Vicki Lynn Pecans finds niche with pecans as a beauty food
After a storm took out many of their pine trees, Lynn and Russ looked toward pecans as a substitute and new opportunity. Lynn’s desire to plant pecan trees arose in her childhood.
“Ever since I was little, I always wanted pecan trees. My grandparents had pecan trees in their yard, and they lived out in the country in an old-timey country house. I just loved to go there and dig potatoes and just be that farm girl because we lived in town in Slyvester with a postage-stamp-size yard. A pecan tree would’ve taken up the whole thing. So, it was always one of those dreams—to have pecans,” Lynn explains.
That interest in pecans inspired Lynn and Russ to purchase land, clear it of pine trees, and plant an orchard. The oldest trees were planted on the property in 2014, and more were added in 2017.
Hopping on board, Mark Boatright, an oncologist-hematologist, supplied the funding for the initial equipment. Russ Henley, a veterinarian, then visited various auctions and nurseries to obtain ‘Elliott,’ ‘Sumner,’ and ‘Caddo’ trees, while Lynn, a fashion photographer and former pharmaceutical sales rep, began preparing the sales and marketing side of the business.
Now with 2,500 trees on 100 acres, Vicki Lynn Pecans focuses on connecting with customers and developing a unique marketing plan. At the marketing helm, Lynn Henley and her daughter, Victoria, use their professional experience to link fashion to pecans and set their business apart. The Henleys’ plan began before the trees even produced their first crop.
As her parents established the orchard, Victoria Henley began brainstorming how to best market their future crop. Having grown up in an agrarian community in South Georgia, she says that she always tries to promote the importance of farming and share her pride for her southern roots.
“When this opportunity [planting an orchard] presented itself, initially I felt like the whole thing seemed a little random. ‘Oh, pecans. We’re going to start a pecan orchard; that’ll be interesting,’” Victoria recalls. “But when I actually held the pecans in my hands and tasted them, I was like ‘Wow, we really have got something here.’ It finally seemed real to me.”
At that moment, Victoria decided that she would do everything she could to market and promote pecans. As an alumna of “America’s Next Top Model,” owner of a fashion production company called Magnifique, and an iHeartRadio host, Victoria used her knowledge to connect with local news stations and media outlets to talk about her family’s farm, the importance of sustainable farming, and pecan’s great taste and numerous health benefits.
“I just find myself every day through networking, through events I do, integrating the pecans within that,” Victoria shares. “I get inspired just by meeting people and seeing them enjoy our products. It’s a different kind of pride when you see people eating something that you grew...It’s just so different and I’m loving it so far.”
Victoria continued to connect with people over social media and through an editorial she wrote for CT Magazine, a fashion, lifestyle, and beauty magazine. Additional publications and outlets, including Haute Ohio Magazine, À la Mode, and iHeartRadio, also picked up the feature.
While Victoria used her media skills to spread the word about pecan’s health benefits, she and Lynn noticed that people in the South expected unreasonably low prices for pecans; whereas, customers in northern regions didn’t bat an eye at industry standard prices. They soon decided to incorporate their farm’s nuts into events for Magnifique, their fashion production and model training/development business.
“I said let’s take them to a fashion show; let’s take them to pageants and see how they do. People just seemed to really enjoy them and had a lot of questions about the pecans, too,” Victoria says.
According to Victoria, the hundreds of models at Magnifique events latched onto the pecans as a go-to snack backstage and were excited to find a nutrient-dense and energy-laden health food. It was during one of these fashion events that Victoria and Lynn discovered a new marketing tactic for their business.
While snacking on some ‘Elliott’ pecans that Victoria and Lynn had brought to the show, one model posed with her pecans on the red carpet and chimed, “I’m a food model!”
Experiencing a eureka moment, Lynn and Victoria recognized an unconventional marketing tactic that they could incorporate into their farm’s overall strategy. They knew a brand new marketing niche was born—pecans as the ultimate beauty food.
Victoria and Lynn began showcasing pecans as a beauty food through “food modeling” at Magnifique fashion events.
“People can pose in the little red carpet area [with their pecans], and we’ll make a post on social media about them and say something like, ‘Hey, you’re a Vicki Lynn food model!’” Victoria says. “It helps us because they’re tagging us on social media, and we’ve seen that translate into sales, which is pretty incredible.”
Building off that interaction, Victoria and Lynn also promote the health and beauty aspects of pecans through other live events, social media, written and video platforms, and podcasting. Instead of using traditional marketing tactics like billboards, signs, or advertisements, this mother-daughter duo aims to interact with customers personally. They hand-deliver many of their products, talk with customers onsite, and network whenever they can.
“I think people sometimes get information overload. Our method is a little bit different; it has a little more information and feels a little bit more real,” Lynn says. “We’re not this huge corporation. We’re a family farm. Our pecans are basic. We don’t do chocolate or salt or anything to them. It’s just the real deal.”
Although Victoria and Lynn Henley have been fortunate to draw on their expertise in marketing and sales, they shared that starting a family-pecan farm has been a learn-as-you-go experience. Besides learning about what certificates and equipment they need to clean, process, and store their pecans, the mother-daughter team also learned important lessons about grassroots marketing and connecting with new clients.
Lynn says the biggest lesson she’s learned is to “always have samples!”
Samples have proven to be a necessity when approaching a local restaurant or small business owner.
“There was a little gift store, and we walked into it five minutes before closing. I looked around and noticed that they had a few pecans. I told them my family grows pecans. Mom [Lynn] runs out to the car and gets a sample and brings it in, and they ended up being a major client for us,” Victoria shares. “That’s a huge lesson I learned. Never count anything out—be open to networking, be friendly, meet people. You never know what could come from that.”
Vicki Lynn Pecans continues to use this grassroots approach while looking for and connecting with new clients. As their family orchard grows, Victoria and Lynn look forward to finding new ways to spread the news about pecans. Looking toward the future, they know that although these marketing tactics will definitely shift and change in the next five years or so, the core of Vicki Lynn Pecans will stay the same.
“We want to still be hands-on. We don’t ever want to get too big. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to have the best quality,” Lynn explains. “We feel like we’re the caviar of pecans. We want to make sure we get our customers the best quality and that we guarantee it.”
Like her mother, Victoria wants to maintain an organic approach to their clients by forging connections and understanding their needs. She also hopes to establish more accounts.
“A goal for me would be to have like Paula Deen—the queen of Southern cuisine—or some of these big Food Network people using our pecans. I’d like to get pecans in their hands and get it out in front of that audience while still maintaining that smaller grassroots approach,” she says.
As they work towards these goals, Victoria and Lynn Henley hope that other pecan farmers find their own marketing niche and develop confidence in their product. The Henleys recognize that most small farms do not have marketing expertise and that the process can be daunting. The first step, Lynn recommends, is getting on the internet.
“You don’t have to have a website, but if you can get your name out in your area and get it going through social media—Instagram and Facebook—then farmers could see an alternative to shipping their pecans overseas and try to sell locally,” Lynn says.
By selling locally, Lynn sees a way for pecan farmers to receive better prices and gain confidence in the market.
“I don’t want pecan farmers to be discouraged. Try to open your mind to look further than maybe you are,” Lynn recommends. “We were at a pecan convention a while back, and a guy said he had sold his pecans for $0.35 per pound. I really felt my heart sink. I just wanted to cry. I knew he’s putting his whole life into this. I want everybody to be successful, and I want these farmers to be able to make their hard work profitable.”
Victoria also feels this heartbreak over low prices but believes there’s a large enough demand for good pecans for every farmer to be successful. She encourages farmers to get out there, believe in their products, and network.
“It doesn’t have to be this cut-throat thing amongst ourselves,” she says. “When you believe in your product and charge a reasonable price, it helps other farmers. When you give your product away, that hurts other farmers.”
Victoria and Lynn Henley with Vicki Lynn Pecans are both proud to offer top-quality pecans to their customers, knowing that the nuts are not only delicious but also contain many benefits that improve health, appearance, and overall quality of life. No matter what this journey brings, though, this pecan orchard represents more than a simple financial investment.
“My dad [Russ]—his thing has always been farming. My mom and I are more out there with going out to the theatre and working in fashion…This is something that has really brought us together,” Victoria says. “Nothing brings families together like family farms. All three of us can come together and sit around the dinner table and talk about and be passionate about [pecans]. That’s something I’m really grateful for. We’re really blessed and thankful to be doing this together.”