Shannon Wilburn | CEO, Just Between Friends

shannon wilburn

Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 1997, former Wildcat Shannon (McKnight) Wilburn and a friend had a crazy idea - they decided to host a consignment event with 17 of their friends. Shannon's goal was simple: She hoped to sell some of her children's clothes in order to purchase new clothes for her kids. Turns out, the idea was not so crazy after all.

I realize that the Lord has given me a unique opportunity in the marketplace and in media to provide a platform for His kingdom to break in. I never want to take that for granted.

Shannon and her friend sold $2,000 worth of clothing that day, so they decided to host another event and then another.

Today, Shannon is the co-founder and CEO of Just Between Friends, a national children's and maternity consignment franchise that has made Inc. magazine's list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies and was named one of Entrepreneur magazine's Top 500 Franchises. In 2012, Just Between Friends was one of only 75 companies nationwide to receive the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Blue Ribbon Award. In April, the company was featured in Kiplinger Magazine as "One of 8 Franchises Worth Buying."  

The franchise system did $25 million in sales last year alone, Shannon says. "I love the fact that 60 to 70 percent of that goes back out into the communities in which we have franchises. I love how that number affects those that are participating; it's money in their pocket," she says.

Nationwide recognition

JBF has received national coverage from ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN, Headline News, Inside Edition and CNBC's The Big Idea. The company also has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sacramento Bee, LA Times, Daily Oklahoman and broadcast outlets in more than 100 major cities across the country. Last month, Shannon filmed a segment for the Today Show that has yet to air.

"I can't believe that I get to wake up every day and do JBF," Shannon says. "I'm sure any entrepreneur would agree that there are good days and bad days, but you always have to hope and pray that the good days outweigh the bad. I often tell my franchisees that this is a feel-good business."  

Shannon believes in the value of true community, thus she works hard to give back. Every JBF event helps support local non-profits. Franchisees have contributed more than $7 million to local communities.

Road to success
Shannon calls herself an "accidental entrepreneur." Because she has a degree in elementary education, she faced a stiff learning curve when she began her franchise in 1997. She offers this advice to budding entrepreneurs.

Shannon's road to success took her from Abilene to Tulsa, Oklahoma. While at ACU, Shannon studied elementary education her freshman and sophomore years. Then in 1990, she married Mitch Wilburn, who had just graduated from ACU, and the couple moved to Tulsa to work with the Park Plaza Church of Christ. Mitch is now senior minister at the congregation.

Shannon finished her education degree in Tulsa and taught for a year and a half year before joining the ranks of stay-at-home mom. From a desire to help supplement the family income, her business was born.

Shannon says she gained valuable insights during her time at Abilene Christian.  

"ACU helped me to gain a perspective that there really is to be no separation between my spiritual life and secular endeavors," she says. "I realize that the Lord has given me a unique opportunity in the marketplace and in media to provide a platform for His kingdom to break in. I never want to take that for granted."

Purple and white legacy

Shannon's history with ACU runs deep. Her mother, Pamela Rhoads McKnight Willingham, and father, Douglas McKnight ('71) both attended the university.  

"My mom quit to work to put my dad through ACU," Shannon says. "My twin sister, Tara McKnight Seidman ('92), and I were born while my dad was still in school. They told us that we both got passed around at the ACU football games when we were infants. My twin sister is married to Chris Seidman ('92), and they serve at the Farmers Branch Church in the DFW area. 

"Sadly, my dad passed away after a 17-year battle with MS in 1998. My mom married Mike Willingham, who also attended ACU one year, and they have two daughters (now my sisters) who graduated from ACU: Melody Willingham ('05) and Shelly Willingham Jones ('94).

Shannon's sister-in-law, Susan Wilburn Newhouse ('95) and brother-in-law Jim Newhouse ('95) also graduated from ACU.

Shannon hopes the ACU legacy will continue with her own children, Jake, 18, and Ashton, 17.

"ACU provided us great relationships, ones that we still enjoy today, great memories and also a great legacy and love for the Lord that we hope will be passed on for generations to come," she says.

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Serving Local Schools
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ACU Teacher Education majors get hands-on with students at a local elementary school.