How some of the industry’s most successful founders turned their distributor experience into multimillion-dollar powerhouse brands.
There is no substitute for experience.
Studying compensation plans and researching training materials has value. But learning in that controlled environment cannot compare to the urgency that comes from knowing that your family’s income relies on the paychecks your team earns. Distributors recognize that their future success will be boosted or limited by the quality of tools and resources made available by the team who works in the company’s headquarters.
Distributors and corporate teams work hand-in-hand and their synchronicity is essential for overall success. But corporate leaders who know what it’s like to be a distributor possess an advantageous and empathetic point of view that can only come from knowing firsthand what’s it like to live and work in the field, attracting potential team members and building a loyal customer base.
When these successful field leaders direct their entrepreneurial spirit toward their own startups, the results can be staggering. Today, more than 30 direct selling companies founded by entrepreneurs who were once distributors reap annual revenues in excess of $100 million each. For these entrepreneurs, the direct selling industry ignited a spark that no other business opportunity had provided them. So, with distributor-learned tools in hand, they amplified their success by sharing it with others, building opportunities tailor-made for the sales field.
Learning the Heart of the Business
When Kendra Brassfield took over the reins for her father Jerry Brassfield, the founder of NeoLife International, he instructed her to start in an unconventional way: As a distributor. “I have three sons and two daughters—I had them all become distributors because I believe it’s good for them,” Jerry said in a DSN Legends interview. “She said, ‘Are you setting me up to fail?’ and I said, ‘No, you can’t fail—you can only learn. And even if you are not a success at it, you will understand where the heart of our business is and what distributors go through.’”
Kendra did create a successful business as a distributor, but more than that, she developed greater understanding of the challenges that field leaders face. It was an awareness that would serve her well as she led the field to embrace a company-wide transition to a digital format and then again as she navigated the obstacles presented by the pandemic. This experience of informed leadership—of knowing what the sales field needs, wants and expects—is one that other founders who first launched into the industry as distributors can relate to.
“The very first benefit of having been in the field is, of course, the understanding of the actual business in the field—the issues and challenges of building a consumer base and, for some, a distributor base,” said Joni Rogers-Kante, SeneGence Founder, CEO and Chairwoman. “I gained actual hands-on experience and learned the ‘how-to’s of success.”
Joni’s distributor background was also a financial advantage for SeneGence during its startup days, as Joni wrote the first distributor training manuals, designed her company’s compensation and recognition plans, created strategic corporate training events and confidently recognized a need in the marketplace.
“Selling products to a large variety of customers provided me the insight I needed to better understand what women really want,” Joni said. “This awareness gave me the courage to pursue the development of the product line I envisioned.”
Building Infrastructure from the Inside Out
Knowing how to intuit the needs of those working in the sales field not only impacts the way founders lead, it also fundamentally impacts the way they build.
For eXp Realty founder Glenn Sanford, beginning as a realtor himself before attempting to establish the infrastructure that could support real estate agents was key. With invaluable insights about the needs and wants of his future field leaders, Sanford was able to radically transform the real estate experience. He understood the isolating burden of finding leads and converting them into sales on his own and endeavored to create a system that would leverage collaboration and information sharing, minus the franchise fees.
“I experienced the heavy lifting that realtors do every day and wanted to make sure agents are truly rewarded for all of their hard work and not lose valuable dollars due to office costs inherent in brick-and-mortar operations,” Sanford said. “I always focus on the agent, which is why we offer a value proposition that is extremely attractive.”
Prioritizing distributors is imperative for almost every direct selling founder and executive. But turning that focus into action plans, strategies and resources that seamlessly speak to the needs and dreams of distributors becomes more powerful when it is enacted by a leader who knows what it’s like to take a seat alongside them in the trenches.
“Witnessing the growth and development of hundreds of other people regardless of their pasts or paths was then—and still is today—one of the greatest gifts one could offer,” Rogers-Kante said. “To that I have resolved to devote my life’s work.”
Some of the industry’s most successful companies were founded by entrepreneurs who got their start as distributors.
These companies, each bringing in more than $100 million in revenue each year, serve as an inspiration to the millions of distributors they lead and mentor, some of whom will undoubtedly follow in their footsteps to build the next generation of multimillion-dollar startups in the years to come. This prestigious and growing list of entrepreneurs and their companies includes:
Mary Kay Ash / Mary Kay
Debbie Bolten / Norwex
Jerry Brassfield / NeoLife
Jason Camper & Paul Gravette / Le-Vel
Jim & Kathy Coover / Isagenix
Mary Crowley / Home Interiors
Rich DeVos & Jay Van Andel / Amway
Jack Fallon / Total Life Changes
Andy & Joan Horner / Premier Designs
Mark Hughes / Herbalife Nutrition
Wendy Lewis & Randy Ray / Jeunesse Global
Jay Martin / Juice Plus+
Jeff Olson / Neora
Mark Pentecost / It Works!
Greg Provenzano, Robert Stevanovski, Mike Cupisz & Tony Cupisz / ACN
Armand Puyolt / Vida Divina
Charlie Ragus / AdvoCare
Rudy Revak / Xyngular
JR & Loren Ridinger / Market America
Tarl Robinson / Plexus Worldwide
Joni Rogers-Kante / SeneGence
Glenn Sanford / eXp Realty
Rolf Sorg / PM-International AG
Sandy Tillotson / Nu Skin
Brian Underwood / Prüvit
Josh Zwagil / MyDailyChoice