: I know, totally. But it was like, “10 days out, let’s run conversion ads and get people out.” And it was the first time any of them had heard we exist. “Let’s put $1,000 per stop, just come up with some arbitrary number like, ’Let’s spend this much per stop and see how it does,’” and it just worked.

Chris: So, were you running a return on marketing investment or something like that, or how were you measuring that it worked?

Stephen: Yeah, that’s a good question.

Chris: Were you in spreadsheet land or in Google Data Studio?

Stephen: So, no, no. I was on Google Drive, and I was... this is what’s crazy — we had no CFO. It was me running the books. I remember it’d be like mid-July, and Jess would be like, “So how are we looking? How are we looking?” I’d say, “It’s complicated. I think it’s good. I hope there’s money left.” Because we were not organized. But it was a lot of gut instinct and a lot of like, “OK, I spent $1,000, and that stop did X amount. That’s good. I think there’s enough room in there to make some profit. And, ooh, that one didn’t work, but the other one worked really well...” I was running a lot off my gut.

That’s another thing, it would be nice to go back and be like, “Hey, I could’ve had real information and data, and we could’ve moved to e-commerce a lot earlier and spent that money to do that.” But it felt risky at the time. I think there are so many ways we can look back to ways we could’ve done it better, but it worked. So we kept doing it.

But, no, I’d run a spreadsheet of how much I spent on that stop, but I had no real data to understand, “That’s making money. That’s not,” or, “Spend 10 times more in that market.” There are a lot of ways we ran the business that were not smart, and it totally worked out. I think that’s totally fine. I mean, I would love to be able to look back at things like, “Gosh, we were so smart here, here, and here,” but I will say, we were smart but we didn’t know why we were.

Chris: Oh, that’s great.

Stephen: And it would be nice to have known why we were smart and put more gas on that idea, but here we are.

Learning the risks of cash transactions the hard way

Chris: Yeah, you’re just trying to drive some results and try some stuff out. There are probably different evolutions of this, but we’ve talked about technology. And you mentioned point of sale and things like that. So, are you taking credit cards at this point, before e-commerce? I know you did credit cards on e-commerce, but was it all cash for a while, and then you decided, “We’ve got to take credit cards?” How were you taking payments?

Stephen: We always accepted credit cards. And beginning also in 2020, we went 100% cashless. I don’t carry cash. It’s a big part of farmer’s market culture that it’s very cash-heavy, but that’s a lot of cash in a lot of locations when you’re talking about transacting at multiple farmers’ markets. I remember Memorial Day weekend every year was my least favorite weekend, because it was a big weekend of sales, and I’d be sitting with way too much cash in my home. And Monday, banks are closed, because of Memorial Day, so it’s an extra day where I can’t deposit that money. I just remember never sleeping well those nights, because I have all this money in our house, and I don’t like that. But, really, I think as we’ve moved to a more cashless society, being kind of ahead of the curve in allowing people to use their cards to make purchases with us has enabled... I don’t know if it enabled a higher ticket size or maybe people bought that extra box because, “Oh, I’ll pay cash for this one and card for that one,” but we always had a point-of-sale system from the very beginning.

Chris: OK. How are you running the inventory you bought? Are you issuing purchase orders, or do you own the land?

Stephen: Issuing purchase orders.

Chris: OK. Are you running on QuickBooks?

Stephen: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris: Issuing purchase orders? You’re receiving them?

Stephen: Yep.

Chris: And then you’re figuring out what outlets to go to. So what was the transition to go from getting everything in QuickBooks and ordering everything and then getting it into point-of-sale systems and getting it reconciled to see, “Hey, how does our P&L look?”

Stephen: That’s a great question. It was very fluid. It was not clean at all. It wasn’t like, “OK, allocate that purchase order.” Again, I’m sitting at my desk, and I didn’t go to business school. I’m sitting at my desk running all the marketing, running the books, trying to reconcile it at the end of the day.

Chris: I love that the marketing guys run finance.

Stephen: Isn’t that great?

Chris: Yeah.

Stephen: There was no one else to do it. So, here I go.

Chris: It’s good, though.

Stephen: Yeah, it was sloppy, but again, it always worked at the end of the year. There was a black number at the bottom of the QuickBooks at the end of the year, so I wasn’t too concerned with it. We would get inventory counts at the end of each tour stop like, “OK, we’re sitting on this, and that regional cold storage has this many boxes.” We were always kind of running it... And I’ll tell you what, the numbers never worked.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, they never reconcile.

Stephen: “We should have this much cash, but we don’t, so where is it?” They never—

Chris: But those are two scary things. You have inventory you’ve paid for that you’re sending out to people you have on commission-based selling. And you’re taking cash at certain points, so there are two things that can disappear that are your resources.

Stephen: No doubt.

Chris: It’s the cash that’s paid and the inventory you bought.

Stephen: Yep, both.

Chris: Did that keep you up at night, ever? I know that inventory disappearing is called shrinkage. Cash, I just would call that theft, or just miscalculated things and people typing stuff in or taking cash or doing favors for people and things like that. How much inventory shrinkage and revenue disappeared?

Stephen: It’s a mindset thing I just have in me where I think, "Sad for you if you’re stealing from me. And it’ll come back to me someday. I treat you so well, and if you’re going to take a couple hundred bucks or I don’t know...” All of a sudden, the numbers worked perfectly when we went straight cashless. So, I don’t know. But, I lost no sleep.

Chris: Wait a second. Say that again.

Stephen: The numbers worked perfectly when we went cashless. I mean, they added up perfectly, and they never did before that. I’m not going to live my life chasing people down or accusing. That’s not good for me. So I didn’t lose any sleep, because, at the end of the day, that’s on them, and the numbers, there were enough. I would’ve been pulling my hair out every day if I was going to really chase that down. So I decided not to.

Chris: So, was there ever a moment where you and your wife had boatloads of cash in your house and you were doing the numbers and thought, “This doesn’t add up”? What was that conversation like between you two?

Stephen: I mean, it was every day, though. It never added up.

Chris: But was there ever this moment where y’all were like, “This is weird”?

Stephen: Yeah. And we’d talk to people, especially if it was way off. There was always a few dollars per box off, but then there were some times where it’s like, “This isn’t possible.” We’d talk to people, and they’d say, “We’ll count better next time,” that kind of thing. And you’re like, “OK.” But, yeah, we’d have conversations. But again, our spirit was like, “We’re not going to ever figure this out unless we’re on the ground, and we’re not going to do that. So this is just kind of what we have to deal with.”

Sourcing from the biggest growers

Chris: So there are two jobs, and then you have to expand. Were you at 60 selling locations in e-commerce at the peak? What was the total number of selling locations?

Stephen: Oh man, I mean, like 600.

Chris: Oh my gosh. 600 selling locations.

Stephen: Yeah, last year, on our tour, we had to pull way back because of the crop, but we had a 950-stop tour scheduled, planned, and ready to go across 30-plus states. So, I mean, it’s a monster.

Chris: That’s incredible. And are you buying from one grower?

Stephen: So, gosh, it was probably 2015, and we had only worked with one grower. They said, “Hey, we’re going to lose a crop, and we’re not going to be able to supply you guys, so you need to start working with our neighbors here in Georgia.” There are four main peach growers in Georgia. So that year, we began working with all of them, just to kind of make sure we had enough. Then a couple years later, we jumped the border over into South Carolina as well, because they actually grow twice as many peaches as Georgia.

Chris: Wow.

Stephen: And there are some great growers over there. We have these standards of the way peaches are grown, the way they’re picked and handled, and then, most importantly, the way they are picked, packed, and shipped the same day to make sure our customers are getting the very best peaches possible. There’s nothing more magical than being in Cleveland, Ohio, opening the back of a semi-truck, and there are peaches that were picked two days ago on it. You can’t get that any other way.

Chris: And were they using your boxes at that point?

Stephen: Yeah. Gosh, what year was that? I think it was about 2015 when we began packing in our orange Peach Truck box, which—

Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because, I mean, that’s the deal. You’ve got these different varieties showing up in the growers’ boxes, and then, if it’s all about the brand, you’re showing up with their packaging inside your boxes.

Stephen: And wrapping the trucks. Right now, we are really focusing on making the retail experience at the stops just so excellent. That’s our main focus going into 2024, it’s like, “How do we make this feel so celebratory at every single stop?” Anyway, yeah, it’s fun.

Winning with pre-orders and hiring a company president

Chris: You’ve got your core leadership team. At what moment, let’s just say in the past few years, at what moment were you like, “Our value system is this,” and maybe it was from the beginning, but, “Our value system is this, and here’s how we’re going to screen people who are going to have certain roles within our company”?

Stephen: It’s been a tough journey, because when you experience quick growth in a company early on, you need a human body that’s willing to work.

Chris: Yeah, for commission.

Stephen: For commission. Though you quickly realize, “OK, there’s a skill set needed here that isn’t matching up,” and making those tough decisions to have to say bye to great people who’ve been on the team who don’t have the skill set to be in a company of the size it is today.

I can talk about 2020 real quick. We had just made hires that doubled the size of our company. Because 2019 was a great year, we were going to really go big on ads in 2020, and expand our footprint. We needed to hire a lot of people to get ready for 2020. We literally took all our new team members down to Fort Valley to show them the farms in early March of 2020. We were in a 15-passenger van heading back to Nashville, and someone’s phone dings like, “The NBA season is canceled,” and then someone else said, “Tom Hanks has COVID.” And I’m driving, and I literally come down with a fever and sweat. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, do I have it?” It was those early days of like, “What is going on?”

Well, immediately, we just said, “Hey, everybody work from home,” and all of that. And as more and more shutdowns were coming, Jessica and I were literally sitting in our room. We had just hired all these people, and it’s like, “What are we going to do? I don’t think we can...” Jess kept envisioning a helicopter flying over our tour stops, because it’s like hundreds of people, covering the super-spreader event that The Peach Truck is hosting. “We are so screwed. This is really not good.”

Chris: So are you the visionary, and she’s the realist?

Stephen: Yeah, that’s exactly right, yeah.

Chris: OK, got it. Fair enough.

Stephen: Yeah. And, in our room, while we’re just pounding our head against the wall every day like, “What are we going to do?” presales come to mind. This sounds so silly right now, because we’re like, “Why didn’t we do this five years earlier?” But if we presell the peaches, we were worried about handing credit cards back and forth. We didn’t know anything about it yet. We were worried about team members interacting with people. If they pre-ordered their peaches on our website, then we could scan their QR codes from a distance with our phones, put the peaches on a table, and step away. They could get it. And we’d be able to move the line a lot quicker.

Chris: Wow.

Stephen: So we found a developer in six weeks, spent so much money on building a pre-order platform on our website that would enable people to pre-order their peaches, come to the stop, and pick them up. It transformed our business — now we have data on who’s buying what, knowing exactly how many customers are going to show up at every stop to bring that many peaches, and being able to move lines quickly because we’re not selling the line, we’re just delivering. The whole thing transformed and literally doubled our company size that year. And it was magic.

But, again, we had just hired a lot of people. All of a sudden, we’re double the size, and having this extreme stress like I feel like the train is going to fall off the tracks, and it doesn’t seem like everybody else seems to recognize that. So it was another transition period of like, Jess and I don’t feel like we are the right people to run this, but we happen to own it. And we recognize that things are going to get really rough if we continue to grow. So that was another period of like, “We have to find the right people to run this thing.”

We’ve made a lot of mistakes, thinking, “This will be the silver bullet,” and it’s not. That’d be the one part I talked to Jess about a lot like... I have never figured that out. We brought on a president last year who has been an absolute godsend. He’s come in, and he looks at the way we’ve organized the company, “Now, why did you do this?” And we’re like, “It’s just what we knew to do. I don’t know. If it needs to be different, go for it. We trust you.” He’s been an absolute godsend as far as like, “Oh, this is how to run a company this size,” and we never knew.

Chris: That’s amazing.

Stephen: It’s been really fun for us to be able to cast our vision, make sure we’re staying on brand, make sure the company’s core values are being lived out, and then have this partner to really execute the day-to-day, relentless nature of business and make sure the vision can actually come to pass with the right people.

Creating iconic collaborations and earning celebrity support

Chris: That’s amazing. Well, what was your pinnacle moment? Was it when Jeni Britton showed up to do an ice cream collaboration with you guys?

Stephen: That was absolutely thrilling. It was only our second year. I had a friend who worked at Jeni’s in Columbus. He actually works for us now. I was up visiting him, and he introduced me to the CEO at the time, and we just talked about what we were doing. Then, I think it was like two weeks later, Jeni happened to be in town in Nashville, and my wife and I went out to dinner with her. We didn’t talk business at all or anything, but we just had an amazing dinner connecting with her on what she’s doing at Jeni’s and what we were doing at The Peach Truck. And then, the next morning, that CEO called and was like, “Hey, let’s do a flavor together.” So, ever since then, they’ve made this incredible, peach-flavored ice cream with our peaches and put our logo on the pints and all that. It’s a really fun partnership to be able to have such an iconic ice cream brand using our product.

Chris: That is so cool. Yeah. When I got to sit down and talk with her, I was like, “She’s something else, man. She is awesome.”

Stephen: They’re such whimsy, but so creative. Another great example of a scenario where she gets to be her creative genius and let other people run the business, and, I mean, she’s an amazing business person in and of herself, but having the kind of partnership she’s always figured out has been really inspiring to me.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. What was the most attention you’ve ever gotten? Biggest press or like a celebrity or some sort of thing where you’re just like, “OK.” Yeah. Like is it Chip and Joanna Gaines?

Stephen: Chip and Joanna are awesome, and they’ve been really nice to us. I remember the first day of a peach season seeing a Tesla pull up, and I had never seen a Tesla before, and Jack White got out.

Chris: Oh man.

Stephen: And he’s walking towards me, and I’m all nervous, and I start giving him the spiel, and he’s like, “I know the spiel, man. I’ve been waiting for this day. It’s opening day.” And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, Jack White’s been waiting for opening day.” But we actually wrote a cookbook in 2018, I think, and it hit The Wall Street Journal bestseller list.

Chris: No way.

Stephen: And we got to go on CBS This Morning, and we had a Today Show piece and stuff like that, which is so cool and fun. I never thought The Wall Street Journal bestseller would be on our list, but it is. And so, yeah, it’s been fun to have such a simple idea, to really resonate with so many people, and I still think we’re just getting started.

Chris: What would your wife say is her favorite moment of being in this business?

Stephen: That’s a good question.

Chris: We’re going to ask her later.

Stephen: Yeah. Let’s call her right now.

Chris: Phone a friend.

Stephen: Yeah. Jess is so creative. Anytime we’re doing content shoots or designing the way a booth should look, it’s like, I just 1,000,000% trust whatever she’s putting her hand on, when it comes to that stuff, is going to be amazing, and it always is. She loves that creative outlet the business provides. And, I think creativity is kind of where she’s just getting started. She has such a big vision of what she could do creatively that I think is so fun, because I don’t get it at all. I’m like, “I want to spend $1 and $10 comes back. How do I do that more?” So it’s really cool to watch her get to scratch that creative itch, especially within the business.

Chris: I love it. So are you guys doing anything beyond just selling peaches, like creating new products?

Stephen: Yeah, we are really close to developing a peach-based consumer packaged goods (CPG) product that’ll go into grocery stores, that will, I think, be really exciting and enable us to interact with our customers all year long. Right now, it’s three months a year when people can interact with us in a big way. So I’m excited about what’s to come with that. That is right around the corner.

Partnering with a private equity firm that understands agriculture

Chris: Yeah. Well, we’ve talked a lot about scale. Have you sold to private equity?

Stephen: Yeah, so we partnered with a firm that’s exclusively in the agriculture space that has been an amazing partner. Last year, we lost 95% of the crop, like a once-in-a-generation thing that would have brought us to our knees as a company. We probably would have had to press restart in a lot of ways, because what we realized was, Jess and I... I remember in 2020 going to take a loan against the house like, “How do we keep all this payroll going? I don’t know if we’re going to have a company after this.” And, thankfully, it really worked out, but there were plenty of weeks of like, “Oh my gosh, everything we’ve built is about to go away.”

Then in 2021, there was a big shift with ads, privacy, iOS updates, and all that, that changed our ability to target customers with ads. So realizing that especially with a fresh product that happens three months a year, we were pushing all our chips to the middle of the table every single year, hoping it worked out, it was time to solidify the financial backing of the company to make sure we can still exist 50 years from now. So, yeah, we partnered with a firm that happened to own our biggest peach supplier.

Chris: So they went from supply to distribution.

Stephen: Yeah, well, for both, vertically integrated, and it’s been an amazing partnership because they understand agriculture (ag). They’re like, “Yeah, we lost the crop. We’ll get through this. It’s OK.” I think if we had partnered with any old private equity (PE) firm, things would look different, and, thankfully, they don’t, because we decided to go with somebody that lives in our world of agriculture and understands the ebbs and flows of that world. That’s been an amazing gift, an amazing partner, to help us fuel our growth and also stabilize the company we’ve built. So that’s been really, really nice.

Solving the right challenges to make the greatest gains

Chris: That’s good. Well, it’s been great hearing how you and your wife have taken this passion for quality peaches and turned it into a successful business, but I’d love to know, if there was a phrase that would crystallize the lesson you’ve learned in scale, what would it be?

Stephen: Wow. I keep telling people, and this won’t be a clean phrase, but it never stops being hard. Business never... you get newer, better problems, but it never... There’s no like, “Ah, we finally made it.” It doesn’t exist. There are new problems around every corner, and it is relentlessly exhausting to run a business at scale. I guess at the top, you get to know all the problems, and that is a gift, and it’s also a curse, because you’re like, “I’m aware of all the issues here.” And it’s a scary thing to realize the tightrope you feel like you’re walking on a lot of the time. Last year is a great example, like — boom, late frost, the crop’s gone. So what now? We don’t have a product. We were able to scrounge out every bit of the peaches that were picked, but sometimes, you’re like, “This never gets easy.” And just being OK with that reality has been a big gift.

Chris: You’ve got to love solving problems.

Stephen: You’ve got to love solving problems, and the hardest problems too. I read a tweet the other day that was like, “Don’t spend your time solving the B+ problem. Be willing to go in and bang your head against the wall on the A+ problem every day, because that’s what’ll 10x your company.” You can have a great business if you’re solving the B, B+ problems every day, but those A+ ones like pre-orders — figuring out how to do that transformed the company. So, anyway.

Chris: Transformation is hard.

Stephen: It is hard. It is so hard, and bringing team members along in transformation is really hard. That takes a great leader, which, again, this president, Wes, who’s on our team, is just phenomenal at the steady, day-to-day transformation of the team to adjust their mindsets and then bring in the right people who will take us to where we want to be.

Chris: That’s good.

Stephen: Yeah.

Rapid-fire questions

Chris: Well, I have some rapid-fire questions for you. Are you ready?

Stephen: OK. I’ll do my best.

Chris: All right. All right, peach preference, white or yellow?

Stephen: Yellow.

Chris: OK. What are the three must-haves for a perfect trip with The Peach Truck, when you’re going to drive it out somewhere?

Stephen: Well, it needs to be fall, because it’s hot in summer. And we need some good tunes on the radio, maybe Colter Wall or some other old-school country music, and I want Jess in the cab and the three kids in the back.

Chris: All right. If The Peach Truck could collaborate with any celebrity chef or food personality, other than Jeni Britton, who would it be?

Stephen: I mean, Joanna Gaines, let’s go.

Chris: Yeah, there you go, have a Magnolia Peach Truck. If you weren’t running The Peach Truck, what would you be doing for a living?

Stephen: I would be coaching baseball.

Chris: Really?

Stephen: Yeah.

Chris: OK. It’s got to be rapid-fire. I can’t ask more about that. These are the things they coach me on.

Stephen: Baseball has all the great lessons in life, and talk about relentless daily practice, watching those guys do the fundamentals every day at the highest level, you just realize everything is fundamentals, everything is daily habits, all of life is that way.

Chris: That’s good. I’m going to go ahead and ask this, but are you more of a risk-taker or a meticulous planner when it comes to making business decisions?

Stephen: I think we know I’m a risk-taker.

Chris: Yeah. There you go. Share a quick productivity tip that keeps you on top of your game as an entrepreneur.

Stephen: This might sound counterproductive, but my daily fitness habits have made me more productive in all of life. Carving out that hour in the morning to go on a run and stretch and make sure I’m physically healthy has made me a lot more productive in my business life.

Chris: I have found the same. If you had to choose just one piece of technology that you couldn’t live without to manage the business, what would it be?

Stephen: I mean, the iPhone?

Chris: Yeah.

Stephen: I kept thinking, “iPhone.” I mean, there are a lot of apps on the iPhone.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. OK. This is a different one. What’s your favorite vegetable?

Stephen: My favorite vegetable would be broccoli.

Chris: OK. Because I was like, “You can’t ask him what his other fruit is.” You’ve got to ask—

Stephen: Right. No, there is no other. Although, you know what, the dried mango at Costco, there’s an organic dried mango… and I can’t get enough of that.

Chris: OK. Well, if you had to describe your partnership with your wife in three words, what would those three words be?

Stephen: Freeing and transformational. Yeah.

Chris: All right. Who is another entrepreneur who should be on the podcast?

Stephen: Well, he’s in the charity space, but Scott Harrison is an amazing—

Chris: Oh yeah, charity: water?

Stephen: Yeah. He’s an amazing entrepreneur in his own right.

Chris: He absolutely is, he totally revolutionized giving and all that stuff, the birthdays, all those things.

Stephen: So cool.

Chris: Yeah, I read his book. Well, good.

Well, Stephen, thank you so much for coming. It was awesome to get to know you. I think one of the things I’ve picked up from you is that your care for people is a subtext in your life. I think it’s pretty awesome to see what you guys have done with all the collections of people which was so understated in everything you said. And I have to say, it was really awesome to get to know you and to learn more about The Peach Truck, and I wish your wife could’ve been here, but, the kids.

Stephen: The kids.

Chris: Always the kids.

Stephen: Yeah. Jess is the glue that kept this thing running, I mean, no doubt about it. We would’ve gone to the moon and exploded if it was just me, and we would’ve had a perfect 10 booths around Nashville if it was just Jess. So our partnership has been an amazing gift to both of us to navigate this company together over the last decade-plus.

Chris: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sitting in the chair with me.

Stephen: Thanks so much.

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