Direct sales or network marketing companies allow women flexibility, financial security

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Madra Jones has been selling It Works Skinny Wraps for a year. (Kristin Eberts)

The direct sales, or network marketing, industry is big business. Need proof? Just look at Tupperware -- 65 years after debuting and carving out a place in pop culture history, the company still rakes in more than $2 billion in sales each year.

And for the women who sell products ranging from bags to kitchen supplies to weight-loss methods, direct sales is a chance to earn a full-time or supplemental income on their own terms, on their own schedule.

"I worked full time for 15 years," says Carol Nunnery, an upper-level director with Pampered Chef. "Now I realize I had a choice. I could have had my own business. The freedom and flexibility is incredible. Some people feel they're locked into a job. Our consultants make $20 to $30 an hour."

Nunnery began selling Pampered Chef in fall 2003 after relocating to Cape Girardeau from Las Vegas. "I had gone online looking for a catalog," she says. "(When I moved here) one of the things I wanted to do was learn to cook. I had been to a (Pampered Chef) show in Vegas and was introduced to the product."

The Pampered Chef website directed her to a consultant in Southern Illinois, who offered Nunnery the opportunity to begin selling the products in Southeast Missouri. Now, as an upper-level director with the company, she has about 60 consultants working under her.

Carol Nunnery at a Pampered Chef booth at the Missouri Unveiled Bridal Show at The Venue in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Nunnery's background in customer service served her well. "I like to let people know we aren't in sales; we're in service," she says. "The goal is to provide a level of service that is exceptional; (getting customers) to buy products is secondary. That's really what direct sales is all about -- it's a people business."

When Madra Jones began selling It Works Skinny Wraps in February 2011 she couldn't have foreseen what changes would be in store for her. After trying a wrap herself, she saw an opportunity to offer the service to her clients at Elements Boutique.

A year later, Jones has climbed the ladder with It Works and is concentrating solely on Skinny Wraps after selling her business. "If you would have told me two years ago that I would put all my all in a network marketing business, sell my salons, put my commercial properties up for sale and only do this, I would have told you you were crazy," she says. "But I am at that point with my business."

Jones' rank with the company is Presidential Diamond; there's only one level above that. She says selling Skinny Wraps has increased her income while allowing her to spend more time with her family, and the blessings are flowing.

"Network marketing companies are known for creating millionaires all over the country," she says. "When I realized that, I set that as my goal. Most people laugh, thinking it's impossible; however, I believe with all my heart that it will happen for me and my family."

While Nunnery and Jones have made full-time careers from selling their respective products, Hayley Buchheit began selling thirty-one items more than a year ago after hosting a party -- her sister-in-law was the consultant -- and loving the merchandise. "After seeing how easy and fun it was to do home parties, I was sold," she says. "The extra money was also a perk for me."

Buchheit is an early childhood special education teacher for Perry County School District 32. She does about three to four parties a month with thirty-one, but hopes to increase that number after finishing her master's degree program.

"I set a goal of how many parties I would like to have each month as well as the amount of personal volume (the retail) that I would like to sell each month," she says. "The great thing that I have found from being with thirty-one is that you can make it what you want it to be. You can have a few parties a month like me and make some extra cash, or you can make it a full-time job and have the opportunity to work from home and make your own schedule."

Regardless of the product, becoming a consultant for a direct sales company does take some upfront expenditure. Buchheit says she paid $99 to be a thirty-one consultant. That "included about $300 in thirty-one products to take to use at my parties, as well as lots of business supplies to use for my first few parties," she says. It cost Jones $199 to begin selling Skinny Wraps, which included distributorship, marketing materials, a website and eight wraps. "It was a no-brainer because the product alone that came in my kit was worth more than my startup," she says. "If nothing else, I thought, I would keep the product for myself."

Once you have the product, selling it at parties or demonstrations is the next step.

"I remember doing my first show and my knees shook," Nunnery says, adding that it was for her mother-in-law's church friends. Now she's comfortable talking in front of groups of 300 or 400 people and doing workshops for the home office in Chicago.

Speaking in front of a group is one thing she covers when training new consultants. "One thing I love to tell them is they only have to do the first show once," she says. "(I also tell them) to spend some time and learn the products. Knowledge is power. You'll grow through experience."

Having a personal connection to the product or company makes selling it easier.

"I love being able to share the gift of thirty-one with other women," Buchheit says. "I also love working for the thirty-one company. ... (It) is a faith-based company based off of Proverbs 31, which talks about celebrating the virtuous woman and taking time for themselves."

Jones sums it up best: "If you love the product, believe in the company and choose to work it, you will succeed."

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