Lessons from the Roadside
We’ve all seen stands selling products from the side of the road. Great farm fresh produce, handmade goods, and local charms awaiting passersby, who undoubtedly become loyal customers when they find something special.
Peaches are one of the most popular treasures drivers discover on the byways of Texas. They come in various types: white, yellow, or red; those better for baking in cobbler, canning in preserves, or those that are delicious on a summer afternoon, ripe with a bounty of sweet juice.
Ten years ago, Shannon Houchin was between businesses and looking to build cash quickly. A good friend from Olanta, South Carolina, deep in peach country, convinced her that peach stands were perfect for her.
Houchin took her son, Finn, east, where they learned all about peach brokering and negotiating prices for large quantities of high-quality peaches, whether with farmers or other brokers.
“Peaches are good; peaches make people happy. Nobody is ever upset or disgruntled when they buy peaches,” Houchin explained.
Houchin started with a hundred stands across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia before bringing the business back to Texas.
She knows what she’s looking for in peaches from East Texas to the Carolinas, as well as the delightful peaches in Colorado, where her son studies business at the University of Colorado Boulder. Every region’s climate and soil impact flavor profiles.
“I like to support Texas growers,” Houchin said. “No peaches are the same. I essentially curate peaches; I choose the best of the best.” Flavor Rich, for example, is the first of the season to harvest. Orchards pick the varieties of peaches, harvesting from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Commercial cold storage disrupts the natural ripening process, which is one of the advantages of buying roadside. These peaches naturally ripen and are fragrant and sweet.
As she grew increasingly savvy about the peach game, Houchin also became an expert on how to sell virtually any product from a pop-up shop.
Over the years, she showed people how to get established with this approach to business. When COVID-19 shifted the livelihoods of so many folks, she took the time to formalize her process to reach more potential entrepreneurs. And Roadside Republic was born. The Houchin model is used all over the country, including Louisiana, Oregon, and Minnesota.
“There were so many people at home who needed cash,” Houchin recalled. “That’s when I created the blueprint, put it on video, and started teaching it.”
One big part of the process is locating spots with prominent visibility and plenty of traffic. Each municipality has different laws, and anyone considering starting a pop up or roadside stand should research ordinances to assure compliance.
“With a couple of hundred bucks, you can get started selling peaches, and you can be in profit in the first couple of days you are in business because it is such an easy way to generate revenue,” Houchin said.
Many of Houchin’s students are college kids who are able to earn money for tuition and expenses. Several of them were inspired to follow in the footsteps of Finn, a graduate of Trinity Valley School, who is also her business partner in Roadside Republic.
Finn is developing his own business acumen. “We have made so many mistakes along our journey. It is because of our propensity to take massive action and learn through trial and error that we were able to become successful.”
That success has allowed the Houchins to continue growing. Look for their fruit stands around Fort Worth, where you can find peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and watermelon for sale. This summer, they expect to sell more than three thousand pounds of peaches per week.
“Those are the things people love, and that’s what people in Fort Worth know us for,” Shannon said. “Mainly peaches… they call me ‘The Peach Lady.’”
For the past couple of years, the Houchins have partnered with various HOAs, bringing produce straight to neighborhoods, where they set up and sell to residents, like June’s pop-up in Monticello. Additionally, the Peach Truck delivers half bushels (25 pounds) of peaches to customers who order online.
These past few years have been uncertain to be sure, but a few things remain consistently true. Peaches make people happy, and there’s still room for old-fashioned business models if done well. As Finn shared, it is all about connecting: “The fastest way to connect with people is to ask questions about them, listen to their stories and make them feel heard.”