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September 02, 2010

Company Focus

Thirty-One Gifts: Gifted and Talented

by Lauri Dodd

Thirty-One Gifts is turning heads for their ability to rack up incredible growth numbers, while maintaining a close-knit family feel.

Maybe today would be the day. Jeanie had gotten off work just a little bit earlier, in the hope that the adorable little boutique downtown would still be open, even for a few minutes—that’s all it would take to make her desired purchase. Weeks earlier, she had spotted a cute trinket that would make the perfect gift for her friend, Susan. Now, as she rounded the corner, she held her breath in anticipation, and then nearing the storefront, promptly exhaled a long sigh. With shoulders slumped and more than a little dejected, she made her way slowly back to her parked car. Like her last three attempts to peruse the shelves of the delectable retail store, today would, in fact, not be the day.

It is for working women like Jeanie that Thirty-One Gifts was created seven years ago. Founder and CEO Cindy Monroe was working in corporate America at the time, and she, herself, had experienced the frustration of never getting to visit the corner gift boutiques, because they were always closed before she got home from work. “The goal right from the start was to provide products that were gift-able, ones that previously were only available at exclusive retail shops,” says Scott Monroe, Thirty-One Gifts Chief Branding Officer and Cindy’s proud husband. “As her idea came together, she remembered the success she had with direct selling in college and knew that was the only way to go.” Now, in less than a decade, the young company continues to rack up the accolades, and an entire industry has begun to take notice.

The Culture Club

Ask anyone at Thirty-One Gifts, and a good majority will, no doubt, point to the company’s culture as the No. 1 reason for their involvement—the organization’s driving force, if you will.

“People often ask us if we are a Christian company,” Scott says. “And the answer is that we are a company that was founded by Christian people and run by Christian principles, and our business, therefore, is really an extension of who we are.”

Before joining the Thirty-One Gifts team in early 2007, Scott was a pastor. While it was a big decision to make the career switch, it definitely seemed like the perfect time to do so. Trained as a jazz musician, Scott had become “the music guy” for a few modern churches over the years, and in that role he usually took on the responsibility of marketing for the congregation. From the beginning he supported his wife in her new venture and only wished he could do more to help the business develop and grow. Four years after its inception, Thirty-One Gifts was ready to expand its marketing division, and Scott got the opportunity he was looking for to put his talents to work.

Even at the most basic level, faith plays a major role in the makeup of Thirty-One Gifts. “The name Thirty-One comes from Proverbs 31, which describes the characteristics of a good woman,” Scott says. “She is virtuous and business-minded, always taking care of her family. And our goal in everything we do is to celebrate women, help them achieve their goals and enable them to give great gifts to others at the same time.”

Their mission, indeed, is to celebrate, encourage and reward the consultants in the field, which adds another interesting layer to the culture of Thirty-One Gifts. “We are all about making a positive impact on people’s lives—bettering the human condition—one person at a time,” Scott says. “We have some consultants who were stay-at-home moms, who never saw themselves joining the workforce. But through Thirty-One Gifts, these women have been able to have a career where they can contribute to their family income, and in some cases, even help their family survive and thrive in these tough economic times—all without sacrificing time with their family to do so.”

Thirty-One Gifts

Business Prowess

It is an elite group that can boast the same level of phenomenal success that Thirty-One Gifts has experienced. However, very few have done so in such a short amount of time. “For the first three years or so, we saw between 300 and 400 percent growth,” Scott says. “And we only had about five or six employees that whole time. Every year since then, we have consistently seen between 200 and 500 percent growth.”

The products, including handbags, totes, children’s items, stationery and home décor, are not really consumables in the traditional sense—Scott says they are somewhere in between. Thirty-One Gifts has secured a great amount of repeat business from customers. “We work hard to keep up with the trends, and to provide our customers with what they tell us they want,” Scott says. “Because of the nature of our gifts, between 60 and 80 percent of our product line is new for every fashion season. We may keep the same body style for several years, but the prints will always be changing, and since we insist on keeping our prices reasonable, our customers can afford to keep coming back.”

The business has mushroomed solely on a grassroots basis, partly because of the word-of-mouth aspect of direct sales and partly by design of the company’s astute leaders. “We have been growing fast all along, but we wanted to make sure our growth didn’t outpace our ability to keep up with the business,” Scott says. “We knew we had a lot to learn about running a successful company, and we wanted to control our growth to ensure we were making the right choices along the way.”

Now they are positioned and ready for that future growth—and, it seems, the future is now. Earlier this year, Thirty-One Gifts moved into a 97,000-square-foot facility, one that houses 450 employees. In 2008, they made the decision to move from the Monroes’ home state of Tennessee to Ohio, largely because of the incredible distribution channels in place to help facilitate business. Additionally, Ohio’s strategic location places it within 500 miles of much of the U.S. population, so for the Thirty-One Gifts leadership team, the move was a no-brainer. Interestingly, even in spite of moving two states away, the company’s first five employees are still with them and going strong.

“We have been fortunate enough to not see the negative impact of the faltering economy,” Scott says. “Instead, we have seen an increase in business and our consultants’ average is well above the industry standard of $350 per party.”

Looking back, Scott admits his family and their burgeoning business have both come a long way from their humble beginnings at the Monroe home just seven short years ago. “We literally started this company in our own basement,,” Scott says. “We borrowed a small amount of money from family to get started. And at the time, Cindy and a handful of people did all the hard work, recruiting consultants and hosting parties themselves, to get the business off the ground.” Today, Thirty-One Gifts is a completely debt-free company, and proud of the fact that their growth has not been supported by advertising dollars—it’s been organic every step of the way.

Feels Like a Family

If the culture of Thirty-One Gifts is the driving force behind the company’s raging success, then relationships are the fuel that keeps it going. “We have gathered a group of people here who believe strongly in the mission of the company,” Scott says. “They have embraced what we stand for, and you could easily call this a family business.” Beyond the husband and wife team that lead the way, there are a number of couples who work side by side in Thirty-One Gifts.

Scott credits his wife, in large part, for nurturing the relationships that have been the backbone of the company. “Cindy is extremely real and transparent in everything she does. And everyone around her can clearly see that,” Scott says. “She handles the many coaching calls personally, and at our annual conference, with more than 1,500 people in attendance, she is out there on the floor, going from table to table, visiting and talking with the consultants on a one-on-one basis.”

It can be said that even the Thirty-One Gifts product line adds to the company’s close-knit atmosphere, because each gift has a personal touch that makes it special. “Most of our products are monogrammed or personalized for the individual,” Scott says. “It is an element that sets our gifts - and us as a company - apart from others and makes us truly unique.”

Though personal connection is admittedly a tough thing to measure, 33,000 fans on Facebook is pretty impressive. “When we coach our consultants during training sessions, a big push for us is to never just sell a product. That is not why we are here,” Scott says. “Instead, we stress the importance of building relationships with people, whether it is with customers or prospective team members—it makes a more lasting impact. And it is a very teachable skill. When you emphasize relationships with people, the sales will come, but you will have something much more valuable as well.”

It’s not just lip service, either. From the top down, Thirty-One Gifts actually puts their beliefs to the test, even when it involves close friends and colleagues. “Julie Sutton was Cindy’s original business partner, and she decided not long ago to decrease her role with us,” Scott says. “Part of our mission is to give moms more time with their family. So while it was hard to lose Julie on an everyday basis, we absolutely support her decision to put her family first. It’s not just a fancy slogan to us. We are serious about our mission to celebrate, encourage and reward women in whatever they feel called to do.”