How communication skills help Just Between friends have annual sales over $15MMarch 30th, 2011
In 1997, Just Between Friends was created in a living room in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when President Shannon Wilburn, a mother of two young children, and her friend Daven Tackett hosted a sale, while inviting 17 friends to be consignors. Promoted only in their neighborhood, the gross sales reached approximately $2,000. That’s when the idea caught on. Each season, a new, larger event was held. In 2003, Wilburn and Tackett formed Just Between Friends Franchise Systems, Inc., and began developing and selling franchises. Just Between Friends Sales are huge twice a year consignment sales events held throughout the country. Currently, they have 108 franchises in 21 states. They have received national attention on several national television shows including ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN, Headline News, Inside Edition and CNBC’s The Big Idea.
I met Shannon Wilburn in Tulsa at the Spark and Hustle Conference. Shannon is one of the featured speakers on Tory Johnson’s Spark and Hustle Tour, 3 day intensive business development conferences for women entrepreneurs. Her energy and enthusiasm are magnetic. As a communication skills consultant/trainer, I was greatly impressed with her excellent presentation skills and her ability to engage and connect with each person she met. I interviewed her about how communication skills play a key role in her success as a business owner.
1. Thea: What are the characteristics of a successful Just Between Friends franchise owner?
Shannon: The same characteristics of other successful business owners. Someone is who relational in personality, with a strong sales background, who is not afraid to talk about the business. It is also important to have someone who is analytical and detail-oriented. The person needs to be a “doer,” someone who will execute activities. We tell our franchisees, “if you build it, they will NOT come.” Franchisees have to market the sales and spend significant time behind the scenes doing work. We provide support to the franchisees to create strong relationships with their consignors.
2. Thea: What is your communication plan for your franchisees?
Shannon: We strive to keep connected to our franchisees. We send out regular e-mail newsletters. Franchisees receive 32 hours of national training, an operations manual, monthly/bi-weekly webinars, 18 hours of on-site training, and an annual conference to support their success. We have a support staff of 8 team members who work with our franchisees. We have created Yahoo groups to foster relationships among the franchisees. This is especially helpful for our new franchisees who post questions and receive answers from more experienced franchisees. We are in the business of making others successful.
3. Thea: How do you maintain a successful business partnership and what role does communication play in your partnership?
Shannon: My partner and I are complete opposites and that helps. Daven is analytical and views things in black and white. I’m more vision oriented and see all of the sides of a situation. We have a clear division of responsibilities and we trust the other in her responsibilities. In communication, we know the traits of the other person. We each share our expectations with the other and strive to meet the other person’s expectations.
4. Thea: What communication tips do you have for building relationships with a customer base?
Shannon: Be very aware of how you are coming across, particularly in your writing. I always advocate “putting sugar on top.” I use smiley faces and lol in my e-mails. Since it’s a woman based business primarily working with women, I think it works. This allows people to take bad news more easily.
5. Thea: How important are training and conferences for your franchisees?
Shannon: They are huge! Each new franchisee receives 4 days of national training on how to run their franchise. Also, we have an annual conference at the end of each year. We time it so the franchisees can plan for their next year. When someone takes a risk and buys a franchise, they need to put in the time and effort to make the business successful. We can tell a big difference between those franchisees who attend the annual conference and those who don’t. Not only is the conference incredibly motivating, it also puts an emphasis on learning, training, and highlighting the practices of the top achievers.
6. Thea: When I met you, I was struck at what an ideal brand ambassador you are. What are your tips for others on how to share their brand/product?
Shannon: If you are a part of a company and you don’t have the passion to share about it, you are in the wrong business. With Just Between Friends, we are in the business of making others successful. I help people save money and make money. I am very happy to share about this with others. Don’t feel guilty about telling others about your business, if the business you are doing is worthwhile.
I’m always looking for ways to share information about JBF. Recently I went to the mall with my children. I brought 100 promo cards of the JBF Tulsa event with me to hand out. After we finished shopping, I told the children “we have to give all of the cards away before we can leave.” If you can’t sale your business, you shouldn’t be doing it.
7. Thea: What other communication tips do you have for business owners?
Shannon: You know your business and you need to focus on customer service. We’ve grown our business by word of mouth. You want your customers and partners to spread the word. If someone has a complaint about your business, address it. Recently, we had someone write about a negative experience on facebook. I responded personally and suggest that she follow up with the franchise owner. The franchise owner also provided an immediate response. It’s easier and cheaper to keep the customers you have than to get new ones.
Shannon Wilburn’s answers were consistent with what I have found working with clients over the years, she highlighted the importance of creating successful relationships. Annual sales of over $15 million are proof that her ideas and approach work. Communication along with hard work is the foundation upon which to grow a successful business.
To Think About:
Good communication comes from doing and taking action. What are you doing today to create relationships with customers, partners, and colleagues?