From the presidential election to the now famous “fiscal cliff,” the last quarter of 2012 brought with it plenty of political positioning and fancy rhetoric. Amidst all of it, though, one thing remained certain: Small businesses, often seen as the “backbone” of the U.S. economy, would play an important role in a post-recession America.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there are approximately 28 million small businesses in the U.S., which translates to 1,162 small businesses for every one corporation in the country. Additionally, the SBA estimates that small businesses account for 44 percent of the U.S. payroll—and 70 percent of those businesses are owned and operated by a single person.
So where do direct sellers fit into the economic recovery equation? Bearing in mind that the U.S. direct sales channel accounted for nearly $30 billion in retail sales in 2011 generated by 15.6 million direct sellers across the country, one would expect direct selling to be hailed as an economic safe haven—after all, the industry embodies the very spirit of free enterprise and empowerment that so many consider key to our nation’s long-term prosperity.
But despite all of the success stories created through direct selling, it is evident that direct sellers are mostly left out of key labor statistics and national-level discussions on unemployment.
One such example took place earlier this year when the U.S. Department of Labor released a report stating that approximately 8 million Americans moonlight—meaning they work a second job. While the report did not reveal how the Department of Labor determined the figure, the latest Direct Selling Association Growth & Outlook Survey concluded there are 9 million direct sellers alone who have full- or part-time employment in addition to their direct selling activities. As such, the Department of Labor findings clearly fail in large part to incorporate direct sellers into their moonlighting statistics. Plain and simple—the scope and impact of direct selling is often underrepresented in discussions about the health, strength and future of the U.S. economy.
As leaders of this phenomenal industry, every direct selling executive must be a steward of the message about the power of direct selling to change lives. If our industry is overlooked in national statistics on moonlighting—a demographic into which many direct sellers clearly fit—then direct sellers are likely also underrepresented in other key findings related to the workforce, holiday sales figures or business ownership rates.
As a result, DSA works relentlessly to ensure the wider world recognizes the impact our industry has made in the lives of countless men and women who enjoy the financial, social and entrepreneurial benefits direct selling has to offer. Through our continued outreach to legislators, regulators, consumer advocates, reporters and the general public, we strive to share stories not only about the strength of the business model, but, more importantly, about the stay-at-home mom who spends time with her kids while operating a successful business on her own schedule. We inform others about the schoolteacher who wants to gain business experience during the summer months outside the classroom. We proudly speak of recent college graduates—tomorrow’s budding entrepreneurs—who were direct sellers during their years in school and went on to found their own successful businesses.
As an industry, it is critical to our success in the year ahead that we continue to educate business and financial leaders as well as the general public about direct selling in order to ensure that our role in the U.S. economy is fully recognized. The sooner we are able to do so, the sooner we will find direct sellers being sought out as trusted sources for business insights, labor statistics and hope for the future of the U.S. economy.
Amy M. Robinson is Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Direct Selling Association, and Alyssa A. Wolice is Marketing Communications Specialist.