By John Stephen

Strengthening the Brand of a Homegrown Family Business

In 1997, South Georgia farmer Kevin Shaw and his wife Gayla began grinding their naturally grown white corn into grits for personal consumption.

When they started bagging the grits as Christmas gifts for family and friends, who raved over the unique, creamy flavor as well as the couple’s personal recipe on the bag, a new business was born.

Gayla’s Grits is now a colorful, vibrant brand that is staying true to its roots. All corn for the gluten-free product is grown with heirloom seeds (containing no GMO) on the family farm in Lakeland, Georgia. The grits are authentic and created with care, but the couple needed help increasing their brand awareness in South Georgia and beyond.

“Kevin and I are old-school, and we’re not into the whole social media scene and the latest public relations strategies, so we wanted to bring someone on that could help with growth and marketing,” Gayla said.

As part of the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact’s mission to identify the issues confronting South Georgia and find Valdosta State University faculty, staff, and students to help solve them, Darrell Moore connected Kevin and Gayla with Chloe Taylor. Taylor, 21, is a VSU student majoring in communication with an emphasis in public relations who expects to graduate in Fall 2019.

Taylor joined the small team behind Gayla’s Grits in January as an intern. Since then, she has been involved in a flurry of projects related to the brand’s public relations and marketing.

In addition to curating the company’s social media pages, including the Instagram page that she started, Taylor has designed bold, modern branding materials — such as pricing sheets and story cards — that help elevate and refresh the brand’s image. She has also assisted with the launch of a new product, Kevin’s Corn Mill, by researching packaging options.

She has been working to increase the business’ client base by putting together contact lists, reaching out to potential clients, and helping to build sample kits to send to chefs. Gayla’s Grits has added several new restaurants to its client list since Taylor’s internship began.

“She’s been great,” said Gayla, who added that Gayla’s Grits would not be at its current level of brand awareness without Taylor. “She knows everything, and we don’t know any of that.

“It’s been amazing to partner with Chloe and with VSU. VSU has just been awesome, and Darrell has been very helpful.”

Taylor said she has enjoyed utilizing her VSU education in a real-world setting.

“I’ve definitely been able to have a big hands-on experience with this internship,” she said. “At previous internships, I’ve just been in the background learning, but this has really put me right in it. And because of my education at VSU, I felt like I was prepared to come in and really collaborate with Gayla. She had ideas, but I also had ideas, and I felt prepared to give those ideas and grow with them.

“It also means a lot to help a local business. I’m from here, so it’s great to take something from my home and help them grow.”

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