Shannon Wilburn, co-founder and president of Just Between Friends
Published April 16, 2021

Why Just Between Friends Went From Doing a Free Survey to Buying the Results

Co-founder Shannon Wilburn recalls the “a-ha” moment when she realized she was missing out on the goldmine of franchisee feedback in her FBR survey

FBR president & COO Michelle Rowan recently talked with Shannon Wilburn, co-founder and president of Just Between Friends, the the leading pop-up consignment sale franchise in North America and an FBR Hall of Fame award winner for franchisee satisfaction. Just Between Friends started surveying their franchisees in 2009 using FBR’s free survey option. Shannon talks about the turning point when she realized she was missing out on valuable feedback from her franchisees by not opting in to receive the full survey results.

Watch the Interview:


Shannon Wilburn: I was attending a round table, and I had strategically gone to this round table because Melanie Bergeron was leading it. I had no idea what the topic was, but it came around to us talking about feedback from our franchisees.

This was when we had signed on with Franchise Business Review, maybe two years or three years prior, to get feedback from our franchise owners. We’ve been working with Franchise Business Review now for 11 or 12 years.

It was specifically so we could get in the ranking. That was my motivation back then, “We need to be in this ranking. Let’s try. Let’s see what our franchise owners say, if they’re satisfied or not. Let’s see how we rank against everyone else.”

We did that for a couple of years – had our franchise owners take the survey. I sat at that table with Melanie Bergeron, and we were talking about feedback and she said, “If you’re not getting feedback from your franchise owners, you need to be doing that.”

I sat at that table with Melanie Bergeron, and we were talking about feedback and she said, ‘If you’re not getting feedback from your franchise owners, you need to be doing that.’

I said, “Well, we do the FBR survey.” She said, “Do you read the surveys?” I said, “We haven’t paid to get those results,” and she kind of shamed me. [laughs] She was like, “Shannon…you’re having your franchise owners fill out this long survey and you’re not reading their results?” I was like, “Oh, I need a spanking.”

Michelle: [laughs]

Shannon: She didn’t make me feel small on purpose or anything like that, but it was this turning point in my mind of, “There’s gold in them there hills.” The gold is knowing and understanding how your franchise owners perceive their business, and your support, your training, your leadership, your core values. All of that stuff.

The gold is knowing and understanding how your franchise owners perceive their business, and your support, your training, your leadership, your core values.

Because I’m an irrationally positive person, I can easily take a negative and turn it into a positive. If someone’s not doing well, I’m like, “Oh, that’s just them.” That was a turning point for our brand, specifically, Melanie. Someone who I adored and thought the world of because she started Two Men And A Truck.

She didn’t start it, her mom started it, but she was leading the brand at the time. She, a woman in franchising in a leadership position, telling me, “You need to be reading those. You’re not going to like what you read, so get a drink, count to 10, count to 100 after you read it, and then come back and do something about it.”

It was what we needed. It was what our brand needed to start focusing more on the satisfaction of our franchise owners, like, “Where are we failing? Oh my gosh, we got this comment? Oh my gosh.” Now, we do that annually, and we look at, I call it, the prevailing themes.

You’ve got all the franchise owners giving you their thoughts, opinions and feedback. It’s hard to read sometimes because you want to feel like you’re doing a good job for them, and you don’t…”Well that person must be mad,” because they said that comment or, “I know who this is,” [laughs] when you get a specific comment.

Going back and seeing our entire staff reads it, and we look at how we can work around the issues that show up in that annual survey. That was a turning point for me, specifically because Melanie Bergeron, someone who I adored of women in franchising, told me that I needed to care about it.

Michelle: What I’ve learned in my years of doing this is that it’s harder, these surveys are harder, for founders because you take them so personally.

What I say is, I think it’s harder for founders to pull the trigger and ask, and then to not take it personally because it’s your brand. It’s what you do and you care so much, that I always tell people, “This is their perception, and there might be things you need to do, but there are also might be conversations you need to have to realign.”

It’s coming from a place of, “These people care about the brand, they care about their return on investment.” It’s constructive in most cases. It’s very rare I read things that I’m like, “Oh, this person…you can’t turn this person around.”

I do appreciate that you talk about how hard it is. I want to ask you…You started working with Franchise Business Review in 2009. That’s a long time ago.

You surveyed four times for free before you bought the data, and I remember I would say this, I know that this will help you. I know this will help you. Now I know it was Melanie. I need to send her a thank you that she turned you around. I did not know that.

The other thing is I would say, too, on the Franchise Business Review front is, what’s the right size to do this, or did it need to happen when it happened because of your fast growth, or you felt like you didn’t know?

Usually, with founders, it’s, “I know my franchisees so well. I’m on the phone with them every day.” Was there some size or trigger in what was happening in your business that you needed that feedback at that moment?

Shannon: We started franchising in 2004, or started selling franchises in 2004. We had charter members in 2003. We didn’t hear about the International Franchise Association until 2007 when we were looking for a template‑based marketing platform.

Anyway, we went to IFA in 2007. We did not go to IFA in 2008 because we felt like we had gotten so much information in 2007 that we couldn’t possibly implement all of the ideas, and so we didn’t…

Michelle: You weren’t ready for more. [laughs]

Shannon: Watching our budget, of course, but now I’ve gone every year for the last 10 or 11 years. Now I’ve gone every year. In 2009 that was probably our second time to attend IFA. We probably met you at the vendor booth. Maybe we had 50 franchise owners at the time, or 40 franchise owners. I think we definitely could have started earlier had we known about you guys. But you just don’t know what you don’t know.

I think we definitely could have started earlier had we known about you guys.

I don’t even know that I was looking at the franchise owners at that time as my customers. I think there was this mentality that the end-users, the shoppers and the sellers were my customers.

But really, my mentality now is that the franchise owners are my customers. That’s who I do everything for, that’s who we support, that’s why we’re in business. If they don’t do well, we don’t do well.

Because I am a founder, and at that time, I was still operating my own franchise with Daven until 2011. We were running the Tulsa franchise and the franchise system together. And 2011 was when I took over as 100 percent owner of the franchise system and Daven was the Tulsa franchise owner – still co-founder of both companies.

I think you just learn, and you have to decide from a budget standpoint what your priorities are, and that should be a priority even if, and I hate to say this, even if you do your own survey, because you need to understand where your franchise owners are.

It’s definitely hard to ask, but you have to make yourself do it. Make a commitment to yourself. Make that one of your annual goals – that you’re going to survey your franchise owners on their satisfaction, and you’re going to read the information, and you’re going to do something about it.

It’s definitely hard to ask, but you have to make yourself do it. Make a commitment to yourself. Make that one of your annual goals – that you’re going to survey your franchise owners on their satisfaction, and you’re going to read the information, and you’re going to do something about it.

Michelle: I would say too, if you cannot afford FBR, or you’re not ready, I totally agree an internal survey is a great way to start. But by the time you put all your time and energy into it, you could have bought the data from FBR. [laughs]

Shannon: It’s easy. And then you can share it with applicants that are looking at your brand. It’s a great product.

Michelle: I’m so glad that you did it. We love having you as a customer, and I do know that you are so focused on supporting your franchise owners. It is truly a pleasure to work with you and it’s always a pleasure to see you.


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About the Author: Ali Forman

As the Marketing Director, Ali’s role is to educate franchise companies about and inspire them to participate in FBR’s research in order to grow and improve their brands. Ali lives in Maine with her husband and two sons.
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