December 01, 2016
Plunder Design: Finding Opportunity in Adversity
by Courtney Roush
Headquarters: Payson, Utah
Top Executive: Founder and CEO Hillary Adams
2016 Revenue more than $25 million
Products: shabby chic vintage-inspired jewelry and accessories
As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention. While the 2008 recession brought the U.S. economy to its knees, it also inspired millions of Americans to create their own safety nets. Hillary Adams and her husband, Abe, were typical of a lot of families trying to figure out how to survive in the wake of this economic downturn. A graduate of beauty school, Hillary ran a hair salon for several years with one goal in mind: to save up enough money to raise her children at home full time. In a page straight out of Murphy’s Law, they’d just moved into a new home and Hillary had just retired from her business when Abe was downsized from his corporate job. The couple had several investments that fell victim to the economy. The family ultimately declared bankruptcy. The cost of food was proving to be prohibitive, so they began grocery shopping at Hillary’s parents’ house. In short, they were desperate.
“When you’re facing the loss of everything that you’ve worked so hard to obtain, a certain humility takes hold,” Hillary says. “It was really scary, but when I looked around, I had the things that mattered most. Abe and I were able to find comfort in each other and together focus on our children.” With that perspective in mind, Hillary was determined to stay home to raise their three children—even if it meant budgeting to the nth degree. Abe agreed, but Hillary would soon discover that staying within a tight budget was much more difficult than she anticipated. “I realized that the answer to this problem was going to have to come from above,” she says. It was time to think creatively—and being creative was second-nature for Hillary.
Taking Care of Family
A longtime admirer of vintage jewelry, Hillary had been creating her own pieces for years, often working into the late hours after her children were asleep. Her shabby-chic style pieces were attracting attention from friends, family, even local boutiques. A friend who owned a boutique offered to sell 300 of Hillary’s soldered pendants in December. When all of them sold, Hillary took $1,500 in earnings and decided to reinvest it into her business, making chains and necklaces to accompany those pendants. She would continue to roll her profits back into her business, and it proved to be a smart strategy.
|Abe and Hillary Adams with their four children.|
Meanwhile, Abe had found gainful employment, and things were starting to look up again. Hillary began seeking instruction to expand her design and handcrafting abilities and would soon recruit friends from her community and church who also were seeking a means to supplement income to support their families.
“I live in a small town where everybody is well connected, and our economy was failing so many,” Hillary says. “These women weren’t going hungry, but it’s the extra things, like choir tours and cheer costumes, that are sacrificed when there just isn’t quite enough. By producing and selling this jewelry, we were able to provide the opportunity for several women to be home with their families and contribute financially. At any given time, we employed about 10 women who were working in their spare time to bring our products to the open market.”
Hillary set up a booth at one of Utah’s biggest outdoor events, Swiss Days. Her business was $30,000 in the red. In short order, a crowd lined up at the booth and quickly cleared out Hillary’s inventory. By the end of Swiss Days, she had sold an astounding $94,000 worth of jewelry. And then, six months pregnant with her fourth child, Hillary suffered a devastating miscarriage. While grieving, “I had this thought,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘If I can’t have this baby, then I’m going to have one hell of a business.’ ”
For the next three years, Hillary sold her jewelry at boutiques and trade shows. She approached a couple of large department stores, but to no avail. This business was hard work, and by the time she reached one such event in Tacoma, Washington, she knew she was spread too thin. At this point, “I wasn’t looking at jewelry as something more.” In her mind, this journey had an end; she’d one day retire from it, just as she’d done with hairstyling, and stay home with her kids.
Clarity of Conviction
Fate had other plans. During that trade show in Tacoma, she met an independent consultant for a direct selling company of jewelry and accessories. As the two women spoke, Hillary realized she was sitting on something that could be much more than just a job. This encounter, she says, was akin to being hit with a sledgehammer—in a good way. The two women stayed in touch, and not long after their first meeting in Tacoma, the consultant was diagnosed with bone cancer. Even while undergoing chemotherapy and recovering at home, however, the consultant continued to grow her direct sales business. “My focus shifted to, How big can I make this? I needed a business plan I could get better distribution from,” Hillary says. “It dawned on me that I was doing it all, and yet the consultant I’d met was making more than me. Something had to change.” And direct selling was the vehicle to make that happen. “I wish all of our decisions had this much clarity,” she adds.
With no prior direct sales experience, all Hillary had to go on were her preconceived notions about the channel. Initially, “my perception was that there were a million party plan companies. I’m not a high-pressure person, and I didn’t want people to feel pressured to buy.”
She began to do her research, however, talking to industry veterans like Younique founder Derek Maxfield, Brett Reed of Squire Financial and Bob Hipple, formerly of another party plan company and the current president and owner of consultancy Direct Selling Today. Soon, those preconceived notions melted away. “In direct selling, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Hillary says. “Although we do some things differently than other companies, there are already systems in place and more than enough people willing to help you.”
Abe was among Hillary’s biggest supporters. “I’ve always believed there was a larger plan for Hillary. There’s something about her that draws everyone in,” he says. “I call it the ‘sauce.’ She has the sauce, and other people want to be around her. She has that bigger-than-life personality and has a way to make everyone feel important. There’s a quote in her office, and I’m not sure who it’s from, but it states ‘Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.’ That describes Hillary to perfection. For years, I’ve told her that she would do something really big, but neither of us had any idea what it was or how big it would be or that we would be able to reach out to help and serve so many.”
Plunder Design officially launched in 2014 with $50,000 of Hillary’s own funds and a $130,000 loan from her father. What’s the story behind the name? “Plunder means to take by force. In life, if we stand around and take everyone’s leftovers, we won’t get anywhere; we need to prepare to fight for our dreams,” Hillary explains.
In the beginning, Plunder Design was a team of three: Hillary, Marianne Brown (her best friend) and an office manager, along with approximately 30 consultants who worked the field. They traveled throughout the South, to states like Georgia and Tennessee, holding parties and opportunity meetings. One such party in Tennessee had a single attendee—and she didn’t even wear jewelry. “I got on the plane after that trip feeling defeated,” Hillary recalls. “But, by January of the following year, Tennessee was our biggest state, with around 4,000 consultants. This had something to do with fate.”
Hillary’s vision for her consultants is for them “to build a business of residual income,” she says. “This business will take care of you as long as you take care of it. I tell stylists they don’t need to carry inventory. Less is more. I want them to get back to an old-school style. Where they should spend their money is on their supplies and tools. I tell them not to invest more than they profit—that’s not a sound financial decision.”
Plunder Design jewelry, while mass-produced, has a vintage look. Hillary’s inspiration comes both from her grandmother’s old brooches and trinkets, but also a revelation she had at an estate sale in Alabama years ago. In a dresser, she found drawers full of antique gems, which the owner dismissed as just her mother’s “old junk.” “As I opened them and carefully extracted what was inside, I discovered beautiful brooches and necklaces carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside these old canisters to be protected,” she recalls. “These gently wrapped gems were a vestige of a woman’s life 70 years prior. I realized the mentality of a generation much older than ours. Gems and jewels, be they simple costume jewelry or extravagant diamonds, were cherished pieces. They were prized by women who had much less. In our modern times, we seem to have turned into a generation of ‘disposables.’ If we don’t like something, we throw it out and run to the store for something else. At Plunder, we’re striving to bring back to life the age-old mentality of treasured jewels, prized belongings and a grateful heart.”
The company’s top-selling pieces are the Gabbie necklace, Mason earrings and the Atlas line of necklaces and keychains, which may be personalized with the image of the customer’s choice (provided she has the rights to the image). New independent Plunder Design representatives, or Stylists, as they’re called, purchase a $99 starter kit including select full-size Plunder pieces, business cards, order forms and catalogs. Plunder Design’s Facebook page, with nearly 20,000 followers, is a popular online hangout for Stylists to share ideas and communicate with one another.
Today, Plunder Design has nearly 7,000 consultants in the United States. In 2016, the company held its first annual conference, called “Mother Palooza,” plus five “Mini Palooza” events. “The smaller salesforce that we have to date feels very much like a sisterhood,” Hillary says. “Because we only have about 7,000, we all have a pretty great friendship. The women have been amazing at encouraging and helping one another.
“I think the best way to motivate is to lead by example,” she continues. “I refuse to ask my Stylists to do things that I wouldn’t do myself.” Just two years after its inception, Plunder Design employs a staff of 85 at its facility in Payson, Utah, and continues to grow at a rate of approximately 80 percent each month, generating $2 million a month in revenue. The company is 100 percent debt-free. Plunder Design launched a new website and back office for its Stylists in October in an effort to better serve their growing needs, particularly in the social media arena as they promote parties. In 2015, the company was recognized for its exceptional growth with the Direct Selling Management Association of Utah’s Rising Star Award. Executives at Plunder Design expect to hit at least $25 million in revenue by the end of the year, but, according to Hillary, that could be a conservative estimate given the upcoming holiday season.
Coming Full Circle
Abe ultimately gave up his full-time job to join his wife in her business, becoming President of the company. While he was leaving the safety net his job had provided for their family, Abe says sales from Plunder Design continued to increase, providing the couple with the confirmation that they had made the right decision. In addition to their “angel,” who helped inspire Hillary’s decision to grow her business, today, Hillary and Abe are the parents of four children: Zach, 16; Olivia, 13; Amelia, 12; and Hallie, 3. “I hope that my children will learn to work hard, sacrifice for the better good, and lay it all on the line for a worthwhile dream,” Hillary says. “It sounds so cliché, but I truly believe that we define where we will ultimately be, by allowing ourselves to feel worthy and capable of our dreams.
“If they want something, I hope that they feel motivated to fight for it,” she says. “They need to accept accountability for their lives and refuse to settle for other people’s leftovers. There’s a price to be paid for everything we achieve. You don’t get something for nothing, and if you have big dreams, you might as well start working and budgeting for that outcome now.”
That fateful introduction to direct selling back in Tacoma, she says, was meant to be, resulting in a business that changed not only her own family’s life, but the lives of so many other families, as well.
“I spend a lot of time pondering ways to become a better company for our Stylists,” Hillary continues, “but I’m as certain today as I was two and a half years ago that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m meant to do. I feel like I won the lottery. The benefits of direct selling surprise me every day.”