Direct sales people market various product lines to co-workers, family, friends and acquaintances. Many rely on the industry’s most well-known sales and networking model: social gatherings that combine a casual party setting with a low-pressure marketing pitch. “Basi-
cally you just invite a few friends over come to your house,” said Punta and I Gorda consultant a resident Mona Chupein, a consulor Pampered Chef, a line of cookquipment for cooking and other products equipment products.
Products like cosmetics, food and jewelry have performed well in an economic downturn because of their affordability, consultants say. And the social sales model has also played in the industry’s favor during the recession, allowing consultants to meet and greet a steady stream of potential clients.
“The party is the best way to network and get your bookings,” said Fort Myers resident Lynn Anklam, a direct sales consultant for Tastefully Simple, a line of easy-to-prepare, gourmet foods and gifts. “If you just show up for work, whether making phone calls, throwing a party or an exposure event (like setting up a booth at a mall), that helps you get new leads and referrals.”
Since 2004, the Pampered Chef’s Ms. Chupein has traveled to nearly 200 households in Southwest Florida, performing cooking demonstrations for groups that range from a few 20-somethings at private Christmas parties to a few dozen at retirement homes. She also has a booth at the Punta Gorda Farmers Market on Saturdays.
There are 15.1 million direct salespeople in the United States and they earn 20 to 50 percent commission on average, according to the Direct Selling Association. The majority work part-time and many are content to earn a few hundred dollars per month. The average yearly income of direct salespeople is $2,400. Others make it a full-time profession, some staying with a company for decades, building networks of recruits and making six-figure incomes.
“I’m a very, very busy direct seller,” said Naples resident Valorie Morris, who left her job as a manager at a department store to go into direct sales. She’s been a consultant for Jewels By Park Lane for seven years. “It’s a career path I’ve chosen,” she said. “I quit my job and threw myself into direct sales. All the perks are huge. I earned cars and trucks and have been all over the planet on vacations.”
Direct sales jobs have low start-up costs (kits cost between $99 and $150), flexibility, and little obligation. For some it is a way to earn extra income during the economic downturn or for a stay-at-home mom to find social outlets.
“I was looking to get back into the workforce,” said Michele Ivanov, a direct sales consultant for Arbonne International, who began in May and already has nine recruits under her. She also has two children, ages seven and eight. Ms. Ivanov’s decision to go into direct sales was based on “the flexibility to do this around my family schedule, to start a business for low start-up costs compared to what other franchises would cost me,” she said. “I’m very happy with the choice I’ve made.”
Direct Sales is a female dominated profession. The DSA records show only 13.6 percent of direct salespeople are men. Ms. Morris remembers one of her friend’s husbands once did well selling Tupperware. “They are a rare bird,” said Ms. Morris. “It’s a big-time female dominated business. When there is a man that comes in he usually skyrockets to the top because women like to party with men.”
At direct sales parties, guests generally get some free goodies and demonstrations in return for their attention. Hopefully they make a purchase or — better yet — are recruited to sell the product line themselves. The most successful direct sales consultants manage people they recruit, and earn commissions on those sales.
“It’s very low key,” said Ms. Ivanov, with Arbonne. “If I see they have the qualities and what it takes to be successful, I tell them, ‘I’d love to have you on my team. I’d love to share the opportunity and tell you about it. Loving the products is really the beginning, then wanting to improve yourself, wanting to start a business, just wanting to do something else.”
Building a team means earning more money, and in most companies titles like “district manager,” “area manager,” and “vice president.” “I have a nice size team so when I go on vacation they’re still working, and I have an income from that as well,” said Fort Myers-resident Ms. Anklam, 53. She has made her living as a direct salesperson
since 1983 and has been with Tastefully Simple for seven years.
“You know, 25 years ago if you said you did direct sales, people looked at you like it’s not a job,” Ms. Anklam said. “I think after they see your paycheck, then they think it’s a real job.” She quit her job as a banker more than a quartercentury ago after one of her friends, a direct saleswoman, threw three parties in her neighborhood. “I remember adding them up and thinking, ‘my God that woman made $2,500 in one week,” she said.
Making a living through direct sales isn’t always easy. Ms. Morris, with Jewelry by Park Lane, estimates only one out of ten potential clients says ‘yes’ to hosting a party. “When you first start out the ‘no’ is horrible,” she said. “But once you’re in it long enough you realize that the ‘nos’ are part of the business and it gets you closer to the ‘yeses.’”
Pampered Chef consultant Ms. Chupein is like most direct salespeople. She covets the freedom that the work offers. As an independent contractor, she runs the business on her own time while homeschooling her children. And she has fun at the parties.
“I do a thirty minute incredible chicken show,” she said, featuring a stone baking pot. “Some of our consultants call it ‘the magic pot.’ I put a whole chicken in (the magic pot) — it’s one of our stoneware pieces — throw some seasonings on it, one of the ones we offer, and I just put the chicken in the microwave for 30 minutes and it’s juicy. It falls apart.”
Arbonne consultant Ms. Ivanov prepared to travel from Naples to a home in Fort Myers last Friday evening to put on a demonstration at a small party. She was toting some of the all-natural cosmetics and skin-care products she promotes.
“We’re going to do some facemasks and some handscrubs and talk about the products and the opportunity and that’s it,” she said.
Later, she met the three young women. They hung out together for a couple of hours, opened some wine, tried on a tingly facial mask, and browsed the Arbonne catalogue. “It’s a numbers game,” said Ms. Ivanov. “In a down economy, the business model still works. You just have to make more phone calls.”