Direct and Home Party Sales Companies: Annoying, Empowering or Both?

Posted February 21, 2013 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

As a little girl, growing up in North Dakota, my mom was a stay-at-home mother until both my brother and I were in school full time. During that time, though, my mom was what the 1980’s branded “The Avon Lady.” She sold Avon products to women in the neighborhood, and I vividly remember riding with her as she delivered products to women around the neighborhood, filled out those carbon copies of order forms (of course, there wasn’t online ordering back then), and let me and my friends play with the tiny lipsticks she received as samples. I don’t remember my mother ever having or hosting an Avon party, but that certainly could have happened.

Today, “The Avon Lady” is not as prominent as she once was in our neighborhoods. But direct sales companies have grown enormously from being just Avon, Mary Kay, and Tupperware, to thousands of companies selling everything from business services to purses to jewelry, and much much more. And if you’ve made it to age 20, you’ve probably known someone or been someone who sold some of these products?

On my Facebook alone, I have friends who sell Pampered Chef, Stella and Dot, South Hill, Shakeology, Arbonne, Scentsy, and Meleluca. And truthfully, I’m probably missing a few more. So the question I have is this? Are these direct sale companies empowering? Or annoying?

Direct Sales: Empowering?

  • Who doesn’t want extra money? When you’re rising in your career, or perhaps staying at home with children, these direct sales companies can help you bring extra money into your household.
  • For someone like my mom, who wanted to be a stay-at-home mother while her children were small, Avon gave her the opportunity not just to make a few bucks, but to socialize and make friends. The women she sold Avon to became lifelong friends and they watched each other’s children grow up. This kind of outlet for a woman can be incredibly empowering.
  • If you speak with anyone who knows a lot about these kinds of companies and ask them if they’re good or bad, you’ll get the same answer: it depends on the company. There are many of these direct sales companies that are truly sales tactics for the parent company. They get so-called sales people to buy a ton of product, and give them very little return on sales. But others are really, truly doing it well. They’re empowering their sales people and making sure to give them a fair share of their sales dollars. So if you’re thinking of becoming a rep for any company, make sure you read reviews, talk to past and current sales people, and do your homework!
  • As a consumer, there are certain things I know I’m going to buy, and I appreciate buying them from someone I know and like and want to support their business. I know I love costume jewelry – long, dangly necklaces, and chunky earrings. I could run down to Nordstrom Rack and buy some Kenneth Cole or Kate Spade to stock my jewelry boxes, but I’d much rather help my friends who sell Stella and Dot, because I’ve been impressed with their product and I know my friends make good money from it.

Direct Sales: Annoying?

  • We’ve all seen it, once you’re on a mailing list, you just can’t get off of it. I’ve been on the mailing list of a Minneapolis-specific company for years, and have multiple times alerted the individual to the fact that I no longer live in MSP and cannot purchase her products. I’m still on her list. Over Valentine’s Day, I got up to 3 emails a day from the company. Really? This is why direct sales companies sometimes get a bad rap.
  • Two words: pyramid scheme. Many of us stay away from becoming sales reps (I personally don’t have interest in it) because of the notion that these companies are pyramid schemes. And in truth, many of them are. Those above you on the food chain make money off of their teams, and that’s the truth. Can that be ethical? Absolutely. But it can also be incredibly unethical. It all depends on the company.
  • Online ordering. The most annoying companies in this space, for me, are the ones that don’t allow you to order online. Many of the companies require that you designate a sales person, but then you can order online anytime. That’s convenient. When you have to call your friend or colleague every time? Annoying! It feels like backing into those 1980’s carbon copies again.

The bottom line is, direct sales companies can empower women to make more money and lead teams. But they can also annoy consumers. The key to being happy on either side of the aisle is to be realistic, appropriate, and ethical in your communications and to be honest about what you can and cannot do. Then, honor one another’s request. I personally like buying from direct sales people at times, but many others don’t. That’s OK! But the best case scenario for everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean women on the whole) is for these companies and their sales people to succeed. After all, most of the sales people are women, and we all want women to become more financially independent, right?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."