Sunday, November 7, 2010

Birth of a Saleswoman

My mother has a white porcelain plate with a maroon figure of a woman in the center. I don’t know if it’s Wedgwood or Haviland, but I know who distributed it: Avon. It was given to my Great-Grandmother Ceil McCoy after years of service to the company in the position known as Avon Lady.

The modern Avon Lady is now the college student selling the company’s brand Mark, a line of cosmetics which, because I am not a college student, I have never actually seen. It’s reportedly more expensive than Avon, and through the use of social media and a generation of energetic Mark Girls, it is taking campuses, sorority houses, and Facebook by storm. The New York Times article about Mark in January highlighted one Ohio State student making $800 a month in commission selling the products on campus and to high school students.

But, in the land of motherhood, Facebook and its cousins are harnessed to take traveling sales forces for other brands into the realm of domestic comfort—making house parties at night as common as play dates in the morning. One of the best things about being at my stage of life is the ability to say “House Party” and not have it followed by a reference to a police raid. There might be a hole in the checkbook, or a few wine glasses to wash, but generally, these parties are most notable for being the fascinating progression of what happens when Brownie Wise's Tupperware party meets the twenty-first century.

In fact, people like Maria Baily, who runs BSM Media, have ushered in a new wave of marketing to moms—or what is called “Mom Engagement”, not only by giving brick and mortar companies outlets in the “Mommy Party” arena, but through her media creations designed to build audiences-- Mom Talk Radio,,; and through her books: Mom 3.0: Marketing with Today’s Mothers by Leveraging New Media & Technology, The Ultimate Mom, Trillion Dollar Mom$, and Marketing to Moms.

There seems to be no end to the direct sale universe—jewelry, prepared food, clothing, candles, hand bags and organizers, toys, cleaning products, cruise wear, skin care, dishes, pet food, and according to an article in Entrepreneur from 2007, home parties made up nearly 30% of this market. There’s probably a story here about what happens to a friendship when commission and cute monogrammed handbags enter the equation, and a bigger story about the overall impact this system has on women—from the ones who make the products, to those who sell them, to those who buy.

But, the story I am interested in right now is much more personal. How does a woman enter this market—taking on the responsibility of the inventory or financial investment with the hope that she’ll contribute to her family’s income and meet whatever other goals she might have—and succeed? And, how did one realize that after years of success, it was time to move on?  I interviewed a few Lunch Box Mom readers who have excelled in this field-- not only bringing home the bacon, but essentially selling the pan.

 Janice Dru: Discovery Toys
With company since 2009, promoted to Team Leader, fall 2010

How many kids you have? Jeremy Dylan (just over 15 months old), and another baby boy due March 2011.

Describe how you learned about the opportunity and why you decided it was a good fit: I learned of the Discovery Toys opportunity at a "Learning Through Play" workshop for new moms where a consultant presented some tips and ideas on how to interact with your children and help them during different developmental stages.

What was the initial investment of time and what was the initial or on-going investment of merchandise, etc in the monetary sense? In terms of cost, the initial investment was a kit that cost $125 plus shipping and tax. I actually only put down a $35 deposit my first month, and the rest of the kit was paid over the following two months....And I've invested in my business by paying for events where I can sell my inventory and meet new people -- but this is also optional.

What’s one thing that’s harder than you thought, or they suggested? The initial few months were more challenging than I expected, and I probably spent more hours preparing for parties and events than I thought I would. However, the prep time has been going down as I've developed my own system based on training and practice -- and the dollars per hour that I earn have increased over the last year with the business.

Do you have any advice for other mothers thinking of taking on this kind of business? I think finding a company and product that you can be passionate about is key to starting a successful home-based business. Also, being persistent and having a willingness to learn are key qualities that will help you succeed. You may not know everything about running a business, or you may not feel comfortable talking to people -- but as long as you are motivated and are open to trying new things, you can do well at a party-based business. Another important aspect is to find people who you enjoy working with -- having a supportive team that you can reach out to will make the job so much  easier and more fun.

Kari Forwood:  Thirty-One, Personalized organizers, totes, handbags, accessories.
Director with Thirty-One: sells products at home parties and vendor shows and trains and mentors a team of 30 other women. Joined October 2009.

How many kids you have? Two children, Ashley (5) and Charlotte (2)

Describe how you learned about the opportunity and why you decided it was a good fit: I first discovered Thirty-One at a vendor fair at my daughter's preschool. I was immediately drawn to the products (purses, totes, wallets, and some home accessories) because of their versatility and affordability. And they were very cute. Then I learned that Thirty-One is a faith-based company that began only six years ago, and the name refers to Proverbs 31 in the Bible, which describes the virtuous wife. The company's main goal is to celebrate, encourage and reward women for all the wonderful things that they do (and that are often overlooked). I connected with the faith-based aspect of the company and thought that it was truly a different type of home-party business. Additionally, the idea that the company was so new and had so few consultants in New Jersey (only forty at the time) was very attractive. For all of these reasons, and for the fact that it was only $99.00 to start, I thought that it would be a good fit for me and for my family. I am a stay at home mom and I want to remain one - but it is difficult to live on one salary. I thought that Thirty-One would provide enough money for the little extras that we wanted (extracurricular activities for the girls, a date night every once in a while, etc.)

 How many hours a week do you spend on your Thirty-One work?
I spend about twenty hours a week now, because I am actively training a team. I have daily office hours when my team can contact me with questions. I also perform one-on-one mentoring, send email training, facilitate conference calls and work with another director to plan and run team meetings for those consultants who live in our area. When I was just doing parties, I would spend about three hours a week, booking and planning parties, entering orders and working on marketing. I love this job because I decide how much I want to put into it.

What’s been one thing about the job that has surprised you? The possibilities.  I never expected to have a team, especially a team of thirty women. I find that women at my parties love the products, and they hear how the company has blessed my life and they want to be a part of it. My team has increased my income, because I receive a percentage of their sales. More importantly, my team has increased my job satisfaction, because I am helping others achieve their goals for their families. I was a teacher before I was a stay-at-home mom, and I feel that training my team fills that teacher role in my life. (OK, so it's not Shakespeare, but I am teaching something!) I love to encourage the women on my team to set goals and then help them accomplish them through Thirty-One. I also enjoy rewarding them and celebrating their successes with them.

Jenny Rasmussen: Thirty-One
Independent Consultant for Thirty-One since May of 2010

Annika (10 mos), modeling the Holiday Toss Large Utility tote
among other items...

How many kids you have and age(es):2 kids: Elena, 4 and Annika 10 mos

Describe how you learned about the opportunity and why you decided it was a good fit:
My husband is in the Army, and Thirty-One products were very popular at Ft. Benning. I came late to one party, loved the stuff I saw and put in a large (for me) order. A few months later, I learned one of my preschool mom friends casually sold and I needed a few more baby gifts, so I ordered again. Then I realized that instead of buying from her, I could be buying from me...The initial reasons I joined - it was an inexpensive investment and at that time they were offering a rebate for the full investment if you qualified quickly. I'd just had a baby and given up my super part time job (40 hours a month) that gave me adult interaction. I knew with moving (we moved in June for a one year stay in Rhode Island) that I would need something to push me to meet people and make friends fast. I also knew that the company was young, growing fast and few people in Rhode Island knew about the products. I loved that I looked at the catalog and instantly thought of people who could use them. It's made Christmas gift giving easier. I'm not a cook and I don't have a gorgeously decorated home, but bags, organizers and purses? Sign me up!

What’s one thing that’s harder than you thought, or they suggested? I hadn't anticipated my struggle to make everyone happy. So I get really nervous when people get their orders. I want everyone to like their stuff as much as I do-- and if they don't, I have to remember not to take it personally.

Any advice for other moms thinking they might take on a job like this—whether with Thirty-One or with another vendor that has house parties and shows in homes: This is my one and only direct selling experience. I don't even think I sold Girl Scout cookies. (I did work retail but this is a little different.) You have to be willing to ask family and strangers to host a party for you. Think first if that makes you uncomfortable. My family was the type that bought all the magazines instead of selling door to door or to coworkers. The bolder you are, the more you succeed. And someone told me you have to be willing to hear "no" or "maybe" nine times until you get the tenth that says yes.

Bena Long, CAbi Consultant
Concluding final season with clothing line CAbi

When did you decide to be a CAbi representative? What moved you to become one?

I decided to represent CAbi (Carol Anderson by Invitation) when all of the financial and business data coordinated with my need to expand my ‘edges.’....What moved me to work with CAbi was the opportunity to work with a team of people. I would be joining a team of people throughout the United States (instant colleagues) and I was bringing a rookie on with me, so the fun of an instant team to learn and lead with. The other  reason was the fun of developing new relationships with extraordinary women who partnered with me to host shows.

What’s been the best part of the experience?
The " learnings." There were many including finance, business, relationships, and most importantly reaffirming my purpose and the dedication and time necessary to be a family, to attend to the care and raising of my son, and to my own life’s work and practice of inner energetics.

What skills did you have that made you successful?
Love. Yes, when it comes to relationships, it is my love for whomever I am working with that makes it work! Then my skills in retail business ventures (18 years).

This is your last season with CAbi. When did you decide it was time to move on? How did you come to that decision?
My other interests were expanding. My work consulting in stress management and the ‘no sweat work out.’ is growing. University teaching positions opened up and client work with colleagues in the corporate consulting world were getting deeper. This work always was my first priority. (After being a mom). So, I needed to decide what was most important and what was most fulfilling. My traveling for consulting picked up and it made managing everything impossible (nearly a mess). It reached a point that a decision needed to be made so as fun and financially rewarding as CAbi is, my heart was elsewhere.

I would like to thank Janice Dru, Kari Forwood, Jenny Rasmussen and Bena Long
for being a part of this post.
These interviews were done via email and edited to fit the space of  the blog.
The photo of lipstick is from Wikimedia Commons: posted by: KaurJmeb

If you received this through email, now's a great time to visit the blog page,
which is sporting a new look and a few new features.


frannie said...

I sell Tupperware and it is one of the best decisions I ever made! I would have NEVER thought this would be something I would do, but it has been amazing for me!

Great post!

Tim Morrissey said...

I have a friend who has a 2-year-old who does "Tastefully Simple" parties. She's getting out of it at the end of the year; says it's too many hours and not enough return. I've forwarded your excellent post to her.

Judee said...

I sold Avon for about 5 years when my kids were little.( My oldest is 33) I went to monthly meetings, conversed with other adults, walked the neighborhood with the carriage, got to know my neighbors and made a little money. It was a great outlet and I enjoyed it.