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Ross Creber, direct selling warrior and servant leader for over 30 years, recently announced his plans to retire as the President and Secretary of the Direct Sellers Association of Canada. Prior to working in support of direct selling and becoming an industry advocate, Creber’s experience included that of both entrepreneur and corporate executive, having worked with prominent Canadian firms in diverse sales and marketing roles. While at the helm of the DSA in Canada, his skills, talents and experience enabled many key initiatives. In the late 1990s, Creber, as Executive Director of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, managed the first Socio-Economic Impact Study ever conducted on the impact of direct selling on global economies.
In tribute to his many accomplishments and his many years of outstanding leadership, DSN brings you a personal interview with Ross Creber.
KH: What attracted you to the direct selling industry to begin with?
RC: I got attracted to direct selling because of my wife, Bobbie. At the time, we had two young children, and she was a registered nurse running an orthopedic center. Bobbie didn’t want to go back to that after having the kids, yet she was looking for something outside of the home that offered more flexibility. She went to a Tupperware party and connected with the gal doing the show, and one thing led to another. Bobbie ended up selling Tupperware and in a period of three years became one of the top managers in Canada. We were given an opportunity to start a new Tupperware distributorship in Calgary. After eight years of being one of the top Tupperware distributors, I went on staff as Vice President Marketing for Tupperware in Canada.
Our careers in direct selling include my work as a business consultant for other direct selling companies and Bobbie having been President of the Canadian DSA for five years. Following this, she was hired to open PartyLite Gifts in Canada. I joined the DSA as President, and five years later we moved to London, England, so that Bobbie could open new markets in Europe for PartyLite. I took a position with the WFDSA as an Executive Director working closely with FEDSA (now SELDIA).
We told our kids we would come back to Canada when we had grandchildren. We were thrilled to return to Canada years ago and to be closer to our children and grandchildren. I was recruited to continue my work as the President of the DSA, and Bobbie continued her work in the industry, which ultimately led to her launching another direct selling company in Canada, lia sophia, where she is currently Managing Director. So direct selling has truly been a family affair.
KH: What drew you to the role as the DSA President in Canada?
RC: I have truly enjoyed my entire career in direct selling. I have such a passion for direct selling and the ability to work with government officials, to be able to make legislative changes and impact people’s lives in such a positive way. I have so enjoyed the friendships over the years with people in business and government working to make sure we do all we can to maintain an open marketplace for direct sellers and companies. In fact, this is still what drives me today.
KH: Over your career as President of the Canadian DSA and also as Executive Director of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, what is it about direct selling that has made the deepest impression upon you?
RC: My deepest impression goes back to the impact you make on people’s lives. This industry is open to all people of all races and educational backgrounds. This is the thread that ties us all together. The method of how we do business based upon cultural or regulatory differences is secondary. In the end, it’s all about building relationships and meeting people where they are by providing quality services and quality products.
I also love the entrepreneurial nature of this business. We equip people with products, business savvy and tremendous earning power. We truly transform their being and their confidence. This industry is open to anyone with no barriers. People just need to have a willingness to engage and work hard. Another huge impression on me is the way the direct selling industry comes together to resolve issues, because at the end of the day we all want our direct sellers to be successful.
Ross Creber with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
KH: What have you seen change the most?
RC: Probably what I have seen change the most over the years is the method and the speed of communication, with Twitter, personal websites and the expectations of consumers. All of these have impacted the dynamics of the business.
We are also seeing more ethnic diversity, which works well for people coming into our country, because they can start to work within their ethnic communities until they are more comfortable with the language and culture in other communities. Of course, we want them to eventually move outside their comfort zone and expand their horizons.
KH: What still needs to change? Or be improved?
RC: We need to change the perceptions of people outside the industry and show that we indeed provide a legitimate and powerful business opportunity. The direct selling channel is so unique that it is difficult for people outside of the business to understand how you continue to motivate an independent salesforce as opposed to a salesforce of employees.
We are seeing increased interest from the younger generation entering the channel, with some of this being driven by exposure to university programs on entrepreneurship. These are the people who get into direct selling because they are not sure what they want to do. And in the process they discover a lifelong career.
The strongest asset that we have as associations and as an industry is our Code of Ethics and Business Practices. Unlike many other industry associations, you don’t just write a check and gain membership in the more than 60 DSAs around the world. The rigorous review that is undertaken prior to granting membership, including the commitment to and compliance with the Codes by our respective member companies, provides assurance to direct sellers and consumers that they can purchase products and invest in the business opportunity of our members with confidence, knowing that they are backed by organizations that require a strong adherence to ethical conduct in the marketplace.
I believe that we are doing a good job of communicating this message to regulators, but we need to do a better job of communicating the message to consumers, and the WFDSA and local DSA Communications Initiative will go a long way to creating a greater awareness among direct sellers and consumers. This is a great marketing tool for direct sellers to use during presentations to customers or prospective recruits.
KH: What have you witnessed in your tenure about the growth of the direct selling channel of distribution among people?
RC: We continue to see an increase in the 55+ age group. These are people looking for second careers and supplemental income. And of course, one of our biggest drivers remains young moms looking for an outlet, a flexible new career that allows them to combine home and work environments.
KH: Please share your thoughts on the future of our industry, in Canada and across the world.
RC: Direct selling transforms lives. Back in the early days when I was a distributor for Tupperware, I witnessed people’s lives and confidence change. It’s not always about money. Money is certainly a factor, but it’s the improved skills and the increased self-confidence that evolves over time. People treat direct selling as a business and lifelong career—not a hobby. This trend will continue to grow nationwide and globally.
KH: As you prepare to step down as Canadian DSA President, what are you most proud of?
RC: We have developed a very strong relationship over the years with government agencies and the Canadian DSA. We had a lot of legislative wins during my time and Bobbie’s time at DSA. We have been able as an association to work with the federal government and develop amendments to the Competition Act, which deals with multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes of selling. This legislation really is a model for the industry.
Back in 1991 we identified that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) would create a real challenge for direct sellers, so the association with support of legal counsel worked with the Department of Finance and Canadian Revenue Agency to put in an alternative collection mechanism for direct sellers. The precollection mechanism allowed direct selling companies to collect tax at the time of sale and remit to the government on a regular basis. This was a win-win for the industry, direct sellers and government. It’s a classic example of how government and industry work together. In fact, we are the only industry that was given a special arrangement when GST first came in. Through legislative work we have been able to harmonize direct selling processes across provinces and simplify the process for companies and the direct seller who sells across borders. The greatest acknowledgement came when the Prime Minister’s office identified the DSA as a significant contributor to the economy.
I have been blessed over the years to receive the following honors:
- Recipient of the DSA’s Ivan P. Phelan Award (1997)
- Recipient of the DSEF Circle of Distinction Award (2010)
- Recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee of her ascension to the Throne) (2012)
I want to acknowledge a number of mentors throughout my career, including Bobbie, Jud Whiteside, Jack Miller, Ray Patrick, Joe Mariano and Neil Offen, just to name a few.
I am looking forward to spending more time with my wife; our family, including our five grandchildren; golf and some travel.