Mastering Grass Roots Success
With Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, Trueman McGee Is Living His Dream
Unique, grilled, hand-rolled spring rolls made with fresh, local ingredients
2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Winner
Funky Fresh Spring Rolls
Trueman McGee grew up with a love and respect for food. As the youngest boy in a family of 11 kids, he recognized, early on, that food had the power to bring people together. In his words, “it’s a catalyst that connects people.”
He wanted to be a part of that magic.
“I always planned to pursue a career in food, but you grow up and things happen,” McGee said. “My senior year of high school, a construction recruiter came to talk to me. He said that I really should consider working in sheet metal where I’d never get laid off. To a 17-year-old, that sounded like everything you’d want in a job. So, I became a sheet metal worker.”
However, McGee did get laid off quite often. When he was out of work, he’d coach wrestling. But, while McGee was talking to his wrestlers about nutrition, he wasn’t following his own advice. Eventually, he tipped the scale at 300 pounds. The turning point came in 2011. “That same year, two of my wrestlers won state titles. These 17-year-old kids were living their dream, and that motivated me to live mine,” McGee said.
After hitting a low point, he started working out, eating well, and lost 50 pounds. He even became certified as a fitness instructor, and started building his clientele and decided not to go back to working in sheet metal. It was a low point, but also one that got him back into his mother’s kitchen.
“I was still a foodie at heart, so I posted what I cooked on social media. It showed the clients I trained that you can eat healthy and still have something that looks and tastes good,” McGee said. Before long, McGee started selling a few dozen spring rolls a week to friends and family. He added flavors, and news of his creations spread throughout Milwaukee. The sales kept increasing. In 2015, he went to 30 farmers markets and sold 20,000 rolls. He went on to sell 37,000 rolls in 2016, all locally, without retail distribution.
McGee heard about the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest about two weeks after it began. Although it felt like a long shot, McGee had a good feeling about making it to the top 10.
“I was working an event the day FedEx was going to announce the winners. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach that morning,” he said. “I was actually swiping a customer’s credit card when I saw a call come in from Memphis. I asked the customer if it was okay to take that call and when I heard the news, I started crying. Now, remember, I’m 6’2, 250 pounds.”
When customers started asking him if he was all right, he could only say one thing: “This is the greatest day of my life.”
McGee will use the money to take his business to the next level by developing some packaging, in addition to paying for some farmers market fees and legal fees.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t the easiest path, and like every small business owner, he’s had his moments of doubt. He keeps going, fueled by every little victory, and fully focused on the future.
Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories.
Here are Trueman McGee’s top three:
- PRICING: Make Sure You Price Your Product Correctly
McGee made a common mistake among new small-business owners: He initially priced his spring rolls too low. Don’t let a lack of confidence erode your profit margin. If your product is unique, better or different, believe that people will pay the price, or test out your pricing in the real world.
- FUNDING: Get Adequate Funding
“Honestly, to get where we need to go, we need to build our own kitchen to mass produce,” McGee said. “You have to budget not just for where you are now, but where you need to go, and find funding sources to get you there.”
- CUSTOMER SERVICE: Personally Connect with Your Customers
McGee could have sent out a group text or a blanket email, asking his customers, fans and friends to vote for him in the grant contest. Instead, he made it personal, sending an individual text to everyone in his contact list. The result? The votes started rolling in. McGee went above and beyond to make his fans feel personally connected to his company, and they responded in kind.