The Pink Economy

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In the Pink

by Amy Bell

The Pink Economy.
The Pink Collar Movement.
The Pink Revolution.

No matter what you prefer to call this powerful phenomenon, one thing is certain: Women have been painting the direct selling world pink for more than a century.

Today, some 80 percent of the 15 million U.S. direct sellers are women, and this fuchsia faction isn’t just earning a little pocket change. In 2010, the female-dominated group generated a total of $29.6 billion in annual sales.

What makes these pink ladies tick and why are they magnetized to the direct selling industry?

Striking a Balance

cover storyAlthough the reasons why countless women continue to flock to the direct selling industry year after year, decade after decade are virtually endless, it usually begins with a woman’s search for that ever-elusive work-life balance.

“Direct selling lets both women and men work the hours and schedule that best suits their family’s needs,” explains Heidi Thompson, President of Scentsy Inc. “This is so important for parents who want to balance the need to earn a living with their desire to make family a priority. Very few other industries or work situations can offer that balance.”

As studies have shown time and again, life balance is absolutely crucial to most women. It’s what makes them feel confident, content and successful. That’s why if you were to ask any direct selling woman why she chose this industry, she’d most likely sum it up with just one word: flexibility.

“The great thing about direct selling is that it offers us an opportunity to manage our own time and to have a more flexible schedule so that we can take on these different areas and give them the focus and attention they need, but kind of on our own terms,” says Elizabeth Thibaudeau, Vice President of Opportunity and Brand Marketing at Nu Skin Enterprises.

“As women, we have this tendency to take on responsibility after responsibility, almost to the point where we never seem to say ‘no,’ ” she adds. “We have this desire to be Superwoman, and that whole concept is coming to a head … people are really struggling with it. I was just reading that women in their 40s are more depressed than ever because they’re trying to be all things to all people: a super mom, a super wife, a super employee, a super boss, a super community member. And it’s physically and mentally impossible to do all that.”

In other words, far too many professional women are attempting to attain the unattainable—and when they fail to reach their lofty goals, they feel dejected, disheartened and downright miserable. However, Thibaudeau points out that with a career in direct selling, women can almost have it all. “If you need to take off a few hours in the middle of the day to attend to some personal matters or family matters, you can do that, and you can make up for it in the evening,” she says. “It gives you that confidence in your capabilities and allows you to juggle everything you have on your plate. We’re seeing that’s one of the greatest benefits for women.”

Jennifer Wolbers, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Neways Inc., reflects that sentiment. “The direct selling industry provides women the amazing opportunity of owning their own business but not being in business by themselves,” she explains. “In direct selling, women are provided a low-cost entry into a personal business where they can pick their mentor and business trainer, select hours to match their schedule, and determine their own goals and the income level they want to achieve.”

Wolbers goes on to say that without the burden of an office commute and strict 9-to-5 business hours, women in direct sales can finally strike a balance between work, family, friends and personal interests. This is precisely why women continue to gravitate to the direct selling business model.

Sarah Bjorgaard, Senior Lead of Business Development at Tastefully Simple, adds that women in direct selling truly enjoy the best of both worlds: They have the ability to earn a healthy income and spend more time with family or friends. “Many consultants and leaders who are independent business owners with Tastefully Simple earn the same amount doing a couple of parties per week as they do with their full-time careers,” she says. “This allows them to work their Tastefully Simple business part time and add valuable income to their household. Consultants have total flexibility to schedule their business around their family, making their family a top priority in their lives.”

Cover StoryThe Great ‘Mancession’

Another reason why women are attracted to direct selling is simply because it’s one of the only industries hiring right now. Despite the drooping U.S. economy and skyrocketing unemployment numbers, the Pink Economy continues to flourish. Even as unemployment lines lengthen, countless professionals across the nation are scoring jobs with direct selling companies, from Mary Kay Cosmetics, Gigi Hill and The Pampered Chef to Tastefully Simple, Pure Romance and Nu Skin. Of course, the vast majority of these budding direct sellers are—you guessed it—women.

In fact, because men lost the greatest number of jobs during The Great Recession, some clever economic experts have been calling the economic downturn a “mancession.” Between December 2007 and June 2009 (the official recession timeframe, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research), jobs held by men accounted for more than 70 percent of all those lost. The male-female job loss gap widened even more in November 2010, when the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent for men as compared to 8 percent for women.

Economists say this unemployment disparity could have been caused by a variety of reasons. First and foremost, because men generally earn higher salaries than women, their jobs were the first to be slashed by flailing companies. Additionally, many of today’s most downtrodden industries have traditionally attracted more men than women. For example, the manufacturing and residential construction sectors—both industries dominated by male workers—have lost more than 2.5 million jobs. In fact, nine out of 10 construction workers and seven out of 10 manufacturing workers are men. As a result, innumerable women across the nation are now supporting their jobless husbands, and a lot of them are doing it through direct sales.

“Many consultants tell us Scentsy came at a critical time for their families,” Thompson says. “We had many consultants whose husbands lost their jobs in the building industry. These consultants started selling Scentsy to supplement their household income, but it soon became the sole source of family income. In some cases, their husbands now help them with their Scentsy business because they can make more working a Scentsy business with their spouse than by working outside the home.”

Bjorgaard has also noticed this trend. “More and more women over time have certainly stepped into a role that provides the main ‘bread and butter’ for their families,” she explains. “And because a direct sales business like Tastefully Simple can offer you the opportunity to work fewer hours and still make great money, I’ve found that spouses are supportive of this important role women play in their households.”

While direct selling companies have primarily targeted women for decades, the industry gains even more female interest during recessions as women seek out creative ways to earn income. Consequently, while the U.S. economy continues to falter, direct selling companies aren’t simply surviving—they’re thriving.

For example, Pure Romance enjoyed a 42 percent jump in consultants and raked in more than $100 million in revenue in 2010—a 37 percent increase from the company’s 2009 sales. In 2010, Avon brought in a whopping $10.9 billion. Mary Kay racked up $2.5 billion last year, and in April 2011, the skincare and cosmetics giant signed up more than 165,000 new U.S. independent beauty consultants—their largest monthly recruitment in a decade.

“The recession has helped grow the direct selling industry,” Thompson says. “As people lost their jobs in other industries, they turned to direct selling as a way to have more control over their future. In direct selling, what you earn depends on how hard you work at your business, and since the recession, many people would rather put their trust in their own efforts to succeed.”

Bjorgaard points out that the direct selling industry also offers women something most industries simply can’t provide right now: hope. “Hope for a better life, a better future and a better tomorrow,” she says. “I look at direct sales as truly the way to live the American Dream. This is an incredible motivator when our economy is at an all-time low.”

A Beautiful Business Model

The numbers don’t lie: Even in the shadow of a dreadful U.S. economy, direct selling continues to grow and prosper while other industries struggle to stay afloat. But what makes the direct selling industry so unique? According to Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings, CEO of Gigi Hill, it all boils down to this: Direct selling taps into every woman’s natural instinct.

“Of course, women migrate to this industry in a down economy because it’s an opportunity to make extra income, and you can drive it yourself. But really, the key is that our industry follows the natural innateness in women to share the things we love,” she says. “Our stylists honestly fall in love with the product and become passionate about it, and that enthusiasm spills over into everything they do. They all naturally have a network of friends and family that they want to share their products with. And from there, we teach them how to grow their business beyond their friends and family. It’s a natural process, regardless of the economy.”

A direct sales career can also offer a woman the confidence-boost she needs in today’s brutal job market. “I think women are drawn to this industry because they know they have the ability and the capability within themselves to do greater things and achieve their goals,” Thibaudeau says. “In a recession, people are going to be more introspective. They’re going to search within themselves, look deep down and say, ‘Hey, I actually have amazing potential. I’m a smart, capable person, and now it’s time that I take the bull by the horns, and I’m going to guide this myself.’ And direct selling gives them that chance.”

Wolbers reiterates that in today’s uncertain economy, an increasing number of women are fighting to regain control—even if that means taking an entirely different career path. “If you turn back the clock 20 years, female professionals could see themselves joining a Fortune 500 company and having that position for life,” she explains. “In today’s economic environment, we have seen that there are no guarantees. Female professionals want to take control of their own future. Direct selling provides that safety net with complete flexibility to fit personal lifestyles. As females, we don’t have a boxed-in perception of what defines success in a typical 9-to-5 position. Because we are open to trying new paths, we are able to find opportunities like direct selling to replace the typical household income. In this process, women are finding friends and relationships that will last a lifetime.”

Cover Story

Get What You Give

Perhaps most important of all, women are drawn to this industry because it allows them to accomplish their unique goals and reach their own personal definition of success. After all, direct selling is one of those rare careers in which a professional gets back what she puts into her job. Whether she wants to earn $300 a month to cover her car payment, $650 a month to pay for her child’s preschool bill or rake in a full-time salary of $3,000 to $5,000 a month, the opportunity is there.

“We have a turnkey system—it’s a really clear process that allows everyone who comes into this business to set their personal and professional goals,” says DeSantis-Cummings. “First, they fall in love with the product, and then we help them map out what their goals are both in business and personally. We kind of work backward: Tell me where you want to end, and then let’s work backward to how you’re going to get there.”

With a Pink Collar job, each sales consultant gets to define what she wants and needs. And the best part? She gets to do it on her own terms based on the amount of time she’s willing to invest.

“Sometimes you’ll hear people say, ‘Oh well, some of these people only earn a couple of hundred dollars a month,’ ” says DeSantis-Cummings. “But that’s all they want, and that’s what they need, and they’re only working a couple of hours, whereas others are making a full-time income. And that’s what they want, and that’s what they need, and that’s what they’re working for. So, they can make as much as they want.”

Wolbers says for most women in the direct selling world, it’s not so much about the what or the how as it is about the why. “The key to a Neways career is to know your why,” she says. “Your why can be money for a car, a vacation, a home, income replacement or a long-term career. Once you know your why, you can create an action plan and build backward to define success. Neways can help women reach their own definition of success no matter how big or small that may be. Through duplication and the generous Neways compensation plan that pays out over 50 percent commissions, it is possible to make $500, $2,000, $10,000 a month or more.”

Thibaudeau says the beauty of direct sales is that it’s all up to you. “You set your goals, and you decide what it is you’re trying to achieve, and you are completely rewarded based on your efforts,” she says. “If I decide I’m going to put in three hours a day, five days a week and I’m going to take a part-time approach to this, I can do that. And I will reap the benefits for part-time work. But if I want to make this my full-time income, I have the ability to do that. How many other careers out there can parallel that?”

Think Pink

As more and more women seek out innovative ways to earn income and struggle to achieve that tenuous work-life balance, there is no question that the Pink Economy will continue to grow and prosper. In fact, new companies are already popping up in the burgeoning direct selling industry.

“We already are seeing more direct selling companies,” says DeSantis-Cummings. “It is a really effective way to do business, and now with all the new social tools that allow women or anyone in this business to be even more efficient, it’s just blowing up even more. It’s taking it to another level.”

Thibaudeau says there are constantly new entrants in this industry, which proves that direct selling is still on the rise. “As we demonstrate and set the example of how we can change lives—not only our own but others around us—this industry is going to continue to grow,” she says. “People are looking for creative solutions to be in control of their financial and time freedom, and direct selling offers that. I truly believe it’s going to be one of the biggest industries for the future.”

It seems that the sky is the limit for the direct selling industry, and the only clouds on the horizon are tinged in pink.

A Rosy Future

by Amy Bell

As an increasing number of professionals seek out creative new ways to earn income, the Pink Economy continues to expand and strengthen—and new direct selling companies are emerging across the globe. Here are a few of the most recently successful direct selling entrants:

  • Gigi Hill: Gigi Hill produces high-quality, fashionable and functional handbags for on-the-go women, which are sold by stylists at in-home parties. This fast-growing company was founded by Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings and Monica Hillman.
  • J. Hilburn: Offering exclusive Italian shirting and trouser fabrics, luxury performance knits, and a top-shelf accessories line, J. Hilburn was founded by Hil Davis and Veeral Rathod—two former Wall Street professionals with a passion for custom-made dress clothes. The company’s style consultants build strong relationships with their clients, serving as the critical link between the customer and J. Hilburn.
  • bamboopink: Founded by Frances Gadbois, Debbie Millar and Jude Steele, bamboopink produces beautifully designed, affordable jewelry, sold by company consultants at in-home trunk shows.
  • Exercise Party®: This new, out-of-the-box direct selling company is all about women teaching women how to eat better and move more. Offering a wide variety of exercise and nutrition products, Exercise Party directors organize in-home parties designed to help women make positive changes for a healthier lifestyle.
  • Thirty-One Gifts: Thirty-One Gifts was founded by Cindy Monroe, who began sewing purses with one machine in the basement of her Chattanooga, Tenn. home eight years ago. Today, with more than 40,000 consultants nationwide, the blossoming direct sales company offers a full range of stylish, affordable products, from signature purses and totes to storage solutions.
  • Votre Vu: Launched in 2008 by American entrepreneur Harold Zimmerman, Votre Vu offers an array of luxurious French-inspired, botanically infused skincare and hair products. The company’s “brand ambassadors” sell everything from face crèmes and serums to shampoos and beauty beverages.
  • Azuli Skye: Founded by Deborah McNaughton, Azuli Skye produces high-quality, affordable jewelry handcrafted by artisans at the company’s headquarters in North Carolina. The company’s consultants sell jewelry made of fine materials, including sterling silver, Swarovski crystal, semiprecious gems and custom handmade beads.
  • Chartreuse: Chartreuse offers an array of green-friendly products, from chic shopping bags and cleaning solutions to organic personal care, baby products and Reusable Essentials—all sold through a network of consultants at home parties. This up-and-coming direct sales company was founded by Laurie Walter.
  • Team Beachbody: For more than 10 years, Team Beachbody has been producing the nation’s most popular in-home fitness programs. However, when the company realized that the best means of promotion was not TV ads but Beachbody customers themselves, they launched the Team Beachbody Coaching Network. Within one year, the program grew from 17,000 in-home coaches to more than 50,000.

Providing a Lifeline: Direct Selling’s Special Skill

by Barbara Seale

Cover Story

Immigrants who have found courage and confidence in a new country, women facing family financial crises, and even consultants whose businesses have helped them weather natural disasters—these types of reports make so many proud to be part of the direct selling industry.

Graciela Sanchez, Director of Sales and Marketing at Belcorp USA, grew up following one of these storylines. Her mother came to the United States speaking no English, but her success in a direct selling company enabled her to put three children through college, to own and fully pay for two homes, and to support her family exclusively through her direct selling income.

“I’m an advocate for direct selling because this is an opportunity like no other,” Sanchez says. “If you ever talk about the American Dream being possible, it’s definitely possible through direct selling.”

Sanchez has seen versions of her mother’s story repeat themselves for years in the lives of consultants who join Belcorp.

“About 60 percent of our consultant base at Belcorp USA is of Hispanic origin,” she reports. “As I’ve talked with them, they’ve shared some of the challenges that they’ve had in the past—not having enough food, not being able to go to school because they had to work, not being able to have a bed or a decent home. As they’ve come to this country and started to succeed as entrepreneurs, they’ve been able to grow and change their lives.”

Overcoming Obstacles

Joseph Billone, Vice President of Global Direct Selling at Avon, says he has seen examples of independent representatives who have overcome even cultural obstacles to keep their families afloat during difficult circumstances. He recounts the story of a Turkish representative who lost everything she owned when her home was devastated in an earthquake—everything, that is, except her Avon business.

“Turkey is a very male-dominated society, and she had used the business to make extra income for her family,” he explains. “After the earthquake, she redoubled her efforts and put the family back on solid ground so they could rebuild their lives. Now her husband is happy to help her by making meals occasionally when she’s busy. It was such a milestone in her life for her husband to think that what she was doing is valuable.”

At Amway, where the majority of the company’s business is outside North America, executives are very familiar with the cultural and economic limitations its independent business owners (IBOs) face every day. Opportunities for women in India and Thailand, especially in more rural areas, are culturally limited. Most focus their lives on their children and their homes. When they look for ways to develop themselves or contribute financially, direct selling offers them a chance to learn, gain confidence and supplement the family income while they continue their family responsibilities. The same situation exists in other countries, too. So Amway does everything it can to support women as they build their businesses. They offer business and training materials in local languages and establish local facilities everywhere it’s feasible.

“We’re going into countries, setting up a physical presence and creating the kind of community that lets women participate in the business opportunity as well as participate in their families,” explains Yogesh Chavda, Director of Consumer and Marketing Insights at Amway.

But whether their business is in a developing country or in the United States, Amway women make up about 75 percent of the company’s IBOs and 85 percent of overall sales, according to Sandy Spielmaker, Vice President of Sales at Amway U.S. In the United States, recruitment of female IBOs is up 11 percent this year, and the majority of them are Hispanic or Chinese. She says many of them are attracted to being global businesswomen. They have friends and family in markets such as Mexico, India, China or Australia, and they naturally see that those relationships can help them build an international business.

“Free training helps them gain product knowledge, optimize their income and learn how to get advice. It’s all available in multiple languages: Spanish, French, Korean, Mandarin and English,” Spielmaker says. The company also facilitates communities of multicultural women so that new IBOs can meet other women like themselves. “When you’re dealing with multicultural groups and women in general, it’s important that they have a chance to meet other women who look like them, have the same values and come from the same place. It builds confidence, helps them get their network going and provides community support in their business.”

Entrepreneurship Comes Naturally

The low cost to start a direct selling business is a key attraction to the industry, especially for immigrants or women in an economic crisis. Avon representatives can start their business for a minimal investment, and the company lets them place orders and pay for the merchandise after they’ve collected it from their customers. It extends $1 billion in these “micro-loans” every day around the world. And Amway has a 100 percent money-back satisfaction guarantee for both its products and the cost of becoming an IBO.

Both Amway and Belcorp have charitable outreach programs that have altruistic goals but also produce new distributors. Amway’s One by One program provides food, education and healthcare to children around the world. By helping children, Amway sometimes gets to know their parents, who become interested in the business opportunity. Something similar happens at Belcorp. Its Amazing Women program is under way in 14 countries and launched in the United States in July. The program seeks out women with disadvantages and teaches them skills that help them become entrepreneurs. The program doesn’t promote the company’s business opportunity, but participants naturally become interested in the company and consider it an avenue that lets them use their newfound skills and confidence.

Avon’s Billone brings it full circle, reflecting on what direct selling is really all about: “We’ll be there, whether you have a great need to get your family back on its feet or whether you just want to make a little income and feel better about yourself.”

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