I have to admit, I feel so blessed to be a part of such a humble and uplifting organization that strives for excellence and does not compromise but continues to bless all who come in contact with them. I’m so amazed at how Thirty-One Gifts and their Representatives have not only boosted local economy but I’m sure spread joy and love wherever they went, which is really what its all about! Please enjoy the video and article below from THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH and to hear how Thirty-One Gifts is impacting Columbus, Ohio and the rest of the country!
Direct-sales accessories company growing to biblical highs
Headquarters: 231 Commerce Blvd., Johnstown, Ohio
Employees: 1,500 employees and an independent sales force of nearly 40,000
Sales: Not available; company is private
What the name means: A reference to Proverbs 31 in the Bible, in praise of a good woman Sources: Dispatch research, company information
Thirty-One employees toss beach balls emblazoned with the Johnstown, Ohio-based company’s logo at its convention in Nationwide Arena.
Cindy Monroe might look like a business executive, but when she strode onto the stage at Nationwide Arena recently for her company’s national conference, she probably felt like a rock star.
The founder of fast-growing direct-sales business Thirty-One was greeted by more than 7,000 women who screamed as if Monroe were the second coming of Elvis.
Such a reception, Monroe believes, is only the beginning.
Next year, Monroe said, her central Ohio-based direct-sales company will hold its ninth annual national conference in Atlanta, where “we expect 25,000 to 30,000. Columbus doesn’t have enough hotels to support that. We want to keep the ladies together. It’s powerful to build that community and connect.”
So what has happened to Monroe and her company, whose independent sales representatives sell purses, totes and other accessories via the home-party plan, in just a few years?
In 2003, Monroe and her husband, Scott, borrowed $10,000 to start their company and set up shop in the basement of the family’s home in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Monroe wasn’t a complete neophyte: She had worked for a direct-sales company after getting a marketing degree, and she did well. “I did have experience as a consultant, and I did win trips, and I did go to conferences.”
During one trip, she was at an Atlanta gift market, “seeing products I had never seen.” When she realized that the shops selling those products all closed at 6 p.m., something clicked.
As a working mother of two children, she didn’t have time to hit those exclusive boutiques during regular business hours.
Creating a direct-sales company that offered the same kind of fashionable accessories at home parties “seemed a natural fit, a way to get more products into more people’s hands,” she said.
The couple literally and figuratively did the heavy lifting to get their company off the ground.
“Scott laid out the catalog, and we packed the orders ourselves. My husband and I would monogram. The kids would sleep on air mattresses when we had to work all night during peak season.”& amp; amp; amp; lt; /p>
The company offers mostly purses, totes, backpacks and the like, with stationery and other accessories and decor items offered as well. Monograms are a popular feature. Prices listed in the catalog range from just a few dollars for stationery items to more than $100 for bigger, more elaborate totes. Most are somewhere in between.
Several versions of tote bags are the big sellers, including one called the Cindy, named after the founder.
The growth in the company has been staggering. From the basement launch in 2003 with two employees, the company grew to almost 700 independent sales consultants by 2007. Today, the company has more than 1,500 employees and an independent sales force of nearly 40,000.
Privately held, the company does not report annual sales. However, the growth has been big enough to warrant two Ohio facilities totaling more than 1 million square feet, with a third set to open in Springfield in mid-September.
The big growth in the sales force is fed chiefly by women looking for a way to earn cash without being away from the family.
For an initial $99 fee, a member of the home-based sales force receives a display kit featuring products such as monogrammed purses and tote bags. The sales agents earn commissions by hosting parties where guests buy the goods.
After hitting certain sales targets, sales agents can move up by enlisting others to sell merchandise. The sales agent then moves up to director, then senior director, executive director and finally to senior executive director.
Lori Benseler of New Albany, a senior executive director, had been “dabbling in other direct-sale businesses” when she heard about Thirty-One in fall 2006.
“I have a friend up in the Cleveland area who had shared a PDF version of the catalog with a whole group of people via email,” Benseler said. “Shortly before she sent it, I had decided I was done with direct sales forever.”
The Thirty-One catalog quickly changed her mind.
“I was a mom of a baby and preschooler,” Benseler said. “At the time, the products were really bright and appealed to the teacher/preschool mom group. And I thought, these are going to make fabulous gifts and are going to be great for my friends. I was excited to have something unique to offer.”
Sales agents such as Benseler not only make money but also find personal satisfaction in holding sales parties and enlisting other women for the company.
That is part of the appeal and strength of Thirty-One, as it has been with other direct-sales companies such as Avon, Amway and Longaberger, marketing author Roger Blackwell said.
Sales agents control their own hours and work at their own pace. Companies keep them motivated by holding big events, such as the Nationwide Arena convention, and by offering rewards — such as free vacations on cruise ships or at Disney World — for hitting sales goals.
“Part of the culture is to create true believers,” Blackwell said. “An important part of it is the culture. They can have a career and still be home when the children come home from school — and that’s a valid point.”
Another part of the culture is “biblical authority,” Blackwell said, and the very name of Thirty-One comes from the Bible. The company’s official materials say that Proverbs 31 “celebrates hard-working women who are compassionate, gracious and inspiring to their families and the people around them.”
Included in the biblical passage is this statement: “Give her the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.” The importance of biblical authority is important to Benseler, who said, “God is the focus of this company, and I have to think that’s the main reason for its success.”
Even so, Monroe said, “We don’t push our faith through the product; we don’t have preaching at our conference.”
The company might need some help from a higher power if it hopes to continue growing at its current exponential rate, Blackwell noted.
That’s because direct-sales businesses are structured in a way that compensates the sales force for not only the sales they personally generate but also the sales of others they recruit.
“The new customers come like picking low-hanging fruit on a tree,” Blackwell said. “It gets more difficult as the tree gets bigger to find more people who haven’t already bought the product.
“A few months or a few years later, it’s not so easy. As a consequence, more mature companies like Amway get most of their sales in other countries.”
Avon Products Inc., another well-known direct-sales company, “is doing very well in China,” he said.
Amy Hart, a senior executive director for Thirty-One who lives in Powell, said the structure hasn’t been a problem for her.
“I always tell people, you can’t really look at the total number of consultants. I was just talking to my husband about that. I probably have 12 members within a 5-mile radius, but I rarely run into competition.”
To gear up for the future, Monroe moved Thirty-One to Columbus from Chattanooga in 2008.
“We were looking for talent because the business was growing really fast,” she said. “With all the retail here, there was tons of talent, including some people who had been let go at Longaberger. We know people are our No. 1 asset, so we moved here just for the talent pool in Columbus.”
And the screaming hordes at Nationwide Arena were fun, too, Monroe admitted.
“I think, basically, we’re on a ride,” Monroe said. “What I saw was definitely not the end. I’m all the time looking at what’s next. I guess that’s my personality.
“It was a little surreal,” she said of the conference. “I got super excited. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t imagine what next year is going to be like.’ ”