Thirty-One Gifts/Kanbrick Investments: What is the Story Here?

ON JULY 15, 2020, Katherine Chiglinsky splashed the news on Bloomberg; Thirty- One Gifts, founded by Cindy and Scott Monroe in 2003, a direct selling company, now had a new partner.

Kanbrick, the new investment firm founded by Tracy Britt Cool and Brian Humphrey, had taken a stake in Thirty-One Gifts. Kanbrick, recently founded in 2020, is brand new to private equity investment, and Thirty-One is their very first deal. For those of us who follow the direct selling model, we knew what the key questions would be: What’s behind the story? What is the story here?

Whenever privately held companies enter into agreements with each other, we may never know the story, but this is an attempt to tell the story from a perspective that has been closer than most. I was invited to share a perspective because the editors at Direct Selling News knew that I had served in Cindy Monroe’s advisory group for several years. While we engaged in the typical quarterly conversations, review of some reports, and business strategy, we were never involved in decisions relative to the financial investments or potential partnerships. However, through several years of evolvement, it became obvious that Cindy and Scott had a vision for Thirty-One that went beyond the offering of great products designed to fill the needs of women.

The quotes below, by Cindy Monroe, are lifted from the Thirty-One Gifts website, and they tell part of the story:

“I founded Thirty-One Gifts in 2003 with one simple goal in mind—to help women by giving them the opportunity to run their own successful business. That goal remains our No. 1 priority today.
“Not only do our fashionable, functional products make life easier—they also help independent business owners across the country support their families and reach their dreams.
“Over the past 15 years, our sales Consultants have held over 6 million parties. Along the way, we’ve also been blessed to give back to organizations that share our mission in North America and around the world.
“We all have a ‘why’—a reason for doing the things we do. Maybe yours is Family, Friends, Faith, Flexibility. Maybe it’s just having fun. Our why is to help you reach yours.”

Thirty-One Gifts has always been about empowering women as they introduced innovative products, marketing and selling them through a sales organization of independent consultants, utilizing a direct selling model. Tracy Britt Cool also has experience in leading a direct selling company. She worked for Berkshire Hathaway for over ten years, working directly under the tutelage of Warren Buffett and gaining the recognition of protégée. While at Berkshire Hathaway, she held a variety of roles, including financial assistant to the chairman, board member of Kraft Heinz, and chairman of several Berkshire Hathaway companies. Most notably, in 2014, she was tapped to become CEO of Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Pampered Chef, and… she was only 29 years old!

On September 19, 2019, DSN carried an article about Tracy stepping down. Noteworthy is what the DSN Staff wrote about Britt Cool at that time to describe her five-year tenure at Pampered Chef: “Over the last five years, Pampered Chef focused on rebuilding the foundation of the business and creating new engines for growth through a renewed focus on the independent consultant base, a refreshed brand, enhanced product innovation, expanded international footprint and significant digital channel growth. Following more than a decade of decline, the company has meaningfully grown sales and earnings over the last five years. It has grown into a strong and diverse business with more than 50 percent of Pampered Chef’s business now coming from digital sales, up from approximately 10 percent in 2014.”

In the same article, Warren E. Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, was quoted as saying: “Five years ago I asked Tracy to redirect and re-energize Pampered Chef. Direct selling was encountering new challenges, and Pampered Chef’s sales and earnings had been declining. Under Tracy’s leadership, major financial gains have been achieved. Even more important, our corps of consultants is rapidly growing and prospering. Tracy is handing Andrew (Andrew Treanor, the former COO who was elevated to CEO) a company infused with excitement and momentum.”

During her five years as CEO at Pampered Chef, Tracy focused on rebuilding the foundation of the business, innovation, expanded international footprint and significant digital channel growth. This was a lot to take on, and evidently, the type of challenge Tracy embraced. Following more than a decade of decline, Pampered Chef appears to have grown into a strong and diverse business. Pampered Chef has shared that more than 50 percent of the business now comes from digital sales, up from approximately 10 percent in 2014. Most significant about the previous statement is the growth in digital sales reported in 2019, well before COVID-19.

Doris Christopher, founder of the Pampered Chef had this to say about Tracy: “As a founder, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader and partner in rebuilding Pampered Chef than Tracy. She has played a critical role in leading the company’s transformation and building a strong team to continue our growth. I’m confident in Andrew’s leadership and Pampered Chef’s growth, and I’m excited for what Tracy will do next. I know she will be successful in building even more companies and will be a strong partner to founders, entrepreneurs and management teams.”

Tracy Britt Cool left the Pampered Chef to plan her next steps. She did not go back to Berkshire Hathaway. Her new investment company, Kanbrick, was looking for its first deal, and they chose Thirty-One Gifts. There are also clues to the answers to the questions we presented earlier: What’s behind the story? What is the story here?

When Tracy left Pampered Chef, digital sales had grown from 10 percent to 50 percent. Obviously, this would make it easier for Pampered Chef Consultants to share their products and build their businesses beyond a physical party plan sales environment. Pampered Chef is, or was, a party plan company.

Under Tracy’s leadership, Pampered Chef embarked upon a different future for a party plan company, a future that embraced more use of digital platforms in support of how products and services are marketed and sold to consumers.

The comments by Warren Buffett and Doris Christopher reveal clues when they refer to: “new excitement and momentum…the leadership and partnership Tracy brought to Pampered Chef.”

From this perspective, Thirty-One is a party plan company ready for innovation and possibly reinvention that will be accelerated by Tracy and her team at Kanbrick. Thirty-One,quite similar in many ways to Pampered Chef, is a family founded business, focused on strong principles and values along with innovative products and missions to empower women. Tracy knows this deal! The Thirty-One business family is expected to benefit from both acceleration and innovation. Elizabeth Thibaudeau, a seasoned executive with contemporary direct selling experience, has already been designated as the new chief executive officer at Thirty-One.

When I reached out to Cindy to capture a few more thoughts, she also shared:

“I believe that Thirty-One Gifts partnering with Kanbrick will bring new thinking and skills to an already strong brand and culture. I am most excited about the long-term commitment to growth and opportunities that this partnership can offer our Thirty-One consultants as well as our industry.”

Tracy also shared: “We created Kanbrick to provide business owners and founders a long-term home for their businesses. We are excited to welcome Thirty-One to Kanbrick. Thirty-One has a great history, strong brand, and a differentiated sales model, and we look forward to partnering to support the sales field to grow their businesses and to provide more opportunities to expand their selling opportunities digitally.”

I believe this story is another of the stories we will learn from. It is the beginning of a new story, and that is the real story!