One year ago, I was in Las Vegas to celebrate my birthday, opting for a dry-heat celebration this trip around the sun instead of yet another day of dashing around Bellevue in heels dodging rain (or, if I’m oh-so-lucky, snowflakes). Because the birthday was the turn of a decade, I opted for a hotel just off the Strip, complete with cabanas and meal service. My dream was to have a celebration made for adults who get up at 6 a.m. — to go running on the Strip, grab a Starbucks, and generally avoid the typical Vegas party scene.
But my dream was dashed when I realized some 7,000 women in town for a direct-sales convention had reserved most of the hotel. And that their dream Vegas trip involved many of the same things mine did.
Until that weekend, I knew very little about direct sales. My mom hosted a few Tupperware parties when I was a toddler, and a friend introduced me to Mary Kay (I felt my grandmother would be very proud of me) during law school. But I never really grasped the concept — partly due to the lack of social media available at the time, and partly due to the fact I liked to buy things in stores.
In the last few years, though, it seems everyone I know is involved with direct sales — including my best friend from high school, Marin Wren, who works in Bothell at Vertafore. About a year ago, Wren began inviting me to events where we could buy Jamberry nail stickers.
Admittedly, I have a slight addiction to professional manicures, so the product isn’t up my alley — but I kept my eye on Wren’s events, especially after my entanglement with the direct sales convention in Vegas. Clearly, I figured, there’s a trend here.
Months later, other friends started messaging me about health-care products from other companies, including weight-loss wraps, shakes, smoothies, candles, essential oils — the list goes on.
Wren says direct sales are all similar to Mary Kay. “That’s the name that everyone knows,” she said. “When you work with a direct sales company, you sign up as an independent consultant. You then are authorized to sell that product. You do still need to follow their marketing and compliance rules, and typically sell through their systems that are already in place. So, you get a website that is personalized to show you as the consultant, but everything else is uniform to the company.”
Wren has several friends involved in direct sales. The barrier to entry is low and requires relatively little risk — after buying a starter package, you’re not obligated to purchase anything more.
“Typically you have some sort of base sales goal to maintain your status as a consultant,” Wren said. “For example, with Jamberry, you have to have $600 in sales over the last rolling 12 months. Most companies pay quickly; Jamberry pays commission weekly. I’ve seen others that pay at the end of every day. You don’t typically have to carry inventory. It’s a low-cost, easy-access market. And your startup kit will usually contain its value in products you already love.”
This makes leveraging direct sales an easy side gig to make some extra cash, especially if you’re a time-strapped parent — but you need to promote it somehow. For many people, this seems to just be a matter of using Facebook. Wren says her day job at Vertafore allows her to talk about Jamberry and the other companies she works with, but she doesn’t actively promote them at work.
“I do talk to my work friends about it. And, if I’m asked about the product I’ll talk about it. But, I don’t want to be the pushy sales-y person anywhere, especially in my office,” Wren said. “We do host an annual craft show in our lobby, so people are pretty aware of the different talents and side gigs in our office. I don’t want to feel cornered at work by someone trying to sell to me, and I treat people with that same mentality. But if I hear about someone who has something, and I’m interested, I’ll ask them. People here are pretty good about the boundaries. Offhand, I can think of five or so other ladies that have direct sales gigs on the side.”
But what happens if someone at your workplace gets too pushy about his side gig?
Wren says what works best for her is honesty: “If it’s a product you’re not interested in, feel free to say that. If it’s not something you want to talk about at work, suggest calling them about it later.”
If I could, I would have called each of those 7,000 women in Vegas and told them I was definitely not interested and that pitching me skincare products while I was tanning was not the right place or time.
In hindsight, a smart consultant would have at least waited until I was sunburned and headed to the airport. Maybe then I’d be so desperately in need of those lotions that I’d be interested.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of 425 Business.
This article was edited to correctly reflect the 12-month sales goal for Jamberry consultants.