How a young mother went from helping families in her community to building a brand helping families across the country
Sometimes the most extraordinary opportunities are right under your nose. For Shannon Wilburn, CEO and co-founder of Just Between Friends, the light bulb went off when she realized that her children were growing out of clothing almost as fast as she was buying it. Might other mothers be interested in buying the beautiful, gently used clothing items that sadly were just being stored in her children’s closets? This thought, as Shannon would soon find out, was going to change her life.
Recent studies have focused on Americans’ spending habits when it comes to children’s clothing. What they’ve found plays a significant part in our business. Parents spend 3.8% of their annual income on clothing, according to a study performed by North Dakota State University. This is not a standard percentage among people of all income levels, however. Money discovered that Americans with an annual $50,000 income spend around $2,000 on clothing. In essence, these studies demonstrate parents’ demand for children’s clothing. We know that most parents, 90%, spend more on their children’s clothing than their own, from the results of a joint study by Parenting and Women and Co.
With such a huge market, Shannon and another like-minded mother, Daven Tackett, decided to put on a consignment sale in Shannon’s living room in Tulsa. They invited other local mothers to buy and sell the clothes their children seldom wore.
“We called the event Just Between Friends,” Shannon says. “Because we really thought that this was going to be a little event between friends. We just wanted to make a little extra money for our families.”
The very first Just Between Friends sales event in Shannon’s living room grossed $2,000. The incredible success of this small sale inspired Shannon and Daven to think bigger. If they found a larger venue, Just Between Friends could host two events a year and serve the entire Tulsa metropolitan community.
“We had no idea it was going to become the community event that it is,” Shannon said. “The Tulsa sale now grosses almost $800,000 annually!”
Just Between Friends breaks into the mainstream
Shannon believed that if Just Between Friends consignment sales events were a hit in Tulsa, then the concept could work anywhere. The company opened their doors to franchising in 2003.
“I never thought that I could be a business person,” Shannon says. “Other people went into business. I was a mother and a wife, and I loved my life. My husband is a pastor, and when we decided to go forward with franchising, we prayed about it. I went out and bought the book Franchising for Dummies, and I read it cover to cover. Daven and I wanted to start with 10 franchisees, and that’s what we did. It was an immediate proof-of-concept.”
Now the company hosts hundreds of events per year around the country and has franchises in 30 states. Last year, the company’s system-wide sales totaled $31.5 million, which is a tremendous leap from that $2,000 event in Shannon’s living room.
Just Between Friends is a concept that benefits everyone, which drives the brand’s popularity across the country and earns publicity from national and local media.
“I’ve literally saved my family thousands of dollars by not having to buy my children new clothes,” Shannon said. “In fact, I didn’t have to buy my children new clothes until they were in middle school. The success of our brand is built around saving families with young children money. In good times and bad, we all can use a little extra money in the bank.”
Future of Just Between Friends is getting brighter every year
Because of our brand’s inherent appeal to families with young children, our customers have the potential to remain with us for years. We sell items for children ages 0-12. According to an internal survey to determine how many families we help, we discovered that Just Between Friends sales events serve over 1 million families nationwide. In this age of thrift, the stigma of shopping for gently used items is quickly vanishing. According to a survey conducted by thredUP, a leading consignment website, almost 9 out of 10 parents would clothe their children in secondhand attire. What’s more, half of the millennials surveyed believe that buying clothing secondhand supports an eco-friendly lifestyle. We believe that as well, and our Just Between Friends sales events are entirely stocked with recycled items, keeping our children in the latest fashion and keeping the earth green while we do it!
One reason Just Between Friends is growing, with plans to grow internationally, is that our franchise model suits the lifestyles of our owners. Just Between Friends can be a supplemental income or a full-time career. While many of our owners are young parents and grandparents who earn a healthy additional income by hosting the minimum of two sales events per year, other franchisees own multiple territories and are the livelihood of their families.
Ongoing costs are also low; the main investment the franchisees make is in renting a venue large enough to serve their communities’ sale population. Marketing is the next largest expense for franchisees.
“Our model allows our franchisees to be present in their children’s lives and contribute to the well-being of their communities,” Shannon said. “This is an empowering business. It definitely empowered me. The majority of our franchisees are women, and I’d like to think that we have empowered them. Our concept works because it feels good to help young parents buy their children beautiful clothes without breaking the bank. Our franchises are definitely making an impact in their communities, and that is what we’re all about.”