Re-energizing Growth, By Re-thinking Crises
Something not altogether good was brewing in direct selling in late 2019. The Direct Selling Association reported flat-line global sales performance of $35.2 billion, down slightly from 2018. China’s 100-day reviews of nutritional products halted companies from selling in China, surprising everyone. Continued compliance pressures in China clearly stressed sales in the channel. The domestic regulatory environment brought new challenges as well. And for many companies, sales just weren’t where they needed to be for continued market expansion. Pressure everywhere was building, but no one could foresee what was around the corner.
C-suite strategic planning, course corrections, realignment of corporate spending, new compensation structures, and the like were underway throughout the industry when pandemic struck in early 2020. COVID-19 could have compounded lingering 2019 circumstances, but that is not what happened for these seven direct selling companies.
With the benefit of time and distance, 2020 sales numbers and some hindsight, these industry leaders take a short, retrospective look inside their companies during a year like no other. In so doing, they help the direct selling industry re-think crises while telling the stories of how their teams met disruptive challenges and leveraged 2020’s new business reality to create a renewal that re-energized their field organizations and helped solidify their growth trajectories for 2021 and beyond.
COVID-19 could have compounded lingering 2019 circumstances, but that is not what happened for these seven direct selling companies.
This industry leader takes a short, retrospective look inside Le-Vel during a year like no other.
Founded / 2012
Top Executives / Jason Camper & Paul Gravette, Co-Owners & Co-CEOs
Products / Nutritional Health & Wellness
Created on a cloud-based platform, Le-Vel’s virtual nature is something its field has passionately touted since 2012. But in 2019, Le-Vel felt they were missing the essence of direct sales—the human element. Had they gone too virtual?
“It’s kind of funny, the irony of it all, but going into 2020, we were actually hyper-focused on more meetings and getting more of the human element involved,” says Jason Camper, Co-CEO/Founder.
So, when 2,000 of Le-Vel’s field gathered for an incentive trip in February 2020 at Riviera Maya, Mexico—just weeks before the pandemic—they huddled up 150-200 top performers and talked tough love about getting back to the human element in their business.
Coronavirus had other plans, however, and forced Le-Vel into a true 100 percent virtual environment. But Camper says, “That kind of round table—had we not had that in February—I’m not quite sure how the following month would have transpired.”
However, between March and the end of May, Camper says, “We saw our monthly revenue grow by $10 million. That’s pretty substantial. It hasn’t stayed there. We’ve seen a little of that subside, but overall, year-over-year, month-over-month, we’re still greater than where we were.”
But Camper’s not quick to assume that the pandemic was unequivocally the reason for any company’s growth or lack thereof. “I can say it had something to do with it, but I can’t say fully it was pandemic related. We’ve seen upcycles and downcycles in our business—where we do drop by this, and we do jump by that—since we started the company,” he says.
Skyrocketing sales may have happened for Le-Vel because people had more time to talk about and sell products during quarantine, health consciousness increased, or economic factors came into play. But Camper believes most meaningful was that February meeting. “We were ready to execute on the company whether there was a pandemic or not because everybody was hyper-focused.”
Duplication 101 is having everybody on the same page and beating the same drum, so the field is able to do what it needs to. They scrapped the human element plan and expanded their existing virtual model adding massive Zooming and online training.
Camper and co-founder Paul Gravette tried to do everything they could to check all the boxes for their field. “I was very visual and accessible through Zooms. I was saying no to nothing. Yes. Yes. Yes.” Camper remembers.
As much as Camper hates to admit it now because the world is “Zoomed out,” the video aspect of letting people see him and the rest of the corporate team as much as they could, even though it was virtual, was very meaningful. It built trust and laid a foundation that would not have otherwise been possible.
But Le-Vel’s 2020 success wasn’t as simple as executing a virtual business model. Sure, it played a part, but Camper points to leadership that’s committed to going to the next level, year over year over year despite a pandemic, despite virtual events or live events—is their secret sauce.
“You get people together who are inspired and empowered to go do something, and that’s how you move the needle. That’s how we started moving the needle in 2020,” Camper says.
There’s an almost “euphoric feeling” when everybody’s fired up about increased sales. “I like it more, what I see what it’s doing for the morale in the field versus what it’s doing for the company’s financials,” Camper says. Their top line grew as they discovered better ways to lead, teach and train.
But 2020 was chock full of distribution challenges, as a spring e-commerce boom and shuttered retail shops caused carrier overload and fulfillment bottlenecks.
“That in itself was bar none the biggest challenge of 2020 for us. If you had given me the option going into 2020, grow sales by $10 million a month or experience these types of shipping issues. I would have said, ‘I don’t want the growth. Just let me flawlessly execute shipping because I’m not going to potentially lose a consumer base that I’ve worked so hard to build up,’” Camper says.
With fulfillment time frames finally normalizing, Le-Vel is working to make it up to affected customers. They are also looking for ways to foster a strong human element while still being pinned into a virtual model by the pandemic.
“Once the vaccines and people in the world deem it okay to get back to events, we are absolutely going to go bonkers!” Camper says.
Meanwhile, they did gather this February in Cabo San Lucas to celebrate 2020 and renew their commitment to Le-Vel. “We gambled and had no idea how it was going to turn out. But the Hard Rock Hotel let us put on an incentive trip there. We had 2,000 people and the local testing laboratories. We tested 2,000 people and were able to put on an event,” Camper says.
Excerpt from the Direct Selling News May 2021 Cover Story: “Renewal, Re-energizing Growth, By Re-thinking Crises.”