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May 01, 2017

Exclusive Interviews

Cindy Monroe on Strengthening an Evolving Business

by DSN Staff

Click here to order the May 2017 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

Thirty-One Gifts has experienced nearly constant evolution since its founding in 2003. There were the early days, when the company operated from the basement of Founder Cindy Monroe’s home. Then, the company found its groove, growing into one of the largest direct selling companies in the world. A few years ago, as many companies do, Thirty-One experienced some growing pains. Monroe and her team set to work trying to assess what was behind the revenue decline and, more importantly, how they would respond. Their journey over the past few years has been one designed to strengthen the business and to carve a sustainable path for the future. Through it all, the company has remained profitable and will become a debt-free company this year. Monroe recently spoke with DSN about what she’s learned along the way.

DSN: Could you share an update on the Thirty-One business and what has been the most notable transformation for the company over the past few years?

Cindy Monroe: We chose to stay focused on how to sustain our North American market. So that was first. We really wanted to make sure that we are staying 100% focused on what’s going on with the changes, with the model, with the new technology, what’s going on with our customer, with our consultant’s lifecycle and their profitability, not just ours.

TextCindy Monroe

Second, we started thinking about how are we showing up as an executive and as a leadership team, and how are we going to make sure that we’re still very entrepreneurial, and that we can be flexible during some of the changes. So we shifted away from a C-suite and flattened the organization a little bit more. Those that were in the C-suite left the business, and all of our VPs started working together as a collaborative team—not just working as individual siloed departments, but really working together and collaborating across the business, learning from each other.

Third, we also had a compensation shift. It’s the first time we’ve really had a comp plan change, but it was along the same lines. It was making sure that we were focusing on the leaders in the field, making sure that we had healthy, sustainable leaders that were collaborating and helping us internally with our new changes, like what technology needs do we have and how are we getting ready for the next generation of 30-year-old women.

DSN: What were some of the best practices and learnings that other executives could take from your shifting responsibility to the VP level?

CM: I actually brought someone in and really focused on how to be an effective collaborative team. We had to come in and teach our VPs about the business. They had to understand that their peers, other VPs, were their team, and that team was being held responsible for running the business, not one individual. I’m looking for those 12 VPs to be able to collectively come together, make those decisions, bring ideas up from their departments.

The buy in and the excitement around the business internally has been huge. They actually feel like they have a voice, they feel heard, and they feel some of the accountability. So last Fall whenever we found $30 million of incremental revenue that was above the trend from the beginning of the year, they all felt like they were a part of finding that $30 million of incremental revenue.

DSN: Where do you see the growth opportunities as you look out three to five years in Thirty-One Gifts’ future?

CM: I think that the growth opportunities come from what we built the company on. There’s definitely new product development that we’re doing, but at the end of the day we have to have excited sales consultants, excited leaders and people who are sharing the opportunity. So we’re making sure that we’re focused on the opportunity ahead of us, on all the women that are looking for second and third incomes. We want to make sure that they are working with us, and that we’re sustainable.

Our leaders know that they can trust us and that we’re staying focused on how we’re going to evolve and support the next Thirty-One girl. I’m so passionate about our Thirty-One girl, and I always have been. It’s always served us well. There’s no reason if we were a $700 million business we can’t be another $700 million business.

DSN: How is today’s 35-year-old sales consultant different from the one when you first started the business? What are some of the trends that you’re watching and preparing for as that continues to evolve?

CM: I think that she definitely is continuing to stay busy. How she responds to that busyness is what’s different. She is doing a lot of her busyness on technology, so when she’s not out and about as much, and she’s not having face-to-face conversations, I think that can impact her relationship business. Which is what we are, we’re a relationship industry. How are we going to add value for her because, honestly, her customer can go buy things from Amazon, but I’m not selling a commodity. I’m selling something that’s very unique and different, so how am I going to add value to those customers?

We’ve said that for many years in our industry, but I think the new and up and coming customers, they don’t want to be sold to even more than we did 10 years ago. At the end of the day, they want someone who’s going to build a relationship and who cares about them. There’s just fewer and fewer companies that are willing to take time and build that relationship and care about you. It takes a little bit more of high touch, and that’s difficult because we’re not face-to-face with her as often. There’s less people out and about because they’re so busy and engaged in other activities, whether it’s television, their technology, going to their kids games and things like that.

DSN: Tell me more about your debt-free milestone.

CM: I think that it’s part of our culture. For me the company was growing so fast. Scott (Cindy’s husband) and I were reinvesting everything back into the business. What was important for me was to prove to myself that not only was I capable of being an entrepreneur, but I was capable of being a President and CEO. That means running a profitable company, even when revenue declines. I think that we’ve always kind of paid for our growth as we went along.

I feel like there’s multiple ways to define success and to define a healthy business and the bottom line, and debt for me is definitely one of them. It’s not just the top line for me. I want to role model that for our sales leaders too. I think that in our industry we have to be really careful to make sure that our sales consultants aren’t leveraging their business, and that they’re not getting into a place that they’re spending more money than they’re making.

DSN: What are some of the trends, you have either been positively or negatively seeing inside the direct selling space, particularly inside party plan?

CM: I just think it’s a distraction whenever companies aren’t leading from an ethical standpoint.

I think that’s even a stronger reason why I want to be known as the company that is staying focused, and that is staying ethical, and that is going to be sustainable for 50 and 100 years down the road. People can count on Thirty-One to be here, and they can trust us with their income opportunities. Our employees as well as our sales consultants can trust that we’re going to put them at the top of our priority.