Click here to order the July 2013 issue in which this article appeared.
As DSA’s recent Annual Meeting showed us, we have many reasons to celebrate. Entrepreneurship, empowerment, leadership and innovation are all hallmarks that describe what’s right about direct selling.
But following the U.S. economic crisis of 2008 and the recession from which we are still emerging, there is yet another trait we can celebrate—resilience.
This incredible spirit of fortitude that has defined direct selling was not simply made evident through encouraging sales and growth figures as the U.S. economy experienced its darkest days in decades; rather, resilience has also stood as a defining characteristic personified by the countless men and women touched by direct selling’s global reach. As U.S. job offerings became fewer and farther between in the early 2000s, increasing numbers of men and women found economic opportunities and empowerment through direct selling. In fact, in the year immediately following the economic downturn, the number of people involved in direct selling in the U.S. increased by 1 million individuals!
For those who have always understood the industry’s unparalleled potential to touch and transform people’s lives, this spirit of resilience comes as no surprise. How, then, do we increasingly make known our ability to create better lives? What incontestable proof can we offer skeptics who, without evidence to the contrary, still question the validity and sustainability of the direct selling model?
During the DSA’s Annual Meeting last month, direct selling executives and members of the financial community alike spoke often of two of the greatest defenses against misperceptions and inaccuracies concerning the direct selling industry—sound research and personal success stories.
The good news is—we have both.
Less than a month ago, the DSA Growth & Outlook Survey Report figures were announced, and the findings are not simply reassuring—they’re inspiring. Year-over-year, U.S. direct sales increased 5.9 percent in 2012 from $29.87 billion to $31.63 billion, outpacing the overall U.S. economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product. Perhaps more telling, in 2012, there were 15.9 million people involved in direct selling in the U.S., an increase from 15.6 million the prior year. Seventy-six percent of direct selling companies with annual retail sales totaling less than $3 million saw growth in 2012, with an average sales increase of about 22 percent. While wellness products continue to represent a major segment in the direct selling industry, there has also been a rise in the sale of services, largely aided by energy deregulation and the sale of energy through the direct selling model.
With this rise in service-oriented sales, the direct selling industry has made yet another testament against the long-outdated—and often misguided—stereotypes aimed at taking away from what it truly means to be a direct seller in a rapidly changing marketplace. Today’s direct sellers, both male and female, are offering a host of competitive products and services in every category imaginable. They’re using the latest and greatest technologies to tap into new markets, develop both leadership and business skills, and grow their sales organizations. Even more, they’re experiencing both sales and recruitment growth unhindered by rising education costs and fluctuating job markets.
The strong performance of direct selling in the United States and around the world continues to underscore the economic and social relevance of this business model.
As for what matters most—direct selling’s ability to create better lives—the success stories are plentiful. The vast majority of today’s direct selling representatives say their businesses have met their expectations, and another 40 percent say they have far exceeded them.
In recent months, DSA launched a platform on DirectSelling411.com titled, “The Faces of Direct Selling.” Through this web page, the association has collected and published an assortment of success stories from men and women across the country who first turned to direct selling for a wide variety of reasons. These men and women offer their narratives without company affiliation or reimbursement. Rather, they come forward to share with others how this industry has made a difference in their lives. From wholesale buyers and full-time sellers to military spouses and those drawn to the social opportunity, these individual profiles represent just a handful of the countless motivations and achievements direct sellers celebrate today.
It is often said that the best defense is a good offense. As leaders of the direct selling industry, we have both facts and individual success stories on our side. The key now is to take the initiative in spreading the word.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.