At the mention of the word “Whistlestop,” students of American history certainly envision the iconic photo of Harry S Truman, on the rear platform of a train, displaying a newspaper proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The image was important not only for the historical significance of Truman’s election to the presidency, but also for the significance of his campaign travels, covering long distances over vast expanses of land by train, stopping in small cities and towns to greet the citizens.
In fact, the concept of a whistlestop refers to depots along a train route where the train only stopped if signaled to do so by a passenger.
In January the Direct Selling Association embarked on its own whistlestop tour. The concept began as an effort to reach out to members to communicate some important changes happening at the association, but quickly revealed itself to have a much deeper connection to DSA’s mission.
The original idea for the tour was simply to provide a vehicle for introducing DSA’s new staff leadership. After 40 years of dedicated service, Neil Offen will retire in June. I will have the honor of assuming the presidency on July 1, but even my 25 years with the association does not mean such a change is something to take lightly. I felt it critical not only to communicate about the changes, but to reach out to members with the reassurance the helm is secure and the future course of the association is one that will continue to support their needs.
But as we began to think about how we would convey that message at each stop along the route, I thought back to those iconic train caboose images from presidential campaigns of long ago. The train pulling into the station in the early days of the railroad was an exciting event. In addition to people, the train brought with it supplies, mail and news from places many people had never seen. In these days—long before Facebook and Twitter—making a connection was not only more difficult, but I have to believe it was also far more memorable. Each of us receives hundreds of e-mail messages each day, but sitting face to face with someone provides a context that cannot be rivaled by words on a screen. There is no group of people that should understand this more than direct sellers!
So the purpose of DSA’s Whistlestop Tour became more about making that personal connection than any one message that we might convey. Its most important mission became finding out what’s on the minds of our members as well as reminding them that while they are working every day in the cities and towns across the country and around the world, there is a support team working on their behalf, headquartered in Washington, D.C., but working wherever necessary.
The theme of this year’s Annual Meeting is “Focus Forward.” As DSA concludes the celebration of 100 years of serving its members, it is tempting to focus on where we have been—and what an exciting century it was! But as the meeting theme commands, the real focus must be on the future, a future that will be shaped by the needs of each DSA member.
As this magazine goes to print, the Whistlestop Tour is on its way to Phoenix and Dallas. We have already visited Florida and Georgia and are looking forward to stops in California, Utah, Chicago, Boston and New York. I hope every member of the DSA community will make an effort to meet us at the depot nearest to your homestead. Let us share with you what’s on the horizon for direct sellers, but perhaps more important, share with us what’s on your mind—how we can support you as we chart the course for the next 100 years.
Joseph N. Mariano is Executive Vice President, Secretary and Legal Counsel for the Direct Selling Association. He will become President of the DSA in July.