Shannon Wilburn of Tulsa, Okla., is no stranger to being thrifty. "I had grown up shopping consignment," she says, "so it was just natural that when I got married, I would shop consignment for my own children."
In an effort to earn extra cash while staying home with her kids, Wilburn and friend Daven Tackett turned to consignment once more. Using clothing racks pulled from a mall dumpster and signs made from used plywood, they held their first children's and maternity consignment sale in 1997 in Wilburn's living room. Seventeen consignors sold $2,000 worth of merchandise--earning the two women a profit of $150 each.
It was supposed to be a onetime thing, but customers and consignors kept asking when the next sale would be. So Wilburn and Tackett kept at it. They held sales in a three-car garage, a gymnasium and, finally, at the local fairgrounds, selling new and "gently used" clothing, toys, baby gear and more.
As sales grew, so did requests to replicate the business, which they dubbed Just Between Friends. Once they allowed friends and family to use their name and business model, even more people expressed interest, assuming the operation was a franchise. "I didn't even know what franchising was," Wilburn admits. But after some research, in 2004 she and Tackett made the decision to go that route.
"Our goal was to sell 10 franchises a year," says Wilburn, who is now the sole owner of the system. (Tackett continues to operate Just Between Friends of Tulsa.) "In 2009, right after the economy tanked, we sold 30. People who wanted to take their future into their own hands started looking at franchising, and this is such a recession-friendly franchise. If the economy is great, we're doing well, and if the economy is bad, we're doing well."
Today there are 124 Just Between Friends franchisees in 24 states. The vast majority are owned by women, from stay-at-home moms to those wanting to leave the corporate world. And like their customers, they're bargain hunters. Just Between Friends allows them to organize their first event for less than $34,000, which covers training, insurance, equipment, supplies and marketing.
Though sales are held only two or three times a year, Just Between Friends does require an investment of time. "Like any other business, you need to work it year-round," Wilburn says. "Our franchisees that do so are way more successful."