Jenny Fulton of Kernersville, N.C., comes from humble beginnings.
She was raised by her grandmother “Mamie,” qualifying for the free lunch program at school. As soon as she could work in high school, she paid for her own meals and clothes, eventually funding her own college education. Choosing a career in the financial industry, Fulton worked her way up from a secretarial position to a vice president spot — ultimately losing her job when the recession hit. She and colleague Ashlee Furr decided to turn lemons into lemonade — or more precisely, cucumbers into pickles — and started Miss Jenny’s Pickles in Fulton’s church kitchen in 2010. They used Mamie’s recipes to make “a modern day pickle with an old fashioned taste” (the company’s slogan) and have won customers around the world.
Edited interview excerpts follow.
The Story Exchange: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Ashlee and I were laid off during the recession [but] wanted to stay working together. We took a family recipe and turned my passion for pickles into a fast-growing pickle company. It’s been four years and we are now in 1,800 stores in the United States and export to China, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Story Exchange: How did you win your first client/customer?
By knocking on doors to independent stores and asking them to carry Miss Jenny’s Pickles. We gave a lot of samples away to get people to try our product so that they would buy our product.
The Story Exchange: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made (in business) – and what did you learn from it?
By doing business the old fashioned way of a handshake and not using written authorizations. That created difficulties that we had to overcome. There is a lot of distrust within the food industry. Now we get sales contracts and purchase orders in writing.
The Story Exchange: Who is your role model?
Sara Blakely of Spanx because she knocked on doors and did her presentation in the bathroom and didn’t give up. Look at her today!
The Story Exchange: What’s your best advice for other women who are starting or growing businesses?
Make sure you are not 50/50 when going into business with a partner because you will have disagreements and someone has to keep the company going, even when you disagree. Otherwise you could find yourself at a stand still and that is not good for you or the company. In the beginning, Ashlee and I started 50/50 and we both realized quickly that was not smart. So now I own a higher percentage, so we can keep the company moving forward at all times.
Want more inspiration? Take a look at TSE’s other interviews with enterprising women.