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

That was a difficult decision that cost the company a lot of money. But Monroe felt that if Thirty-One Gifts couldn’t provide the service levels that people expected, it would hurt its overall reputation.

“I think as a leader you always have to choose where you’re going to invest your money and invest your time,” she says, “and sometimes if you’re investing in your reputation, it doesn’t pay off immediately but it pays off long term.”

Juggling investments

When you’re growing at an extreme pace, you must continually invest back into the company. Sometimes it’s hard to determine where, such as when to hire executives.

Monroe says you cannot hire someone for where the company is at today because the business will outgrow them quickly. Instead, you must hire someone before you’re actually ready for him or her, which she calls a juggling act.

“The hard part about that is getting them to believe in you and your company so that they actually want to come work for you based on this potential forecasted growth that you’re sharing with them,” she says.

In hindsight, Monroe says she would have hired some managers and executives sooner to give them more runway, which would have prevented a few mistakes.

For example, she says she and her team were nervous about the growth, and afraid to invest in that growth. Therefore, they made some costly decisions about buildings and leases.

Monroe says that cash can be hard to come by when investing in new leadership, IT resources, operational racking and more, as required by high-growth.

She had to make tough decisions about where Thirty-One Gifts was going to get that cash and how much it would cost, while educating herself to fully understand the options and risks. Monroe and others also kept a close eye on the cash flow.

Over the past couple of years when the growth did begin to slow, Monroe made another tough decision. She had to downsize and let employees go — in order to right size the business.

She says her CFO and executive team supported her and helped recommend where to cut expenses, whether that was people or other areas.

“(It was) some of those nice-to-haves that, you know, are really great when you’re growing and you’ve got that extra cash coming in,” Monroe says, “but you have to tighten down sometimes.

“We’re very healthy financially as a company, but it’s because we made some of those difficult decisions.”

Managing with precision

Every business has its highs and lows, and at Thirty-One Gifts the growth has slowed to a more manageable level.

With that change Monroe says she had to shift into a different way of leading her team, getting them excited about slower growth that’s very achievable with just a few tweaks to the key performance indicators.

“I don’t expect, or I don’t even desire, to ever be growing at 200 and 300 percent year over year again,” she says. “It’s kind of nice to be able to say, ‘OK, let’s plan a 15 percent growth, and to really be able to manage it.’”

She wants to get back to the basics that helped drive the growth in the first place — the passion, building relationships with the sales force and marketing.

With so much momentum, Thirty-One Gifts didn’t have to do much marketing, so now Monroe wants to be strategic about where they focus and grow.

The company recently bought a jewelry line that it will integrate into its product package, and is expanding in Canada.

A data warehouse management system now provides better intelligence. The company is making sure it has people who can not only pull that data, but also help analyze it to dig into trends and what’s really driving the business.

Monroe says they are also outsourcing more tasks that are only required occasionally, like extra marketing during a catalog changeover, which provides more flexibility.

“They say don’t build a church for Easter Sunday,” she says.