By Emily Bregel
In the past two years, a Chattanooga-based direct sales business has experienced such exponential growth that its space needs have tripled.
Thirty-One Gifts recently moved its 20 employees into 7,200 square feel of leased space on Old Hixson Pike from a 2,400-square-foot location on Middle Valley Road.
Founded in 2003 by Chattanooga native Cindy Monroe, the company posted sales of nearly $1.34 million last year, compared to their first full year in 2004 when sales were $121,000.
"I think we're kind of in awe about it," Mrs. Monroe said.
The company's consultants lead in-home sales parties geared toward women. Attendees can purchase products ranging from monogrammed tote bags, to jewelry, to home decor items.
The number of Thirty-One consultants has grown from 146 to almost 700 in a year, the company said.
Mrs. Monroe earned a marketing degree from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga in 1998. After graduation, between raising two children and working at Unum, Mrs. Monroe said she realized how little free time she had.
She envisioned a business that would have flexible schedules for its employees and prioritize giving women due recognition for their hard work.
The name of the faith-based company, "Thirty-One," is a reference to Proverbs 31, she said, about the virtuous woman who worked inside and outside the home and deserved a lot of praise, Mrs. Monroe said.
"Women get so wrapped up in going to work, kids and responsibilities, that you really don't have time to hang out," she said.
Mrs. Monroe and company vice president, Julie Sutton, said they invested about $10,000 to start their business.
The direct selling industry has outpaced the retail industry's rate of growth for much of the past decade, said Amy Robinson, spokeswoman for the Direct Selling Association in Washington, D.C. The trade association was founded in 1910 to support companies such as Avon, Mary Kay and Pampered Chef.
In-home sales parties are increasingly popular, Ms. Robinson said.
"I think the opportunity to get together with like-minded individuals is really appealing because we're all so busy," she said. "Who doesn't want an excuse to kick off your shoes and shop?"
Thirty-One Gifts' customers who opt to host a party in their home get free products and have the option of becoming a consultant themselves. For $99, new consultants get enough supplies to run six shows, Mrs. Monroe said.
"They are essentially starting their own business. They're not employees of ours," she said.
Soddy-Daisy resident Jenny Hillenburg, a mother of three, was Thirty-One Gifts' first consultant and is now the company's senior director. She said she works 20 to 25 hours a week and has earned $22,000 since September.
"I just wanted to kind of get out of the house and have some fun for me. And making a little bit of a financial contribution to the family was helpful," she said.
Mrs. Hillenburg said she makes a commission off the consultants she recruits, earning 5 percent of their sales per month. She also said she earns 3 percent of the sales coming from her recruits' recruits.
Company sales for 2007 are expected to hit $3.4 million, Mrs. Monroe said.
If growth continues, Thirty-One Gifts will likely move to bigger space in two years, but will keep the company headquarters in Chattanooga, she said.
E-mail Emily Bregel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff Photo by Brett Clark
From left, Elizabeth Sutherland, Carrie Wright and Amy Herndon look at catalogs at a Thirty-One Gifts party at Miss Sutherland's home.