August 01, 2013
Thirty-One Gifts: Teamwork Sustains Phenomenal Growth
by J.M. Emmert
Photo above: Products from Thirty-One’s new Fall Catalog: (clockwise from left) Organizing Utility Tote, Thermal Tote, Free to Be Crossbody Purse and Large Utility Tote.
- Founded: 2003
- Headquarters: Columbus, Ohio
- Founder and CEO: Cindy Monroe
- Products: Handbags, totes, thermals, organizational items
Cindy Monroe has a simple leadership philosophy: surround herself with a great team. It’s a philosophy that has served her well as founder and CEO over the last few years as her company, Thirty-One Gifts, has experienced incredible growth.
The company, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown from a small business in the basement of Monroe’s Chattanooga, Tenn., home to the 14th-largest private company in central Ohio, where its headquarters are now located. Its 810,000-square-foot home office and distribution center houses nearly 1,800 employees, and the company has another 1.8 million square feet in three distribution centers across Ohio.
More than 115,000 independent consultants in the United States and Canada sell the stylish and functional purses, totes, fashion accessories and organizing solutions that now constitute the product line Monroe began back in 2003 with a $10,000 loan from family and friends.
Today, Thirty-One Gifts is the third-largest party plan company in the United States, behind only Mary Kay and Tupperware, and last year it had one of the greatest growth percentages of any direct seller—49 percent—going from $482 million in 2011 to $718 million in 2012. That revenue growth of $236 million catapulted Thirty-One into the top 20 of the DSN Global 100 companies, where it came in at No. 18 for 2012.
However, phenomenal growth sometimes comes with phenomenal challenges. A company growing so quickly and successfully must have the infrastructure in place to handle expanding needs. And Thirty-One has been able to successfully move through this explosive growth period because of the great team Monroe has surrounded herself with—those “amazing consultants, leaders in the field, and employees and leaders at the home office” who she says continue to take the company to new heights.
Thirty-One Gifts is the third-largest party plan company in the United States, behind only Mary Kay and Tupperware, and last year it had one of the greatest growth percentages of any direct seller—49 percent.
Ready to Be Jewelled and Fabulous
For the past two years, Christina Snyder has seen firsthand how Thirty-One Gifts CEO Cindy Monroe has encouraged and empowered women to achieve their personal financial goals.
Now, Snyder will spearhead the efforts to further support Monroe’s mission by offering women the opportunity to run their own businesses, as President of Jewell, the new direct selling company she has co-founded with Monroe and Christie Jewell Woodfin, Monroe’s sister.
“When I learned [Cindy] was developing a new concept to speak to the more professional, fashion-involved woman, I was anxious to help and become involved,” says Snyder, who was the Vice President of Sales Strategy for Thirty- One Gifts. “I am a Jewell woman, and I know so many women like me who will, or already do, love what Jewell offers.”
Jewell, which launched on April 8, offers the latest trends from the runway—handbags, small accessories such as café bags, wallets and patent-pending pockets; scarves; belts; and office tech pouches, bags and organizers.
The products are targeted for busy, more upscale shoppers seeking signature looks. Jewell representatives can provide the personal shopping experience these women require to meet their lifestyle needs.
“We help her organize her life with darling pouches, tech accessories and our life-changing patent-pending pocket system; and then finish her look with our unique straps, versatile belts and beautiful scarves,” Snyder says. “We also help her pick out the gifts she needs for all the events she attends. What busy woman doesn’t want all of that?”
The Jewell experience will differ from traditional home parties offered by companies such as Thirty-One. Get-togethers will be more of a boutique party atmosphere.
“Our Jewell woman is busy—she is involved in her work, community, family and with friends. She is fashion involved and extremely social, so she’s always looking for the latest trends to help her get ready for the many events she attends, hosts and prepares for,” Snyder says. “She loves spending her time with her girlfriends as well, so she looks to Jewell to make this all seamless and easy for her. The unique Jewell Boutique, where personal styling, gift shopping and trend sharing happens, can be held at someone’s home, but it is more likely to happen on the go at the office, book club or coffee shop, wherever our Jewell girl is spending time.”
All of the unique Jewell designs are created in-house and will be showcased in the company’s Spring, Summer, Fall and Holiday catalogs.
“We have a team of seasoned merchants and designers who understand our Jewell woman and what she wants and needs in her life, as well as know intimately the latest trends, colors, prints and styles that will be important each season,” Snyder says. “They are our Jewell girl, living her busy life, so they truly understand the value of special details and nuances, which make our products so desirable.”
In addition to her excitement in teaming with Monroe to offer women new opportunities, Snyder was also very moved by the opportunity to create a company with a financial model of giving back built in from Day One.
Jewell is a corporate partner of Dress for Success Worldwide, an internationally recognized organization founded in New York City that helps women in need enter the workplace, often for the very first time. Since its formation in 1997, the organization has served more than 650,000 women around the world.
Each Jewell Boutique will make a 10 percent product donation to Dress for Success, ensuring that the Jewell experience makes a significant difference in the lives of others long after the party has ended. “Our mission to help and empower women is very aligned [with Dress for Success], and it just feels right,” Snyder says.
Snyder believes her experience at Thirty-One—plus the 15 years spent before that in executive management positions, including being president of a large multimillion-dollar automotive supplier—has prepared her well for her new role as Jewell’s leader. She learned so much about Monroe’s heart and true sincerity to the mission of empowering women and is appreciative of her support in the new endeavor with Jewell.
“As a startup, we are so grateful to have the support of Thirty-One Gifts,” she says. “Cindy is our CEO and the guidepost of our mission and business. We have been gifted many resources most startups don’t enjoy for many years into their existence, which we are leveraging to build the Jewell brand and business and support our ever-growing team of Jewell representatives.”
Managing the Growth
Supply chain. Fulfillment. Customer satisfaction. They are all critical components to consider when a company is growing as quickly as Thirty-One has the past few years. President Andy Neri says the company’s success is due to three things: people, talent and vision.
“It all starts with having great people with great talent and vision in the critical areas of supply chain, operations and consultant support,” he says. “I’m proud to say we have not only very talented leaders in each of these areas, but exceptionally talented teams.”
In addition, Thirty-One has never been hesitant to rely on outside help—consultants and contract labor—where necessary, to support or supplement the business. “These partnerships have been critical to allowing us to address specific needs very quickly,” Neri says.
In fact, the company’s supply base development has been, according to Neri, nothing short of amazing. “We have built a supplier network of committed, talented factories that have demonstrated exceptional commitment, flexibility and an ability to grow with us not just in capacity but in process improvement as well,” he says. “They met every challenge we threw at them to support not just our growth, but a more demanding product line.”
Thirty-One also has talented teams of people in Product Development, Production, Merchandising, Design, and Merchandise Planning that continue to raise the bar as it relates to all aspects of Thirty-One products. “There’s been so much systems and process improvement in each of these areas, but our mindset is always focused on being the best we can be, and the teams keep moving us forward fast, with quality,” Neri says.
Fulfillment and production, including the personalization of many product items, was one of the areas most challenged by the company’s growth. Now, says Neri, it is one of the most talented groups within the company, committed to excellence in everything they do. “We have achieved this through great leadership, great teams and strong partnerships with third-party providers in fulfillment.”
Neri says the company systems, processes, equipment and facilities have all been upgraded to be extremely efficient, accurate and of high quality. “Many folks said we couldn’t implement all of the new systems and processes and bring up new facilities in the time frame we wanted,” he says. “But with a great deal of commitment, talented people and partnerships, we did it, and now they are constantly looking to improve upon their excellence.”
In addition to Operations, Thirty-One faced similar challenges during the growth period with Consultant Support. Company executives followed the same path to success in this area—with great leaders who developed great teams.
“As with all areas mentioned above, it’s always best to have leadership with experience and vision that can move you forward fast with as little lost momentum as possible,” Neri says. “That’s not to say we haven’t made some mistakes or changed our minds on some things along the way; we have, and I think that’s healthy learning.”
Neri says that the commitment to improving its internal processes is all for the sake of the company’s consultants. “The more cohesive, integrated, efficient and accurate these areas of our business are, the better the experience for our consultants—and that’s always our goal.”
Implementing a Freeze
For many companies, putting a freeze on recruiting new consultants can be extremely risky. In some instances, it can kill a company’s momentum completely.
However, Thirty-One did just that a few years ago, in a move that Neri and other executives saw not so much as risky but as necessary.
“Implementing the recruiting freeze was something we felt we had to do to guarantee a quality experience for our Thirty-One consultants,” Neri explains. “As always, we are committed to them and their success. We realized to stay true to this commitment we had to improve critical business processes, systems and overall infrastructure at a faster pace, not just to keep up with but to get out in front of our growth.”
“We realized to stay true to our commitment [to our consultants] we had to improve critical business processes, systems and overall infrastructure at a faster pace, not just to keep up with but to get out in front of our growth.”
—Andy Neri, President
The freeze gave the Thirty-One sales field an opportunity to catch their breath and work “on” their business, not just “in” their business. Neri says the decision to freeze recruiting proved to be a good decision in terms of building long-term confidence in the sales field and potential consultants. “Of course, there was some uncertainty involved in making this decision, mainly around how many new recruits would join after the freeze and how quickly,” he says. “But our business rebounded especially well and continued to grow at an accelerated pace—now with a much stronger infrastructure to support our consultants’ needs. It was absolutely the right thing to do!”
Cindy Monroe is pictured with her husband Scott Monroe (Chief Brand Officer) and sales consultants during a Thirty-One event.
Sales Field Development
Of course, as new consultants joined Thirty-One, managing the training of so many new people became just another challenge for the company. Andrea Dowding, Executive Director of Sales Field Development & Implementation, says that the company was ready to address those issues.
In addition to new consultant webinars and an online library of recorded calls on training topics, Thirty-One began offering a unique program in 2010 called Celebrate & Connect to support training and development.
“Celebrate & Connect meetings are a key connection point with our consultants,” Dowding says. “These meetings help them learn about all of the possibilities for their businesses. Each meeting fosters connections and relationships and recognizes commitment and achievements. Consultants leave energized, excited and reengaged!”
The program provides every attending consultant with the opportunity to meet new friends and connect with her team; celebrate success (her own and the success of other consultants); build momentum to book, sell and recruit; discover how to grow her business with a learning focus for that particular season; and find out the latest news from the home office, including what’s coming next.
Celebrate & Connect holds five events per year, hosted by active area leaders who handle the venue arrangements and all on-site duties. Thirty-One provides all the training materials, handles the online registrations, and gives a step-by-step guide for the leader to conduct the meeting.
“In addition to the camaraderie and celebration, we also give each consultant who registers and attends a new product amenity to set her up for future success,” Dowding says. “The products are typically upcoming customer specials, and she can use them to promote and book future parties. The host leader also receives a special thank-you gift for her efforts and it, too, is a new product.”
Dowding says that the Celebrate & Connect meetings have been very successful, with close to 70 percent of the sales field registering to attend. “The program is our single largest way to touch our salesforce in person. In the month following a Celebrate & Connect, those who attend have 158 percent more personal volume, 466 percent more signups, and 137 percent more parties than someone who doesn’t attend.”
The company’s new mobile app will allow consultants to build their businesses on the go.
Introducing a New App
On May 6, Thirty-One released a new iPhone app that further helps consultants build their businesses by giving them mobile access to the information they need to run a business on the go. The Android version was released on May 15. Since the app became available, there have been more than 2.9 million screen views.
“Our mobile app allows each consultant to have a variety of information at her fingertips and also lets her sync information with her back office,” Dowding says.
For example, a consultant can add a contact on her phone and automatically sync that information to her back office. Additionally, the app aggregates information from multiple sources into one experience to give the consultant one place to get updates.
“We are keenly aware of the shift from laptops and desktops to a mobile-savvy sales field, and our expectations are to give her the tools she needs in this new world,” Dowding says. “Our sales field has been very excited and enthusiastic about this first release of our new app. Our expectations have definitely been met within the first 30 days. We’ve had great download activity and great in-app activity.”
Version 2 of the app, which was expected to be released at the end of July, will enhance the features that already include a Thirty-One information page, link to the catalog, contact list, order history, basic alerts, personal business dashboard and a sales tracker for the new consultants program Start Swell. This program helps each new consultant track her personal sales in her first 120 days of business to ensure that she has visibility of all the rewards she can earn in her unique earning period.
|Cindy Monroe shares the event stage with sales consultants.
Leadership through Growth
While Cindy Monroe credits her team with Thirty-One’s success, the phenomenal growth experienced by the company and the processes and efficiencies put in place to handle that growth all come down to the person at the top of the ladder, and that is Monroe herself.
“I love to solve problems,” she says. “So it’s always easy to jump in and roll up my sleeves and coach a consultant or an executive.”
As her company continues to grow, Monroe will work near-term on growing new markets here in the United States and continuing to focus on the few things that make the biggest difference in helping the company realize its mission of helping women reach their greatest potential.
She says, “Long-term, I want to be a global company where an extra $300 a month goes further to help make a house payment, buy groceries or help a woman support herself and her family.”