"How I Got Started..." with Barb Upchurch, Co-Founder of The Apple Cart Company
We were thrilled to hear all about how she blended her travels with her work, took a business across the Atlantic, met her now-business partner in her final destination, and dove into a delicious new career.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in New York City and grew up in Virginia Beach. I’ve lived in the south ever since I was in fourth grade. My father was in the military, so we lived in a lot of different places and then my mom decided to land us in Virginia Beach. After school I moved to London for five years, then moved to Charlotte for five years, and then came back here!
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: I love to travel. That’s what I want to make money and do. So, this year, I’ve been to Mexico, Las Vegas, and I’m heading to Ireland, soon, with my family for a wedding. The more traveling, the better!
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I went to school at East Carolina University. I studied Tourism, but I’ve always been in marketing. I’ve worked for nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
Q: Tell me about your early career.
A: My first job out of school was working for my sorority, so I traveled all over the United States and promoted the sorority to establish chapters on other campuses. It was super fun, but I traveled nonstop. Once I decided to move to Richmond, I worked as the Director of Member Services for an insurance association. Then, I became the Director of Marketing for Interim Personnel and I loved that job because it was staffing, but it was a lot of recruiting due to unemployment being really low. We did quite a bit of advertising as well, which was fun.
Q: In your words, what is The Apple Cart Company?
A: We help start and grow food businesses. We work with specialty foods and restaurants, the Department of Agriculture, and Fire, Flour, and Fork which is a big food event. So, we have a mix of clients and we do the marketing for Restaurant Week. We fit ourselves into food and then that takes various forms. We also help plan conferences and things like that for the Department of Agriculture, so we get to pick the speakers.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: I actually started my first business called Blueberry Marketing in 2001 while I was in London. I marketed artists who were nationally sold, so I moved that business from London to Raleigh, Charlotte, and then back to Richmond. Then, after the economy tanked, I took a job as the Director of the Women’s Business Center for the Small Business Administration and that’s where I met Stephanie Ganz, my business partner. She was a chef and the organization that we were housed under shut down, so she and I just started freelancing together for a couple of years. We’ve been in business for five years now.
Q: What was the transition from your career to entrepreneurship like? What sparked you to start your company?
A: People were pursuing us as consultants and we also taught a lot of workshops. At the time, that was during the food truck upswing, so we did a lot of work with food trucks. We were finally like, ‘We’re going to have to get legit here, because we need to pay our taxes,’ so we set ourselves up and started The Apple Cart. Once we did that and really consolidated our offerings, that’s when the business really took off.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: I like being able to create my own schedule. I really enjoy having a partner because, in the past with Blueberry Marketing, I worked by myself and I felt it was very isolating. None of my clients lived anywhere near me, too, so I was on the phone all the time.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: We just hired a business consultant for ourselves and that has been really fantastic because we had been inundated with clients for the past six months. So, the business consultant is working with us to help build structure, like determining how many hours we work, for example. Basically, we’re giving ourselves the summer to get through this restructuring process, and then we’re going to onboard our recent new-hires, and restructure a bit financially. I wish we had done this earlier because it really has been helpful. I would advise people to get their own business consultant because it has been awesome, I love it.
Q: As a successful business owner, do you have work / life balance? How have you managed to improve the joy and fulfillment in your life?
A: This year, I did not feel like I had good work/life balance. I felt really stressed and overwhelmed. We hired Paul Cassamus, who is the owner of King of Pops, and he’s been really helpful because he has a whole different perspective, since he’s run the business, made the pops, and done all of that. So, he’s helped implement some things for our organizational side and made small changes that have been really helpful. We’re putting these procedures in place so that we’re not reinventing the wheel every single time. By streamlining our core offerings and having the right referral partners, everything will run smoothly.
Q: What can we and others in the community do to help your business grow and be more successful?
A: We always like referrals and even if we can’t help them, we have partners so we’d never leave anybody hanging. We’re always going to send people to the right person to help them with what they need. So, that has been really helpful for us. I feel like Richmond has a very supportive core for food, which not all cities have, so I feel like we’re really lucky here. People are so welcoming to your clients, too. You could send them to anybody and they’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah I’ll help you!’ So, I think that the community has been really amazing and that’s one of the reasons why things have gone so well for us from the get go.
Q: What advice would give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?
A: I think having a really specific niche in an industry is so helpful. When you’re willing to work with anybody, it’s really hard to focus and narrow your thoughts. I didn’t have experience with food until I met Stephanie and we taught classes together, but I’m not a chef; I can’t cook anything! So, we’ve learned from each other’s skill sets and can work individually with a client because we both know the same things now. As people are starting businesses, just better understanding who their market is and how to reach them is really important.
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.