Direct Selling Association

Direct Selling is a Case Study in the Effectiveness of Mentorship

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

I read this article last week with great interest as it very clearly and succinctly describes the importance of mentorship in direct selling. I read it again today after it was forwarded to me by an executive with a direct selling company.

Key aspects of direct selling (such as recruiting) are often portrayed in a negative way, but I thought this article did a particularly nice job of describing why mentorship is key to success in direct selling. It’s not about how many people you can recruit for your team, but how many people you can inspire to be successful. The actions of those around us shape us, for better or for worse. Simlarly, every action we take sets an example for people who we may not even realize are watching us.

Whether you are a direct seller or not, keep in mind that we are all mentors for the next generation. The actions we take and the decisions we make will help determine their success. Direct sellers are uniquely positioned to demonstrate the power of mentorship – it’s just one of the many ways direct sellers lead the way.

Inspiration from the Field

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

You may have noticed a new feature on the DirectSelling411 website recently – our Direct Seller Profiles page. While it is impossible to encapsulate biographies from the 15.6 million men and women across the U.S. who own and operate an independent direct selling business, we have assembled a small collection of stories, sortable by location as well as by motivations for joining the direct sales channel. Through this effort, we not only hope to provide those interested in direct selling with a tiny glimpse of the countless success stories that characterize this industry, but we also hope to educate the general public about what it really means to be a direct seller. These men and women come from all walks of life and have many different reasons for joining.

These stories are truly inspirational – not only do they share their stories of personal achievement, of challenges overcome and of financial success, but they also provide a glimpse into what makes direct selling so unique.

Nevertheless, each and every person who browses through our selection can find a story that resonates with his or her aspirations.

Ron A., from Seattle, for instance, joined direct selling as a 19-year-old searching for an environment in which he could find support and build new friendships. Erika H. from Marker Heights, Texas, joined the direct selling industry after she lost her job before her maternity leave ended. Carrie S. of Itasca, Ill., launched a career in direct selling in efforts to pay off her mortgage. Stephanie B. of Scottsdale, Ariz., became a direct seller so she could help others improve their own physical and fiscal health.

Whatever one’s role may be within the direct selling community, we can all find encouragement and inspiration through the countless success stories originating from the field. These men and women are more than just the backbone of this marvelous industry. They are also parents, coaches, teachers, military spouses, doctors, lawyers, students and retired professionals. Their backgrounds in business prior to launching direct selling careers range from a high school diploma to advanced business degrees, and yet each stands on equal footing as a key part of the direct selling model.

Whether you are a distributor, an executive, a potential customer or just someone interested in learning more about the industry, be sure to check out the Direct Seller Profiles page to get a sneak peek at some of the personalities representing your favorite companies in the field!

What’s in Store for 2013?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Each January, as we set into motion our own resolutions for the year before us, direct selling executives across the country pause to assess what the future holds for the industry. Although no one can express with certainty what 2013 will bring, we at DSA recently invited a number of executives from a variety of direct selling companies—including those that provided their predictions last year—to share with us their insights, concerns and hopes for 2013.

While DSA members had the opportunity to read the full responses from those executives mentioned below in a previous edition of our InTouch publication, some of their insights deserve further exposure.

A New Demographic of Direct Sellers

Richard Wright, President & CEO, AdvoCare: As we have already seen, Gen Y represents a demographic with great potential to impact the direct sales channel. Studies show the average Gen Y-er is entrepreneurial minded—a great thing for our sales channel. I anticipate many people in this generation will look to direct sales as a career path, rather than a traditional 9-to-5 office job. With that said, social media has never been a more important tool through which we can reach this generation. After all, we’ve already seen how social media has transformed the way our distributors interact and communicate, and it will only continue to do so at greater lengths in 2013.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Lori Bush, President & CEO, Rodan + Fields Dermatologists: The onus is on us to motivate our salesforce members to communicate the breadth of values that direct selling brings to the marketplace, including product innovation and support, personal and professional development, community connections and part-time supplemental income opportunities.

Greater Inclusion in High-Level Discussions, Statistics

AJ Deeds, President, Loving Works, LLC: Direct selling will gain greater influence in the national discussion on ways to grow the U.S. economy when we have a seat at the media table. Inclusion in employment statistics thus is an indicator that direct selling is part of the conversation. Direct selling companies are uniquely poised to join that conversation when we extend our expertise at building relationships with key media reporters and personalities. We are incredible story-tellers and the media loves a story. Nevertheless, the direct selling story and the opportunity it represents will see greater national influence when we make media relationships—far more than press releases or advertising—an important priority on our leaders’ personal timelines.

Changing Behaviors

Cindy Juncaj, President, Demarle at Home: When we think about the key challenges the direct sales channel faces in 2013, we have to reflect on the changing behavior of the everyday consumer. Some challenges are industry-specific, though many are no different than the challenges that every business faces in 2013. Meeting the constantly changing needs of consumers is our top priority in 2013.

The consumer today prefers and enjoys short, simple messages through a constant flow of up-to-the-minute information and communication that must be entertaining, authentic and filled with value. Also, with the change in the consumer’s perception of company advertisements, we must acknowledge that user-generated content is more valuable than any message the company can prepare and promote; therefore, you must give the people something to talk about.

Expectation meets reality as interest in entrepreneurship continues to rise, creating the greatest opportunity for direct sales in 2013. The rise in the entrepreneurial education programs will benefit our industry greatly by helping those interested in direct selling learn the skills needed to turn their direct sales businesses into successful, fulfilling, lifelong careers.

MarketWatch Article Prefers Sensational to Factual

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Direct sellers are once again the target of unfounded accusations by critics and journalists who either don’t understand the direct selling business model or simply choose to ignore the facts.

The headline of MarketWatch’s recent “10 things direct-sales marketers won’t say” column holds more truth than the author (or the copywriter who wrote the headline) probably intended. The reason direct sellers won’t say these 10 things is because they aren’t true – at least not in the cloak and dagger double entendre way that was intended for this article.

Author Kelli Grant spent a great deal of time on the phone with me going over in detail each one of these tired accusations that are bantered about by industry critics with reckless disregard for the truth, so I had some level of hope that the story would be fair and balanced after she learned of the facts the critics conveniently tend to leave out. But not surprisingly even perfectly reasonable activities (like having to work to earn money!) were portrayed as negatives, with key information that clearly illustrates why the critics’ arguments hold no water as an “oh by the way” at the end of each segment.

For example, a professor of marketing at Georgetown (who for all I know has no expertise in direct selling at all) does some quick math (like the critics do) and advises people to divide a company’s revenue by the number of salespeople. That could sound reasonable, but what it doesn’t take into account is the fact that a significant percentage of direct sellers join companies to buy the product at a discount and never try to sell to others or recruit anyone. They aren’t eligible to earn commissions but yet this calculation throws them into the mix, artificially lowering the “average” per consultant. The critics leave out that little glitch in their math. In fact, there are plenty of people who earn nothing – but for most it’s because they don’t even try to sell or recruit! The best advice for anyone considering direct selling is to assess how much time you plan to spend on your direct selling business, identify your income goals and talk to enough people to determine if your expectations are reasonable. No simple math computation will answer those questions for you.

Then there’s the assertion that “this stuff might not sell in stores.” In fact, the products best suited for direct sales are those that can benefit from demonstration so critics who make this assertion might be right – but what’s wrong that? There are plenty of products that don’t sell well on store shelves so smart marketers take them directly to the customers and show them the features and benefits. And don’t forget assertions about the price of direct selling products. The author cites one product that sells for $31 through a direct selling company and a “nearly identical” model for $20 at a discount store. While it’s unclear what “nearly identical” means, anyone who has ever been in a retail store in a free-market economy knows that one can find a wide range in price levels of just about any product. Products that aren’t priced competitively won’t sell – regardless of the sales method.

While each of the “10 things” cited provides an alarming “buyer beware” beginning before reluctantly revealing the truth at the end, one of my favorite examples was from a woman who recalled an experience she had 30 years (yes, that’s three decades) ago. It struck me because most of the critics who malign direct selling haven’t updated their facts for just about that long. Today more than 16 million Americans participate in direct selling for a wide variety of reasons. Some support their families with their income, some pay the cable bill and some buy the products at a discount. It’s just a shame that news outlets like Marketwatch find the negative spin to be preferable to describing the millions of people who have found success in direct selling, but then again, that’s one of the “things they won’t say.”

What Does DSA Do Anyway?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Tell most people that you work for a trade association, like DSA, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. After more than 15 years working for associations (nearly 13 of them with DSA), I’m used to it – and it’s OK, because what really matters is the work we’re doing on behalf of direct sellers.

But every once in awhile it doesn’t hurt to remind people, friends and critics alike, who it is that DSA’s activities benefit, and what we aim to accomplish.

DSA is supported financially by direct selling companies that choose to uphold the ideals of the DSA Code of Ethics, which speaks to the interests of both sellers and consumers. That doesn’t mean just any company can be a member (some direct selling companies successfully complete the minimum one-year pending period required to display the DSA logo – others don’t, or choose not to), and despite the source of the funds that support DSA’s activities, the focus and impact of DSA’s work extend far beyond just its member companies.

Even given a poor economy, DSA has nearly 250 active and pending member companies, strong revenue figures (which are also indicative of strong industry performance), a growing pool of applicant members and an enthusiastic and active Board of Directors comprised of industry executives who recognize the importance of our business model to the US and world economies, as well as to the millions of individuals who call themselves direct sellers.

So what does DSA actually DO? In short, we call it the “Three Ps” – Protect, Police and Promote.

In its role of protecting direct sellers DSA works with legislators and regulators at the Federal, state and local levels to ensure proposed legislation won’t negatively impact companies OR their sellers. Sometimes we work proactively to update existing laws or implement new ones – all with the goal of keeping the marketplace open and fair for direct sellers. DSA also has a political action committee that, on a scale that by Washington standards is very modest, helps to support candidates for elected office who have been supportive of direct sellers and small business in general. However, DSA’s leaders have always prided themselves on being able to prevail on the merits of our positions. It’s nice to be able to support those who believe in us, but despite what some may believe, the size of one’s PAC is not always an indication of one’s political clout. 

DSA’s second role is that of policing the industry, which is based on the association’s Code of Ethics. The Code sets the standard for the ethical behavior that consumers and independent direct sellers should expect from ALL direct selling companies. It is DSA members, however, that are held accountable to the Code by an independent Code Administrator who receives, investigates and, where necessary, resolves complaints by consumers or sellers. DSA believes the Code promotes honest, ethical behavior, but it also provides a mechanism for relief if there is an occasional lapse. So why doesn’t DSA’s authority extend beyond its membership? The Code is a form of voluntary self-regulation and DSA is not a law enforcement agency. The collective DSA community sets the standard and companies are free to decide if they choose to meet it. In the big picture, though, the mere existence of the Code raises the bar on ethics so even companies that are not members are wise to aim to meet it.

The third role of the DSA is that of promoting the industry. An important phrase to remember here is that a rising tide lifts all boats. DSA members have a vested interest in ensuring the phrase “direct selling” evokes a feeling of goodwill in the marketplace. Companies do their part by upholding the Code of Ethics and ensuring the actions of their sellers are consistent with the ethical bar it sets. DSA works to educate the public about what direct selling is, the benefits it provides to individuals and the economy, and what customers and sellers should expect from a direct selling experience. So how does DSA accomplish this? Well, if we had the budget of the “Got Milk” campaign or the NBA we would pour millions of dollars every year into a national advertising campaign that extols the merits of direct selling. However, DSA’s much more modest level of funding requires a more targeted approach. It involves building relationships with consumer groups (this is done primarily through the work of the Direct Selling Education Foundation), securing earned media placements in print, broadcast and online, and continuously taking the pulse of the public at large to determine what messages resonate and then how best to deliver them. It is true that given the opportunity DSA will seek to highlight member companies as examples of all the good that is embodied in direct selling, but in the end, a job well done will soften the marketplace for ALL direct sellers. It will mean sellers can focus on the unique selling proposition of their particular company, versus having to first debunk myths, negative stereotypes and misunderstandings that can (and should) be addressed at an industry level by the industry’s trade association.

As society is in a constant state of evolution and change, it can seem at times that fulfilling any of the “Three Ps” is a never-ending quest. Just as it has been for the past 40 years and earlier, there will always be new legislation to consider, there will always be bad actors who don’t meet the accepted industry standards and there will always be critics of our industry and those who simply haven’t experienced all the good that direct selling can do for individuals, communities and the economy. But then again, it is the wise who understand that most things in life are journeys and not destinations, and the only alternative to evolution is death, so by that account, I’ll take that blank stare when I tell someone I work for a trade association, because it’s one more person whom I can enlighten about the benefits of direct selling.

Opportunity in 2012 – A Look Ahead

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

With the first month and a half of 2012 behind us, now is the perfect time to take a step back and remind ourselves of those oh-so-ambitious New Year’s Resolutions we set for ourselves a mere 50-some days ago. While gym membership will inevitably wane in the coming months and those who fervently swore off stress or bad habits may fall back into similar patterns in the future, in terms of direct selling, it’s imperative that we – at the very least – keep our 2012 business goals in focus, however daunting a task that might seem at times.

While many companies have established full-year sales and recruitment goals, for direct sellers everywhere, a new year means a new opportunity to revive business, reach out to new audiences and strengthen relationships with former customers or team members.

With that in mind, February provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to take some time to visualize what the next 11 months could mean for direct selling as an industry.

Recently, we asked a number of executives from a variety of direct selling companies to share with us their insights, predictions and concerns for 2012. While DSA members had the opportunity to read the full responses from those executives mentioned below in a previous edition of our InTouch publication, some of their insights deserve further exposure.

The Economy:

Cindy Juncaj, President & CEO, Demarle at Home: “Due to the state of the economy as well as the rising cost of education, people will continue to look for ways to create, supplement or build their income through non-traditional means such as direct selling, but, it is imperative to simplify the business so that anyone can do it and anyone can afford it. People today are looking for more value when it comes to spending the money they worked so hard to earn and many direct selling companies offer only top-notch products as well as friendly, personalized sales.”

Lori Bush, President & General Manager, Rodan + Fields: “When economic times are tough, discretionary purchasing will be impacted. People will trade down or do without. However, direct selling does have the opportunity to alter the value proposition by providing a more personal engagement than other classes of trade.”

Consumer Behavior:

Jay Rudman, CEO, Paperly: “Nationally, one of the biggest challenges for direct selling in 2012 is consumer behavior. Businesses have truly trained consumers to look for and wait for a deal, either through online deals or extreme discounting. Couponing is almost glorified at this point through television and radio, as well as other mediums. For these reasons and many others, in our industry, competition is a significant challenge. Traditional retailers can live in the moment. They can drop a promotion to hit the next day, whereas direct sellers have a much longer cycle, meaning that in order for a direct selling company to promote something, it’s got to go through the field, out to the customer and then back to the company. Conversely, I still believe that direct selling far trumps a website or even a traditional retail experience because nothing compares to the one-to-one social interaction that the direct selling experience provides. Direct selling will continue to thrive in 2012 and beyond because there will always be a need for that consultative relationship.”


AJ Deeds, President, Loving Works, LLC: “In order for our credential as a community to be as strong as it should be, we need to help spread the message about the direct sales channel to those outside the industry. We’re not commonly perceived as an influence in the economy by those who aren’t directly involved in this industry. Our goal should be to spread the word about direct selling such that people begin to look to our leadership to espouse how to run organizations or set an example for economic success. Every person in the United States who has any degree of entrepreneurial spirit can own their own part-time business and achieve the benefits that are just waiting there to be achieved. While we have more success stories than can be counted, we are rarely considered for, much less invited to, the national leadership table. By bringing the stories of our industry forward in 2012 to a national stage, we, the direct sales channel, can represent part of the economic solution.”

What do you envision for direct selling in the months ahead?

DSA on the TODAY Show!

Monday, November 21st, 2011

DSA on the TODAY Show

Thanks to all of the DSA member companies that once again generously donated to the TODAY Show Toy Drive! I just returned from my trip to New York to present the direct selling channel’s collective donation of more than $16.5 million in products live on the show! You can see the complete list of donors on DSA’s website. This is the 8th year DSA companies have given a collective donation, having given more than $85 million during that time.

After the show today my daughter, Kaitlyn, and I were leaving a shop near Rockefeller Plaza where we had stopped to get a quick bite to eat. A woman stopped Kaitlyn to tell her how nice she looked in her fancy dress and she proudly announced that she had been on the TODAY Show. I’m sure the woman was instantly trying to figure out what our claim to fame might be as her eyes lit up looking for an explanation. I obliged, telling her all the details of the wonderful companies and people that comprise the direct selling community. It probably wasn’t quite the brush with fame she had hoped for, but she nonetheless gave us an exhuberant thank you and congratulations and went on her way.

I tell this story because I frequently get the opportunity to tell people about direct selling’s participation in the TODAY Show Toy Drive, and I can’t help but feel a bit guilty about the fact that each of the donating companies can’t hear every one of the “thank you”s that I receive. DSA is pleased to serve as a conduit for these donations, but it’s really the generosity of the companies that make this possible. If it weren’t for their ongoing commitment to improving the lives of others – both members of their salesforces and those in the community at large – there would be no representation of DSA in this endeavour.

So to each of the donating companies, and to each person in the direct selling community who works to make a better life for themselves, their familes and others, THANK YOU. Your work impacts the lives of more people than you will ever know, and I’m proud to be able to play some small role in spreading that message.

See the video

Inviting Brands into our Lives

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

The Pew Research Center recently released a report examining the major reasons why Americans use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. “Roughly two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites, while half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is a major reason behind their use of these technologies,” the reports cites. While the study offered great insight on how adults of all ages use social media to strengthen their personal relationships, it didn’t address another important use of social media: the interaction between consumers and their favorite products and brands.

According to the DSA-commissioned report, “U.S. Consumer Trends Impacting the Direct Selling Industry” issued by GfK Roper Consulting earlier this year, 48 percent of social networking users say they use the sites to “post comments or read what other users have said about a brand, product or company.” Additionally, the report reveals that 67 percent of the total U.S. population considers online sites, reviews or online communities to be a trustworthy source for information.

Further, more than 75 percent of consumers get information about products through friends or family members (presumably often through online resources), and more than 50 percent go to company websites or look for online product reviews before buying a product they’ve never purchased before.

But have we reached a point yet where online marketing is accepted as a mainstream method of product promotion? The facts may surprise you.

Consider this: Facebook boasts more than four million product, public figure and company fan pages alone, and according to a study conducted by Digital Buzz in 2010, 40 percent of Facebook’s 500 million users followed brands through the networking site, while 25 percent of Twitter’s 106 million users followed brand-associated Twitter accounts. Astonishingly, the study concluded that 51 percent of brand followers (approximately 102 million people) on Facebook and 67 percent of brand followers (approximately 17.75 million people) on Twitter would go on to make purchases from that specific brand. While the study doesn’t account for any overlap between Facebook and Twitter users who follow the same brands on each platform, the numbers clearly illustrate that social media plays a huge role in the choices consumers make when researching products.

There’s no doubt online resources are key to purchase decisions for many consumers – and I believe one more example of direct selling on the leading-edge of consumer trends. Person-to-person communication about products and companies is at the core of direct selling – and that’s been true for decades! Direct sellers didn’t need the Internet to effectively use word of mouth marketing – but technology has certainly made it easier.

So the next time you’re online, think about how social networking has changed or enhanced your relationship with your favorite brands. You likely feel a closer connection to them because they are only a click away, or even better, they come directly to you based on your interests. Just last week Starbucks treated me to a coffee for my birthday – courtesy of the fact that I had connected with them online.

Whether we like to admit it or not, social media has become a critical part of our consumer identity – both individual and collective. Brands have been invited into our lives more intimately than ever before. The key for marketers will be to take advantage of that access without abusing it.

Defeating Unemployment – One Direct Seller at a Time

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

For finance analysts and business owners alike, the end of 2011 means one thing – budget outlooks for the coming year. And for many, it comes as no surprise that the latest reports released by the Congressional Budget Office are far less than ideal.

While forecasters estimate that the national unemployment rate will remain well above 8 percent through 2012, and perhaps even longer, even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated earlier this week that the pace of progress of labor market conditions will likely be “frustratingly slow.” Several analysts have largely credited the slow progress to structural impediments in the labor market, including the “mismatch” between existing job openings and the characteristics of job seekers – many of whom are highly qualified college graduates and experienced professionals in search of a new career path.

Where does direct selling fit in, you ask? With countless individuals facing job cuts, reduced pay or hardship in applying for their first job out of school, the direct sales channel offers a unique, challenging – and rewarding! – opportunity for people of all ages to launch a business with the backing of an industry that has been in important part of the U.S. economy since the early 20th century, not to mention the network of millions across the globe who find direct selling to be a source of empowerment and extra income.

Consider the millions of people out there who are unemployed or underemployed and searching for an opportunity to put their skills, knowledge and motivation to succeed into practice. These men and women of all ages and backgrounds can each find their own personal success in direct selling, whether it’s a stop-gap measure until they find a new traditional job, or something they find to be a long-term source of income! With so many individuals striving to earn an income, many of the jobless are merely looking for new ways to channel their energy into a career that produces results, provides opportunities for flexibility and enables individuals to gain invaluable business experience.

While it may be cliché, recognizing the “glass as half full” is as important now as ever; while the national unemployment rate has seen little improvement over the past few years, now is the perfect time to spread the word about all of the opportunities direct selling has to offer!

‘Tis the Season for Direct Selling

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Less than a week ago – and much to our amazement – here at the DSA office in Washington, D.C., we saw the first snowflakes of the 2011-2012 winter season. Whether or not we were ready to acknowledge that it’s already November, Mother Nature stepped in to remind us all just how fast the year can fly by.

While the holidays are just around the corner, for many direct sellers, the next few months represent one of the biggest – and busiest – seasons for sales, party bookings and outreach to potential customers. With that in mind, Jay Rudman, CEO of DSA member Paperly, put forth an exciting idea to encourage direct sellers to show their support and dedication to the industry.

Inspired by American Express’s successful “Small Business Saturday” campaign last year, Jay proposed a “direct selling only” holiday season campaign, whereby direct sellers everywhere could show their love for the industry by completing all of their holiday season purchases only from direct sellers.

With nearly 16 million people involved in direct selling in the United States alone, committing to a “direct selling only” holiday season presents not a challenge, but a fun and creative way to illustrate how direct selling impacts the economy, as well as the livelihoods of countless people across the globe. Just imagine – a “direct selling only” holiday season would not only provide revenue for direct sellers throughout the country, but it would also spread the word about the credibility of this phenomenal industry.

As nearly 200 companies have formally pledged to adhere to DSA’s Code of Ethics, holiday shoppers who commit to this campaign will not only find that there is a direct selling company out there for everyone on your gift list, but also that your purchases will support local businesses that have demonstrated a firm belief in ethical and reliable business practices.

Whether you’re shopping for your family, friends or co-workers, consider just how many types of products are offered through direct selling companies everywhere! From home decor and clothing to cosmetics and bed linens – or even chocolate and jewelry for that special someone – there’s no question even Santa could fill his sleigh solely with direct selling products!

Let’s support one another and make the 2011 holiday season one that direct sellers everywhere will never forget!