Debra S. Waller
Start small, work smart and embrace opportunities. That seemed to be Debra S. Waller’s philosophy when she founded Jockey Person to Person® in 2004. Today the mighty engine of direct selling has made the latest Jockey division the fastest-growing part of the company.
Waller is the third generation of her family to run Jockey International, but she wasn’t content with just continuing along her predecessors’ paths, according to Lia Keeping, Vice President of Sales for North America at Jockey Person to Person. One of the family traditions was for each company leader to make his or her own mark on the company. Waller’s grandfather was a financial genius who took a bankrupt Jockey predecessor company in the middle of the Great Depression and engineered a brilliant turnaround. While he was CEO, the Jockey brand was created, the men’s brief was invented, and the company achieved a global presence. When her mother took the helm, she introduced Jockey for Her, a full line of intimate apparel for women. When Waller reached her time at the top of Jockey, she completely embraced her family’s passion for innovation.
According to Keeping, as Waller considered what her own legacy might be, she remembered a short but significant branch of her own career path. She had been a Mary Kay consultant in college. That experience had shown her the power of the direct selling business model as well as the way it liberated women to create balance between their family and work life. And the fact that direct selling consultants have no glass ceiling was icing on the business model’s cake.
Jockey Person to Person was born. Its first products were Jockey traditions: women’s underwear and sleepwear, all marketed using the party plan by the company’s distributors, called Comfort Specialists®. But when it introduced active wear, customer response was immediate. They wanted more. Gradually the product mix included fewer intimate apparel items and more active wear.
Opportunity Doesn’t Knock. It Rings.
As Jockey Person to Person was gaining traction, a Canada-based direct seller specializing in fashion was losing theirs. When it closed its doors, direct selling veteran Keeping, who had been that company’s Canadian President, found herself unemployed. What concerned her at least as much as her own situation was her salesforce suddenly had no direct selling home. She did what she always counseled her distributors to do. She picked up the phone.
“I always told our salesforce that one phone call, one person, one recruit, can change your business and your life,” Keeping says. “Somehow I got Debra Waller’s phone number, and I called it. I actually got through to her personal assistant, who let me leave a voice mail message. I introduced myself, told her that I had a fantastic salesforce, and that we were looking for a home.”
Soon Michael Lapidus, President of Jockey’s Direct to Consumer Division, called her. They hadn’t been thinking of opening Canada just yet, he said, but “let’s talk.” Keeping became a Jockey Person to Person management contractor in July 2008, about a month after her first call. Her task: Open Jockey Person to Person in Canada. Keeping had helped her previous company expand internationally, and she certainly knew its distributors well, so she dove into the project. In October, the task was complete.
“It just shows what this company is made of,” she says. “They saw the opportunity, wanted to take advantage of it, and they wanted to help people. They moved mountains to prepare the back end of all those processes you never see.”
In December Jockey Person to Person hired Keeping in her current position and also hired her husband, Greg, as Vice President and General Manager.
Once Canada was humming, Keeping tapped into some of her fashionista expertise: coordinating a few items of carefully designed clothing to create many outfits. The idea was a perfect fit for Jockey, and the company added coordinating sportswear—all designed by the Jockey Person to Person design team, and all offered exclusively by its Comfort Specialists. There the company found its niche. Women still want to look good in their clothes, so active wear is an important part of the lineup. But Comfort Specialists get excited about the great line of mix-and-match sportswear, including jeans. The product lineup lets customers glam up their casual wardrobe, taking them from smart casual at the office to workout wear to comfy wear at home. The bonus: They get to shop with their friends in a private, social environment and avoid the hassle of shopping malls.
Keeping says that the support of other people who run Jockey’s various divisions has also been key throughout the process, and top executives have stood solidly behind the young division.
“Between Debra and [Jockey International President and Chief Operating Officer] Ed Emma, they understood that direct selling was different than mainstream corporate America,” Keeping explains. “They made sure that all executives within Jockey International were engaged with the Jockey Person to Person business.”
For example, Waller invited the leaders of Jockey’s various divisions to attend Jockey Person to Person conferences and incentive trips in the early days. It allowed the whole company to see, feel and embrace the differences between direct selling and mainstream business.
“Rather than trying to take a direct selling business and force it to fit the corporate mold, they understand the differences in direct selling,” Keeping says. “They came to understand that the salesforce is volunteers and also our frontline customers. They’ve allowed the division to grow and develop with a lot of autonomy. They trust us to do what is right, but on the other hand, they’re there to help and support. As an independent business unit at Jockey, we still have access to IT, manufacturing, and the distribution facilities of this global giant. It’s been a huge benefit in getting this business up and running.”
Comfort Specialists benefit from the company’s support, too, but the big door-opener is the Jockey brand.
“It’s a huge plus for us,” Keeping says. “Everyone knows the brand and everyone associates the brand with comfort, quality, value and integrity. That really opens a lot of doors for our Comfort Specialists. The biggest thing we have to explain is that it’s not an underwear party. When women find out that we offer sportswear, they’re very intrigued. And who would have thought that Jockey does jeans—stretch denim. But yes, we do, and they’re as comfortable as the undies you wear. When we launched them last year, they were hugely successful.”
Repeat Shopping Spree
Keeping says that the exclusive product line and its concept of coordinating pieces is the main attraction for Jockey Person to Person’s recruits and customers. And the clothing is designed so that customers can continuously add coordinating pieces to their wardrobe, season after season, without busting their budget.
Jockey Person to Person invests in the careers of its Comfort Specialists and keeps their budgets in mind as they design promotions. At its July convention it held a fashion show to introduce its fall line. At the same time it also introduced promotions that let distributors sell those new clothes at minimal cost, while rewarding retention and recruiting. New recruits can receive the company’s Smart Start Kit, which includes premium retail value products, for a fraction of the cost. To qualify for the reduced price, the new Comfort Specialist must achieve a certain sales minimum—reached through three average parties—by the end of their first full month. She can also purchase any 10 items for 50 percent off at the end of her first full month. Plus, in their first six months, Comfort Specialists receive an Accessories Pack for free when they recruit one or more new consultants who reach that sales minimum in their first full month.
In addition to promotions that keep their business affordable and motivating, new Comfort Specialists have access to the “little black dress” of direct selling—weekly training calls from top leaders. And a whole section of training is available in their online back office. Jockey Person to Person encourages Comfort Specialists to help their new recruits with their first couple of parties as they learn the ropes and begin to feel confident.
The parties are like “girls’ night out,” according to Keeping. Typically, Comfort Specialists set up a rack of samples, spend about 20 minutes talking about Jockey Person to Person, and then start showing the outfits. Early arrivals are invited to model outfits to demonstrate how garments mix and match. Guests can see every style in a Style Guide and decide which garments they’d like to try. Then the shopping spree begins. Everyone can “attack the rack,” try on clothes, and get their friends’ opinions on how they look.
“We have a high success rate with the Smart Start program,” Keeping reports. “Very few women wind up paying full price (which occurs if the newbie’s first parties don’t reach a minimum threshold in sales).”
Jockey Person to Person’s strong start is just the beginning. Its five-year plan calls for it to more than triple its existing revenues and to exceed 25,000 Comfort Specialists. Supporting that goal is its top initiative: to increase brand awareness. It has already appeared on TODAY, and in All You, Taste of Home Healthy Cooking and Woman’s World magazines, and in numerous local and regional publications.
“Everyone has heard of Jockey,” Keeping observes. “Few have heard of Jockey Person to Person. We’re starting to build brand awareness. Our mission is to make sure that people know that Jockey not only does underwear, but Jockey Person to Person does a great line of women’s sportswear.”
Helping Adoptive Families “Bear” the Load
When Jockey International chose a major philanthropic focus for all its divisions, it wanted to support families through a cause that was underserved. That led to the birth of Jockey Being Family®. Its mission is to strengthen adoptive families by increasing their access to post-adoptive services in the company’s home state of Wisconsin, across the United States and Canada.
The mission is close to Jockey’s Chairman and CEO Debra S. Waller’s heart. Her life was changed forever when she was adopted.
“Debra chose Jockey Being Family as our philanthropic cause for two reasons,” explains Lia Keeping, Jockey Person to Person Vice President of Sales for North America. “First of all, she wanted to help create ‘forever families’ because the sad truth is 10 to 15 percent of all adoptions fail. The monies raised through our foundation support post-adoptive services. This is especially meaningful since Debra herself is adopted.”
Post-adoption services may meet a wide variety of needs. Families often request information, respite care, parent support groups and referrals to medical professionals, for example. And the needs of families who adopt special-needs children can be just as special as the children themselves.
Jockey established the philanthropic program in 2005. Since its inception, Jockey Being Family has donated more than $3 million to the cause, inspired hundreds of people to volunteer more than 5,000 hours to support it, and reached more than 250,000 adoptive families throughout North America. Jockey Person to Person Comfort Specialists, who market the division’s line of sportswear and active wear, also sell Jockey Being Family teddy bears. Jockey donates $3 from the sale of each bear to the foundation. A new bear design will be introduced in November.
The organization supports post-adoption services by engaging its employees in meaningful volunteer activities, raising awareness of the need for post-adoption services, and building partnerships with local and national nonprofit organizations.
For example, each month teams of employees from each Jockey division gather to create personalized Home to Stay™ backpacks for adopted children in Wisconsin. Many employees and members of the community create handmade blankets to go into the backpacks. Filled with toys, blankets, books, the company’s signature teddy bear and other cheerful items, the backpacks are hand-delivered by caseworkers to the children soon after the adoptions are legally finalized. Since 2005 Jockey has created and distributed more than 3,000 backpacks to 1,000 adoptive families throughout Wisconsin.
Jockey employee volunteers also completed two Home Adaptation projects for local families who adopted children with special needs. For instance, working in partnership with Adoption Resources of Wisconsin, Jockey awarded home modifications in 2007 and 2008 that included building wheelchair ramps, painting, staining, indoor decorating, outdoor home beautification and more to create comfortable and accessible environments for the families.
“Many families, especially those who adopt children with special needs, face extra challenges and need post-adoption support, resources and information to help them remain strong so they can provide permanent, loving homes for children who have been dreaming of a forever family,” Waller writes on the Jockey Being Family website. “Adoption is not an event. It is a lifelong journey. We hope to be a guiding hand for local families along their path while leading the charge in raising awareness of the need to expand post-adoption services and make a difference in the lives of adoptive families nationwide.”