When I was a boy, my family didn’t earn a lot of money. I had two older brothers, and my Dad, or “Deddy” as we call him, got a late start on his career as a rural mail carrier. My Mom rarely worked a job but rather spent every waking hour raising her 3 rambunctious sons. It’s funny how material things don’t matter to a passionate young boy. I was always into something, always creating, always playing, and my childhood was filled with mostly positive thoughts, something that came natural to me.
Perhaps the greatest memories from those years was not of little league baseball, or riding the school bus through the winding back roads of Franklin County, or fall festivals at New Franklin Christian Church; it was the time that I spent working in my Grandpa’s 3 acre peach orchard every summer.
He’s had that for as long as I can remember and even to this day as Alzheimer’s has crept in, it’s still there. My brothers and I would wake up early and ride up to the orchard with my mom in one of our old beat-around cars and we’d spend most of our time there playing or watching a small black and white television that was tucked away amongst cobwebs and dry-rotted peach baskets in the back of our roadside stand.
Our earliest chore was picking up rotten peaches that had fallen to the ground and hauling them to a spot on the property as far away from the trees as possible. When we turned 12 or so, we were allowed into the picking crew, an outfit that consisted of Grandpa and a revolving door of great uncles and members of our local church. V.F. was the leader and picking peaches was his cup of tea so to speak. He had an extra pep in his step during harvest season because the entire year culminated during that time.
And while his mind was focused on peaches, he never shied from sharing life stories and nuggets of his infinite wisdom with us. He’d grown up during the Great Depression, wasn’t allowed to play football because football was during cotton picking season, moved to Atlanta at age 18, worked at the Varsity and Rich’s, married my Grandma at the courthouse in Jackson, GA, and raised my dad and uncle for a decade in Smyrna before returning home to Franklin County.
He worked a day shift at a factory in Athens and spent the evenings working in his beloved peach orchard. And up until a year or so ago, you’d be hard pressed to drive down New Franklin Church Road near Canon, GA, and not see him out there, doing what he loved.
Anyone around him could feel it and it was contagious. It made waking up early every hot summer day worthwhile, and it brought us all closer together.
So when I started Peach State Pride in January of 2009, it meant a whole lot more to me than a logo or a clothing brand. It was, and still is, a deep passion for who I am, where I’m from, and what it takes to be a great steward of what I’ve been given. When people think about Peach State Pride, I hope something substantial resonates with them, something deeper than a logo or a favorite hat.
I’m not sure why I was lucky enough to stumble upon my passion a couple years after graduating from college. I’d almost all but fallen into the idea that my life was going to be a grind; a career that I couldn’t wait to retire from. I was working a couple of travelling labor jobs that took me all over the country and put me side by side with some rough folks that gave me a good old fashioned baptism into the real world. I got a steady dose of life lessons in those first few years.
I spent a year or two building playgrounds in what seemed like every small town in South Carolina. Each town we’d travel to, whether it was in the Low Country, Upstate, or Pee Dee region, you’d see the Palm Tree and Crescent Moon.
Naturally my first thought was that I wished Georgia had something like that, so during some downtime I sketched out a peach logo of my own and began the dreaming process. I literally never looked back. My dreams were big from day 1 and I’ve never lost sight of its potential.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the growth of Peach State Pride from a logo on a scratch sheet of paper to a multi million dollar operation, is how my business knowledge was even more modest than that scratch sheet of paper. I was the son of mailman, not a businessman; I was a history major, and at that particular time I was a construction worker trying to figure out my life. I wasn’t prepared to run a business.
The first few years were difficult; filled with long days, failed sales trips, foolish moments, naive thoughts, bad hires (and good hires), bad purchases (a screen printer), lack of funds, lack of direction, and just about every learning experience you can face when starting a business. But through it all, the business grew and I was always able to survive the day. And to top it all off, I married well.
My beautiful wife, Kari Beth, is a Georgia Tech grad with a Management Degree and a focus in Marketing. She also worked in the corporate world for a couple years. I’m not real sure what she saw in a construction worker with unidentified life goals, but I’m glad that she did. Not only are we best friends, but she’s also the reason we are where we are today.
Kari Beth has single handedly implemented systems and structure into our business that have allowed me to continue to dream big, network, be creative, and grow Peach State Pride. It has allowed us to open 3 successful retail stores in Northeast Georgia. The most recent, Empire South Athens, is a 4,000 square foot space Downtown on Clayton Street. She brought corporate structure to a small business, allowing us to grow more seamlessly.
Through it all, I’ve been able to work side by side with our employees, and hopefully they feel invited into the dream, just as I felt with Grandpa. I go to work with passion, speak in meetings with passion, and make every decision possible with passion.
Being an entrepreneur is not unlike being a passionate young kid. You just follow your heart and it takes you places. And when you’re zealous for what you do, the embarrassing moments or difficult obstacles can’t stop you from achieving your goal. My goal has always been to stay connected to that old man in the peach orchard no matter where Peach State Pride or Empire South takes us, that my heart will never forget where I’m from and who I represent.
Thank you to My Athens for making this possible as we highlight incredible people and wind down 2015.