Shannon Wilburn is the co-founder and CEO of Just Between Friends, North America's leading children's and maternity consignment sales event franchise. Her business is so much more than a big sale - it’s changing lives for her franchisees, and for those who live in their communities.
Listen above to hear her inspiring story, or continue reading for more.
Shannon’s business story goes all the way back to her childhood in Midland, Texas, where her father was CFO of an oil and gas company. Her family was living the high life - living in a beautiful custom home, shopping at high-end stores in Dallas, and enjoying family vacations all over the country.
Things took a turn when Shannon was just twelve years old and her family was on a ski trip. Her father started experiencing some numbness in his legs on the trip, and was soon diagnosed with a very serious form multiple sclerosis. In just six weeks, he went from being able to ski, to having to use a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair.
He could no longer perform his job, and went from earning six figures to being on disability insurance. Shannon’s mother wasn’t able to get a professional job without a college degree.
Their world was turned upside down. The family moved from their large home to a smaller rental, and were shopping consignment instead of driving to the high end malls and shops in Dallas.
Fast forward to adulthood. Shannon married the love of her life - a youth minister, and while they certainly weren’t living in poverty, she continued shopping consignment. It just made financial sense, especially after she had children and they were outgrowing clothes, gear, and toys so quickly.
Shannon wanted to stay home with her children, but also wanted to contribute to her family, so she asked her mother to keep an eye out for opportunities to make money from home.
One day, some of the women her mom worked with returned from their lunch breaks with tons of bags, showing off items they’d found at a consignment event in Fort Worth. Her mom called her that afternoon, saying, “Shannon, you have to hear about this! I know that you already shopped consignment, but this is an event, it's not a storefront.”
Shannon’s mother didn’t have a lot of information since she didn’t attend the event herself, but thought it could be a potential opportunity for her.
Shannon called her friend Daven Tackett, a serious bargain hunter, to ask if she thought it was an idea worth pursuing. Daven not only thought it was great, but wanted to do it with her. Just like that, Just Between Friends was born.
Just Between Friends started in Shannon’s home, when she and Daven convinced 17 of their friends to come and sell their gently-used children’s clothing out of her living room. It was 1997, and this was their first sales event.
At the end of the day, they sold $2,000 worth of merchandise, and Shannon and Daven each took home $150. Shannon says it was the hardest $150 she’s ever made, and was questioning if it was really worth all that work.
But, she soon was hearing from the families who participated as consignors, asking when they were going to do it again. Shannon knew they were meeting a need and were onto something that could be big.
They held another sale six months later, and another six months after that. Word spread by mouth - Shannon and her family members spread the word through their community and annual Christmas cards, and families who bought or sold items told their friends.
People across the country were beginning to express interest and were asking how they could have an event in their cty. By 2003, Just Between Friends had 10 locations between Texas, Colorado, California, and Oklahoma, and Florida.
With the concept gaining so much steam, Shannon and Daven found themselves needing to systematize the business. They were answering the same questions time and time again, and it was getting tiring.
When Shannon described frustration this to a friend, he asked whether she’d ever considered turning Just Between Friends into a franchise. Shannon didn’t know much about franchising, but her friend made it sound so easy, saying she just needed to hire a franchise attorney and create an operations manual.
Of course, the process of turning her business into a franchise turned out to be much more complicated than those two steps, but Devan and Shannon took the plunge and Just Between Friends was soon a franchise.
Today, there are over 150 franchisees running Just Between Friends events all over the country. They’ve become huge events in spaces ranging from 5,000 to 75,000 square feet, serving over one million families. Items are highly organized, and include gently used children’s and maternity clothes, toys, and baby equipment.
“The concept is you get it all done under one roof,” Shannon says, “No hopping to the thrift stores, no hopping to the garage sales, no meetups or picking up stuff off people's front porch, or meeting at the local gas station to pick up something from Facebook marketplace.”
Now that Shannon has over 150 franchisees, she’s learned a lot of lessons she can pass on to women seeking to own or invest in a franchise concept, whether it’s her own business or another brand.
First, she says that women seeking to purchase a franchise need to be aware that they’re coming into a system with rules.
“It’s like coming into a family who already has the rules set,” Shannon says, “If you make the decision to join the family, you have to look at the rules and see if they’re something you feel like you can do, and if it’s something you feel like you want to be a part of.”
Another piece of advice she has is to explore franchisee satisfaction. If franchisee aren’t satisfied with the brand, you need to uncover the reason behind it.
Just Between Friends measures its franchisee satisfaction through an annual survey by Franchise Business Review, which measures things like core values, leadership, financial return, technology, marketing and branding, and training and support. Brands who participate in the surveys can share their results with franchise candidates, and FBR publishes a list of the top franchises each year.
What if you’re looking at a franchise that doesn’t participate in these surveys? That’s not necessarily a red flag. It costs several thousand dollars to participate, so maybe the brand you’re looking at isn’t ready to put that money toward the survey yet.
If you can’t find satisfaction information through Franchise Business Review, Shannon recommends digging in really deep during validation, the step in the sales process where you can speak with current and former franchisees.
It’s essential you ask more than just financial questions (although those are important, too). Ask them about their leadership, ask them about the training and support, ask them about marketing. If they’ve left the brand, ask why.
Another thing to keep in mind is that very young brands tend to have very high satisfaction rates because they haven’t gone through any difficult times yet. Shannon describes these brands as still being in the “honeymoon phase.” Again, this isn’t a red flag, but something to be aware of when doing your research.
Every franchisor is searching for franchisees with different strengths, but there are some skills that are important for franchisees to possess no matter the brand. For Shannon, these skills are:
Many brands’ ideal candidates are skilled in more than one of the areas listed above. The strongest Just Between Friends franchisees, for example, are highly skilled in marketing and operations.
From there, many brands have more specific qualities or skill sets they’re searching for in their franchisees. “What we're looking for is someone who can operate an event and market the heck out of it, because that's what it's going to take in our brand,” says Shannon.
“Now, if you're looking at a different brand, maybe they need you to be great at finance and great at administration. You need to look at that and think, okay, is this the right fit for my personality and my skill set?”
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again - franchising is all about fit. So, it’s essential you make sure your skills align with those needed to thrive in the brand.
The number one reason franchises and other types of businesses fail is because of a lack of capital. So, franchise candidates must first ensure they have the financial wherewithal to make the initial investment in the business, and then enough to keep them going until they become cash flow positive.
For reference, Just Between Friends’ franchise fee is $17,900, and it takes about 6 months before a franchisee is ready to hold her first event, which is a franchisee’s first opportunity to bring money home.
But, another resource women thinking of buying a franchise have to consider is time. Will you have the time to do all of the research required before buying the franchise? Will you be able to balance business ownership with your family life, or even another full time job?
Shannon recommends having a frank conversation with your spouse or significant other before making a buying decision. “I really encourage couples, especially married couples, to talk about their expectations when it comes to business ownership,” she says, “See the hours that are going to be needed, and whether it’s really time they think they can put into it.”
Just Between Friends is a relatively flexible franchise concept, because you can work around your own schedule except for when it comes to the actual sales event. Even so, owning a Just Between Friends is a business, not a hobby, so franchisees should expect to work about 20 hours per week during the off-season, and 40+ hours per week for the 6-8 weeks prior to the event.
Lastly, Shannon recommends any woman thinking of buying or investing in a franchise set goals for herself. Ask yourself what you want to achieve by purchasing a franchise? What do you want your life to look like?
If you’re not focused on where you want to go, it’s hard to tell whether a brand is the right fit. “When you’re looking at particular franchises to buy or businesses to open,” Shannon says, “Make sure your participation in that brand is going to get you to those goals.”
If your goal is to make an impact on your community, Just Between Friends could be the brand for you.
One of our favorite qualities of the Just Between Friends brand is its commitment to its values. The franchise’s mission is, “to glorify God by bringing communities and families together in a welcoming, friendly venue that allows them to care for children and be good stewards of what they have been given.”
The business hasn’t just changed the lives of the over 150 franchisees who are now empowered business owners. So many others have benefitted, too.
First, over 1 million families have been served through Just Between Friends sales events.
The company’s social impact really hit home for Shannon last time she was running a register at Just Between Friends’ Tulsa event. It was the last day of the event, where everything is sold for 50% off. These days draw a bit of a different demographic of people than earlier days of the events.
A young pregnant woman who looked about 17 years old came through Shannon’s line, all alone, with a bag of bottles, some burp cloths, and three onesies. Shannon rang it up, and the total came to $10.80. The woman looked embarrassed - she hadn’t included the sales tax when picking up the items, and didn’t have the money to cover it.
Shannon helped her cover the difference, and then later ran to the back of the event in tears. She really realized that not everyone has the opportunity to buy retail, and some people can’t even afford consignment prices until they’re discounted even further.
It feels so satisfying for both Shannon and her franchisees that they’re able to help people in need, giving them an opportunity to provide for their families however they can.
“When you look and see the families that you’ve helped save so much money that they’re able to send their child to school, and they’re not in high-water pants so they won’t get made fun of” Shannon says, “That’s something many of use take for granted - just being able to give your child a little bit of dignity.”
Consignors also benefit by recouping some of the money they paid to purchase their clothing, toys, and gear at face-value. One mother Shannon met saved the money she made from Just Between Friends events for three years, and was able to bring her family to Disney Land with those earnings.
With over 150 franchisees and counting, Just Between Friends’ impact will only continue to grow.