When three Murrah High School alums gathered for a 50th birthday celebration, a joking comment about working together led to a serious decision: they decided to go into business together.
“All of our gifts are a little bit different and they meld beautifully,” said Jolyne Shirley of Budget Blinds of Jackson.
The timing was right. Jan Connors had returned to Jackson to care for her mother. Kacky Darnell’s youngest child was approaching driving age. Jolyne Shirley was mulling a career change.
All were high achievers. An avid golfer, Connors boasted two holes-in-one. Darnell had presided over the Delta Gamma sorority at Ole Miss. And when Shirley was a struggling actress in New York, she won a $10,000 Pyramid TV game show.
“Mike Ferrell was my partner and he was wonderful,” Shirley recalled, with a laugh. “I still remember the clues were: a refrigerator, a toaster and a newborn baby. Then Mike repeated those three clues and the answer was: things with a cord. Isn’t that fabulous? I couldn’t believe it myself!”
With these three ladies sharing such a contagious enthusiasm for life, it was a cinch to collaborate in a professional fashion. But getting together took a little ingenuity. Connors was living in Nashville while Shirley and Darnell were leading busy lives in Jackson, caring for three children each. Of Shirley’s three daughters, the youngest attends Eastside Middle School in Clinton and the oldest is enrolled in the Mississippi School for Math & Science. Darnell’s three sons range from 15 to 28.
“We’d see each other when we could, but what brought us all together was my 50th birthday,” said Connors. “I wanted to have a party for myself and invite my friends. We were trying to figure out a place to go in March. I thought they might want to go to the Caribbean to get away from the winter weather, but one girlfriend from Oregon and another from Jersey wanted to go to Memphis. So we spent the weekend in Tunica and had a blast.”
Connors, a telecommunications executive who had lived in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., New York and Detroit, initially working for IBM and most recently for Hyperion Solutions, had a vacation home at Hilton Head Island, S.C., and was living in a corporate apartment in Nashville, Tenn., when her mother became ill and she returned to Jackson. She spent months researching businesses to buy when she talked to a franchise consultant. She asked his opinion about The Cleaning Authority and Nationwide Floor & Window Covering.
Checking it out
“When he mentioned Budget Blinds, I said, ‘Come on. Why Budget Blinds?’ and he told me they have great products to sell, no inventory, no accounts receivable, no staff unless you want employees and no retail storefront,” said Connors. “Those were some pretty significant points and I decided it was worth checking into, so I called a number of franchisees who had some really great things to say about the company. They recouped their investment quickly, they received good support from national headquarters, and more importantly, they’d talked their family members into getting involved. In Minnesota, six members of one family have territories. I thought, wow, if they’re pulling in family members and friends, they’re happy.”
Meanwhile, Shirley had sold real estate for nearly a decade and “finally decided it was not for me,” she said. “I wanted to be careful not to jump into anything, so I didn’t work for eight or nine months. I prayed a lot about what to do next. Then Jan came up with this wonderful idea of opening a franchise.”
Working hard from the
‘big purple van’
Since Budget Blinds of Jackson’s official start date of August 1, Connors and Shirley have been busy traveling in their “big purple van” to homes and businesses, selling window coverings of all kinds: draperies, Roman shades, shutters, window film, awnings and blinds, while Darnell, the company accountant, “holds down the fort and keeps us in line,” said Shirley.
Even though they stay busy in the metro Jackson area, particularly in Brandon, Clinton, Madison and Ridgeland, the women recently equipped a nursing home in Wesson with window treatments. While there, the mayor walked over to greet them and asked about covering a couple of windows at city hall.
Already, average orders for Connor’s franchise have exceeded the company norm. Shirley recently introduced Budget Blind’s Realtor Rewards Program, which provides incentives for realtors and their clients.
“We don’t have a typical customer, and we haven’t had time to market to homebuilders or developers, yet we’ve been quite busy,” said Connors.
First-year projections are $800,000 to $1 million, said Connors.
“That’s optimistic, but I’m confident we can meet those projections,” said Connor. “We’re having too much fun doing it!”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.