Alright, who attends Tupperware parties anymore? But that doesn’t mean that “party businesses” have died down. Lately, you can buy a lot more than make-up and food storage simply by gathering a group of girlfriends and listening to a rehearsed sales pitch. There’s Pampered Chef, the overpriced cutlery and kitchen gadget party. Recently I’ve been invited to Golden Canyon and Scentsy, both hawking smelly stuff so intense that it gives my husband and I headaches. Then there’s varying price levels and qualities of jewelry, where a co-worker can invite you to spend hundreds of dollars so that she gets 50% off. And let’s not forget sex toys, because who doesn’t want to sit around with a group of women and discuss their favorite flavor of lube. Aw, the wonder that is direct sales.
I realize that most of these party hosts are hard-working individuals who simply want to learn a little additional income. They network like it’s no one’s business and spend their weekends schilling to groups of strangers. I don’t assume that the job is easy and Lord knows I’m all about people finding their own way to make it in the business world.
That being said, direct sales parties feel like a grown-up version of cafeteria peer pressure. I suddenly have the urge to run out and buy a pair of jeans from Abercrombie. There’s simply no easy way to attend one of these “parties” without actually making a purchase. After all, you showed up and ate this person’s food and drank their punch. Now it’s time to pony up.
Most people understand the pressure involved with these little business parties. They frequently try to lessen the pressure on guests by assuring them that purchasing isn’t necessary. Even though, hello, you’re the one sitting there with an order sheet in your hand while everyone else pays the smiling lady with the handheld credit card processor. Some direct sales companies have started to use online magazines, where you can enter your “host’s” name and give them credit for your purchase, without ever getting crustless sandwiches and Sprite. I have to admit that it’s an easier way to conduct business.
But as I look at all the random products I’ve bought simply because my friends were hosting a party, I wonder if any of these products would make it without their dedicated force of party hosts, who are simply trying to score some free product. Would Golden Canyon hold a candle to Yankee when it comes to oddly expensive smelly stuff if your high school classmate wasn’t selling it? Would you simply run to Williams-Sonoma if you needed a couple nice pans, if your cousin’s niece wasn’t trying to learn a little extra cash with Pampered Chef?
The beauty of direct sales businesses is that they are relatively inexpensive ways for (mostly) women to start their own business. There’s barely a start-up cost. The contracts are pretty straight forward and there’s a set path to success. The problem is that these businesses feed off of your personal relationships. They are all dependent on who you know and who you can get to spend their money with you. The products are all decent, but probably wouldn’t make it in a normal retail setting.
Instead of encouraging direct selling, maybe we should find other ways to show women easy business opportunities that won’t use their friendships to make their bottom line. Perhaps we should put the parties to rest and get together once a month for lunch simply to catch up and spend time with each other. I don’t like mixing business with my personal relationships and I definitely hate it when people use our relationship to make a buck.