Although I'm familiar with Just Between Friends, I am yet to attend the bi-annual event.
Held every spring and fall, the event is a consignment sale for children's and maternity wear. Having no kiddoes of my own (or any on the way), I had not ventured to attend the big event. I surprisingly discovered that the event holds its roots right here in Tulsa. While I had imagined it to be a big national event, which it is, it began as a small group of friends trying to get rid of outgrown kid's clothing and earn a little extra cash.
As the fall sale prepares to be the biggest consignment event in Tulsa, it's amazing that an idea that literally started just between friends has significantly grown to include thousand of Tulsans.
The idea for Just Between Friends began in September 1997. Shannon Wilburn was visiting her mother in Fort Worth when she overheard her mother's co-workers discussing a small consignment sale event. At the time, Wilburn was a stay-at-home mom to two young kids; her mom suggested she start a similar event in Tulsa.
Shopping at consignment shops when she was young, Wilburn called her friend Daven Tackett, who Wilburn described as being "thrifty and crafty." Tackett thought it was a great idea, and the two set off on starting up the event. The first event was held in Wilburn's 400-square-foot living room. There were 17 consignors and the clothing was setup on rolling racks found in a mall dumpster.
Wilburn and Tackett had taken care of everything themselves from printing out signs to tagging the items to even using Wilburn's kitchen drawers as cash drawers. The event turned out to be a success with $2,000 in sales. And it had everyone asking when the next event would be.
Tackett and Wilburn continued with what they called the Just Between Friends consignment sale. Integrating with technology, the event grew, moving from Wilburn's living room to a three-car garage then a church gymnasium until 2000 when the event finally hit the fairgrounds. Wilburn said there was initial concern over how they would fill the 15,000 square feet of space but said they have been blessed with the event's success; in 2008, the event made more than $1 million.
Just Between Friends has found success nationally as well. Although its largest event is in Tulsa, since January 2004, Just Between Friends has started 95 franchises in more than 20 states.
The idea to branch out started when friends and family decided they wanted to start a Just Between Friends event in their area. Wilburn and Tackett helped 10 people start the event. By then, Just Between Friends had a Web site (Wilburn took a web design class at Tulsa Community College) and she let them link to the site. Wilburn believed at that point they were franchising, but being self-admittedly not "business savvy," she and Tackett took the advice of those around them.
Although their lawyer was surprised to learn they wanted to franchise an event that only occurred twice a year, they began the paperwork.
Six years later, the franchise is growing. And more than just popping up around the country, the events have also gained headlines. It's been featured on Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch and ABCNews.com. In September, a segment will air on CNN.
Save and Shop
The Just Between Friends event is Sunday, Aug. 23 at the Exchange Center at Expo Square; it's being touted as the "biggest event yet." The more than 120,000 items will include gently used children's and maternity items (fall and winter clothing), shoes, baby equipment, baby, juvenile and household furniture, outside playground equipment, nursery and maternity items, books, software, videos and lots of toys.
The event works two ways: it offers families the chance to earn some cash quickly by selling new and gently used items they have outgrown while also allowing tens of thousands of families to save money on everything they need for their families.
The sale has drastically changed from those first years when Wilburn and Tackett hand tagged the items. Now, consignors sign-up online, creating bar coded tags for the items they sell. The Web site gives precise instructions for preparing the items and adding the bar code tags. Clothing has to be hung on the hanger in a certain direction and the tags placed in certain locations. There are lists of items great for selling and those that aren't accepted. All-in-all, this pre-work ensures that the sale is organized and easy for shoppers.
Consignors determine their own prices and can decide if they want the items to be discounted on the sale dates of the consignment sale. The tagging is the only work the consignor has to do. Once they drop off items, they can track online how much money they've made throughout the week. At the end of the event, they can pick up whatever was leftover or can choose to have it donated. A check comes in the mail a few weeks later.
The incentive for the shopper is obviously the unbelievable prices. Visiting the Just Between Friends sale means there is no need to shop overpriced mall and department stores, and no more running from garage sale to garage sale. It's all under one roof.
Wilburn said that the need to earn a little extra cash or to purchase children's necessities at a lower cost is so great now because of the economy. She said that she finds her job very rewarding and loves what she does.
But more than just providing on outlet for people to earn some extra money or to shop for necessities at lower costs, Just Between Friends also provides donations to Emergency Infant Services and Catholic Charities.
Consignors have the option to donate anything left after the sale. Wilburn said that Emergency Infant Services (EIS) was the ideal charity to work with because it "provides immediate access to access to needy parents enduring financial setbacks."
Most importantly, EIS cuts through the barriers of appointments, income qualifications, and complex paper work to provide immediate access to needy parents. Families across northeastern Oklahoma who are experiencing unemployment, illness, spousal and/or child abandonment or loss of home to a natural disaster can visit EIS up to four times a year and leave with necessities like diapers, baby food, children and maternity clothing, infant formula, medication, linens and hygiene items.
Wilburn said that EIS is seeing an increase in people using its services. No doubt because of the state of the economy, the amount of people the organization used to see in one week is now the amount of people visiting per day. The service, which began in 1977, has provided emergency services for more than 9,000 babies and young children per year.
There is a $3 admission fee on the first day of the event, but those who bring donations for Emergency Infant Services receive free admission; the Just Between Friends Web site suggests items like formula, diapers and baby food.
Tulsa's Just Between Friends event runs from Sunday, August 23 to Sat., August 29. Hours are from 1-7pm on Sunday and 9am-7pm Monday through Saturday. You can also expect markdowns (participation in the weekend discount is determined by each consignor); Thursday and Friday will bring some prices down by 25 percent and 50 percent off on Saturday.
The deadline to be a consignor for Tulsa's Just Between Friends event has already passed, but sales in Owasso and Broken Arrow are coming up later in the fall. To find out more information about participating in those sales or other Just Between Friends events, visit the Web site www.jbfsale.com or visit tulsa.jbfsale.com.
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