Thirty-One Gifts and Cindy Monroe ride a wave of rapid growth

 

It was like drinking out of a fire hose. That’s how Cindy Monroe, founder and CEO of Thirty-One Gifts, describes a decade of high-octane growth.

She started the direct sales company that offers totes, purses, accessories and more out of her Chattanooga, Tennessee, basement, just over 11 years ago.

“I really was starting it just to make a little extra money to help out with vacations and those extra things that we enjoy — and I was hoping that for other women as well,” Monroe says.

With the party-plan model, other women would be able to earn some extra money so they could pay cash for Christmas, payoff credit cards or go on Disney vacations with their families.

The concept took off, as Thirty-One parties swept into living rooms across the country.

The company moved from Chattanooga to Columbus in 2008, and Monroe says they were shipping and doing all their operations themselves.

“I don’t think that I ever expected that I would be this multimillion-dollar organization and, you know, I had to grow quite a bit,” she says.

“Every year, it was just constant growth to be able to keep up with that size of a company. Because running a business from a startup to even hitting $50 million or $100 million, it was always evolving. And it gets more complex as you grow the business because the stakes are higher and you have more people involved.”

Monroe crammed with business books as much as possible, but these books aren’t written for multimillion-dollar organizations. She says after a certain point, you have to surround yourself with people who have been there and done that.

She also held herself accountable for both personal and professional growth.

“The whole time I was telling my executive team and my board, ‘At any time, if I’m not keeping up, I want somebody to be honest with me and let me know because I really want the consultants and the Thirty-One family to continue growing,’” Monroe says.

Today, the growth has finally flattened out as Thirty-One Gifts hit $750 million in annual revenue last year. Monroe and her team are taking advantage of the opportunity to focus on getting back to the basics.

Looking into the crystal ball

Forecasting growth is one of the most difficult things any business does. It’s even more difficult when you’re growing 200 or 300 percent a year and don’t know when it’s going to slow down.

Monroe says the day-to-day of getting orders out was a feat in itself, and the company was constantly monitoring trends to try to project inventory. They tried to predict when the growth would level off so many times, because they knew it had to at some point.

“We went through season after season of running out of products and backorders and things like that,” she says. “It was just a real headache for our sales reps and our customers.

“At one point, we had to actually tell our consultants, our sales reps, that they could not recruit anyone on their team for about three months because we had to slow the growth down.”