The four sons of Bryan and Mollly Willis own and operate Four Brothers Nut Company The sons have the responsibility of buying green peanuts, boiling them and canning them for sale. Left to right in back are Davis, Jake and Marsh. Shep is lower front.
ALBANY, Ga. — The Willis boys, Jake, Davis, Marsh and Shep, don’t necessarily “work for peanuts” but they’ve been selling quite few of them.
Since the summer, the sons of Bryan and Molly Willis have moved 5,800 32-ounce cans of boiled peanuts. Since their only advertising comes from word of mouth, most sales so far have been to family and friends. That may be changing, Molly Willis said, with the occasional phone call from a total stranger.
According to Bryan Willis, who owns a peanut shelling plant in Arlington, the whole thing began in 2009 when the boys’ grandfather, J.W. Willis, was canning boiled peanuts and giving them as gifts. The younger Willis suggested boiled peanuts could be a proper enterprise for his sons, ages 7 - 17 at the time.
“Molly and I thought it would be a great way for the kids to cultivate a strong sense of cooperation with each other,” Bryan Willis said. “We’ve both seen situations where siblings don’t get along so well. Of course it would also serve to teach them about business and all its many aspects, like planning, sales, production, accounting and customer relations.”
Through Bryan Willis’ farming connections, Jake, the eldest son, contacted Vic Fleet, a Colquitt area farmer. As a part of his operation, Fleet was known to plant some of his peanuts early, specifically to provide green peanuts for a “niche” market.
Jake Willis, now 18, said his parents sat them all down and showed them how to figure the various costs to the company in order to arrive at an accurate unit sales price.
“We’ve really learned a lot,” Jake Willis said, “all about production, distribution, business regulations and managing costs,”
For three straight days in the summer season, the boys make an early morning stop at Fleet’s home to pick up 35 bushel boxes of green peanuts. From there it’s to the commercial kitchen and canning facility in Donaldsonville for the process of washing the cans, salting and pressure cooking the peanuts. Tops to the cans are applied by an adult kitchen employee.
Labeling of the cans falls mostly to Shep Willis, now age nine, who also helps with the canning process. Crazy Good Boiled Peanuts, the labels say, from Four Brothers Nut Company. All natural, peanuts, water, salt, and that’s about it
Sales in 2010, their first year, were somewhat disappointing, the brothers said, in part because of the initial decision to include pecans in the selling mix.
“We kind of got stuck with the pecans,” said Marsh Willis, now 16. “We bought them from Dad because he had a pecan farm. People really do like pecans but (pecans) were so high that year they just weren’t selling. We don’t sell pecans anymore.”
The next year was better, though, with a total sale of around 4,500 cans. According to Davis Willis, twin brother to Marsh, most of their customers purchase full cases of 27 cans of peanuts for $80 per case. Half-cases (either 13 or 14 cans) are also popular. The Willis brothers work from their home and will deliver a minimum order of nine cans of peanuts.
Sales climbed nearly to the 6,000 unit mark in 2012, the brothers say. Marsh Willis believes the team can grow to 7,000 next year.
“I think Jake might be a little skeptical, by I’m really not. If they don’t get sold right away they’ll sell later on in the year. I think we’ll make money on them.”