After eight years of a cash-and-carry business model, in February 2016, we made a monumental shift in our corporate strategy and went all-in as a party plan company.
It was so scary, for my office, of course, and also for my field. But I have to admit I was excited about it because it was a challenge, and it was the right thing to do. As traditional as party plan may seem, I see it as the future.
Today’s party plan companies are a real business partnership, where consultants leverage a company’s product and technology expertise and then go out and make the sale, without having to make a significant investment in inventory. It’s a model that dates back more than 100 years, but when we position it well, it is exceptionally modern. Just as in the days of the first Avon Ladies, people today love great quality products and many of them are attracted to opportunities to earn supplemental income or even grow their own business.
Technology has opened up a host of new ways to go into business for yourself, but direct selling offers an exceptional experience. You can sell jewelry on your own with an online store, for example, but with Traci Lynn Jewelry, you can leverage my style. You’ll have a team to support you as you get started, and we’re going to give you personal development to help you grow as an individual and as an entrepreneur. And, if you start to build a team of your own, we’ll compensate you for that as well.
Even in today’s increasingly competitive YouEconomy, with more and more people participating in entrepreneurial ventures through companies such as Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit, party plan companies have the social advantage. Our business model taps into that innate human desire to connect with others, to socialize, to share new ideas and to support our friends and neighbors. But in order to ensure our long-term success, we have to stay on top of the other details. People are still looking for human interaction, but there’s no question that today’s party structure is evolving. In today’s world, the key is to be able to get it and go. We want to have a reason to get together, enjoy some snacks and talk over a few items. But when someone is ready to buy, they want the consultant to be able to pull out a phone, place the order in a couple of taps and then be free to leave. My field has become very creative in finding ways to make a party fit the modern consumer. One of our consultants, for example, is having so much success with a “Wine-down Wednesdays” theme that she has a waiting list of people who want her to come to their home. The whole party takes less than two hours, with the consultant bringing a few items, her phone and some wine to share, and everyone loves it.
Technology Your Way
One Sunday, not too long ago, I saw a U.S. Postal Service truck out making deliveries, and I thought, “When did the Postal Service start delivering on Sunday?” So I peeked in the truck and guess what? It was filled with Amazon boxes. Amazon has a contract with USPS to deliver for them on Sundays. They’ve changed the game. And that’s what today’s party plan companies are going to do; we’re going to continue to evolve to that level.
Technology, when implemented well, allows today’s consultants to conduct their parties on the go. So while the catalog remains an important tool in the party plan businesses of today, there are other important tools. An app or other technology that provides mobile connectivity directly to a consultant’s back office is important. With that comes a need for a solution that allows consultants to accept credit card payments seamlessly, without the risks associated with storing credit card or other confidential information. Being able to accept payment through PayPal is a real plus today, as are tools that help consultants more easily suggest related products for purchase.
As a Gen X business owner, I’ve had to work to stay on top of technology trends. I’ve had to get my Instagram game on, learn to use Facebook Live and have some fun with Snapchat to appeal to our millennial customers and consultants. They want to know that you’re progressive and that the tools and means of communication they prefer are a part of your business. They want to know that your tools work for their lifestyle.
Technology isn’t just transforming the way we handle the party aspect of the business; it’s reshaping the logistics as well. Comparison shopping in the age of Amazon puts a lot of pressure on direct selling companies to deliver on shipping costs and delivery times. People want shorter ship times, and they want their products shipped for free. If you want to be able to compete with what people are growing accustomed to, you have to know the details.
For our business, I had to get in there and roll up my sleeves and figure it out. I really went on a hunt to understand packaging and shipping; I learned about “dim weights” and how to make our shipments more efficient. We’ve learned how to get it out fast, in two days to the customer, and when we opened in Canada a few months ago, I learned how you can ship something to Canada in three days. Just by paying attention to the details associated with logistics, we’ve been able to cut our shipping costs from more than $2 million down to a little less than $1 million.
Authenticity Better Serves
As I think about the future of the party plan model, I also think about how we as executives can ensure that the business opportunity itself speaks to today’s consumers. Today’s women are smart. We’ve been to the circus with our kids and we can see the clowns; we know if you’re just using a clown act in front to distract from a scenery change in the back. Today’s women like authenticity, and they’ll see right through it if you try to hide anything or push something on them. So presenting the business opportunity in today’s party plan company is really all about letting people see it in action. You don’t have to do a business opportunity presentation; keep the party the party, and the guests will see the potential and ask questions about the business.
That doesn’t mean a consultant doesn’t go into a party with a goal in mind. For example, she may walk in knowing that she wants to book two parties and identify two people who might be interested in the opportunity. But the approach is not heavy-handed. Instead, she will watch for people who express an interest in the business. You can see it because they ask a lot of questions: How long have you been doing this? You only bring in six or seven pieces? How does that work? We do a lot to train our field on how to take advantage of those opportunities.
That kind of authenticity, I believe, will serve all of us who love party plans well. I love the model, and I love the direction we’re going. We have a strong history of success from which to draw, and we have bright, enthusiastic innovators ready to carry us into the future. The “how” may not always be clear, but I know what we will still be doing: the party. We may have different ways of getting it done, but we must always remember that we are still social. The horizon is vast and exciting, and I encourage you to move toward it but stay true to what’s inside and who we really are.