Let’s be real. The timing for a road trip to visit each of my franchises could not have been worse. I set off on this quest in January 2020, never anticipating there’d be a global pandemic spreading during my travels. As you can imagine, I quickly altered my expectations, understanding that I wasn’t going to get to some of our 67 locations within the year timeline I’d set as a goal. And that’s OK. America was, and still is, in the midst of an historic pandemic, with 400,000-plus lives lost and 50,000-plus businesses shuttered. It was obviously more important to make health and safety a priority.

I followed the CDC recommendations—mask up, wash hands, stay socially distant, and it’s worked out so far as I haven’t fallen ill. I also get tested frequently, especially before I travel in a car with others. In addition, I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle, making sure to eat lots of fruits, veggies and grains (I’m a vegetarian). I also do some form of physical exercise every day, which takes some creativity when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

All that said, on paper the quest to visit all my franchise locations didn’t make sense. However, I’m a big believer in getting boots-on-the-ground (or tires-on-the-road). Listening to the people representing our company helps me understand what’s happening at our stores as we rebuild and rebrand. And as any manager will tell you, communicating in person is much more powerful than Zoom, even if everyone has their camera on.

One reason is, you can observe body language and pick up more on non-verbal cues. I can cite numerous examples of how being in the stores in-person has made a difference, from walking the floor with the new manager in Hope Hull, Alabama, who showed me which displays worked best, to reviewing (and sampling) new product lines, including delicious friend peanuts you eat in the shell, with the owner of our location in Cuba, Missouri. These moments would have never come up over Zoom, especially sampling snacks! Driving to the locations also helped me understand the local community and customer base. My grandfather used to count which states were represented by the license plates in the parking lot of Stuckey’s to get a feel for where people were traveling from. This type of knowledge is only gained by physically being present.

For the record, I’m not a big fan of meetings, including Zoom. I always ask myself before scheduling one whether it’s really needed or can my goals be accomplished in a more efficient way through a quick call or an email. We have a small team, and our days are busy managing the constant demands of our retail operations. I’m very cognizant of respecting people’s time and only scheduling meetings that are essential.

After a few weeks, my road trips to our franchise locations became about so much more than a professional visit. And that was a pleasant surprise. You see, at the beginning, I was dogged and determined to make good time, visit the stores, and get back home. However, after a few of those bleary-eyed, exhausting trips, I started relaxing more and making stops at offbeat roadside attractions along the way. Places like the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Cuba, Missouri, the Rosemont Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, where Hank Williams spent his last night alive, and the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Kansas. One of my favorite stops was the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina, where a man decided to build a UFO in his yard to attract alien visitors. (It must work because I showed up!) I also loved Cassadaga, Florida, a town almost entirely populated by psychic mediums. I’ve started chronicling my journeys on social media and making itineraries, and it’s made road trips fun again.

So based on my 30,000 road miles traveled in 2020, here’s my advice: When planning visits to franchise locations in your network, making sure to adhere to CDC guidelines, do yourself a favor and stop at the fun places along the way that make America truly special and unique. And if you see a Stuckey’s along the way, stop in and tell ‘em Stephanie sent you!

Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s, founded by her grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr. in Eastman, Georgia, in 1937. With over 350 stores by the 1970’s, the company was sold in 1964, but is now back in family hands and poised for a comeback. Stephanie received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia. She worked as a trial lawyer, was elected to seven terms as a state representative, ran an environmental nonprofit law firm, served as Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta, and taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. Stephanie purchased Stuckey’s in November of 2019 and assumed the role of CEO at that time.

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