Doing Business Face to Face


Doing Business Face to Face

Direct selling has been called the original social networking business. Selling a product face to face based on a relationship is as old as commerce, yet today it is a vital part of the sales of green energy, cosmetics and the home décor markets. The one-on-one sales approach uses product parties, kiosks at community events and old-fashioned door-to-door ventures to sell products. Direct sellers now keep in close touch with their customers through Facebook and Twitter. Sales are growing as direct sellers use social media to quickly and easily draw in distant friends as customers.

Tupperware, Amway, MaryKay, Forever Living, Pre-Paid Legal Services, Primerica and Pampered Chef are among the major corporations built on the efforts of individuals working their relationships on a grass roots level.

According to “The Ultimate Social Business Model,” a direct seller is an independent contractor who determines when and how they will conduct business. “Direct sellers have historically held a competitive edge over traditional retailers of goods and service because of their skills in connecting with people,” reported Theresa Day.

Green Mountain Energy
Green Mountain Energy’s network marketers talk to potential customers about the benefits of electricity derived from 100 percent renewable resources. (Photo by Eileen Mattei)­­­­

Power to the people

“It’s proven to be a successful way to bring in customers,” Montelongo said. “What brings them is our unique mission: to change the way power is made. Customers know we were the pioneers for the green market and are focused on 100% renewable energy.”

Selling electricity is more complicated than selling beauty products because many people have existing contracts with their electricity supplier. “People are more conscious of pollution free energy. But just because you know someone, it doesn’t mean they will switch,” said sales agent Miguel Cortez. The direct sales agents offer Future Signups to people who have less than 90 days left on an existing contract as well as signing up those who are not bound by a contract.

Avon has 4,500 sales agents in the Valley. Each runs a mini-business, tracking orders and developing customers. (Eileen Mattei photo)

Face forward

Avon, founded in 1886 and the world’s largest direct sales corporation, had $1.9 billion in revenue last year thanks to its 6.5 million distributors worldwide. In the Valley, Avon has 4,500 sales reps. Each one operates as a micro-business owner.

“First of all, they have to have a desire to succeed,” said Avon manager Linda Mireles of McAllen who recruits, trains and empowers women to sell Avon skin care and beauty products. She shows direct sales reps how to sell the items and which customers to target, because not everyone is interested in buying the same items. “The most successful are those who have been with Avon for many years and have built direct selling from scratch.”

Mireles also has new sales reps who are selling $1,000 of Avon products every two weeks. “What makes them different is they are selling Avon as a personal business and not just doing it on the side as part-time employment.” Yet that is the attraction of direct sales for many people: being able to choose how much time and energy to invest.

Years ago, at age 14, Rosie Gomez started as an Avon helper. She now works about 12 hours a week selling Avon. “It’s the amount of time I have to give. I go through a neighborhood and throw Avon books in the driveways to get new customers. Some call right away and others in a week. Once you’ve sold Avon, it’s really hard to stop. People will keep looking for you, asking for samples, placing orders.”

Avon has 26 campaigns a year, each with its own small catalog, Mireles explained. “I challenge them to go for five new customers in this campaign by asking customers to show the new book to their friends”. Avon’s sales reps are encouraged to stretch beyond their initial personal network, keeping their networks growing, and following up on new contacts. One Valley Avon rep has sold Avon for 50 years, and her daughter and granddaughter sell Avon as well. Mireles noted that people who lack computer skills or have a language barrier have succeeded with Avon, if they are motivated.

The enticing aromas from Scentsy’s wickless candles attract customers and direct sales agents. (Eileen Mattei photo)

The sweet smell of success

Meli Hernandez of Brownsville got into direct sales with Scentsy, a scented, wickless candle alternative, to support a friend selling Scentsy and to take advantage of the product discount. “It’s interesting. You get to meet a lot of people. It gives me a reason to start a conversation with strangers,” said the full time postal worker. “It’s something to do and brings some extra income. She classifies her participation as a hobby, and then some. “The products are addictive. People who already know them come back for more.

“People walking down the street are attracted to the booth by the smell of black raspberry and vanilla or cranberry mango. Scentsy is a no brainer. It sells itself,” sales consultant April Hinojosa said. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and get so excited about wanting to join. Some say they’ll wait until the kids go back to school. The key point is that they fall in love with the product like you did.”

Network marketers for Tupperware, Avon, Scentsy and Green Energy all had booths at Jackson Street Market Days in Harlingen.

Laura Olivares works at an elementary school and also works four to six hours a week selling Tupperware. “That really helps, being in my school. Tupperware works and the parties bring more people in,” she said. “I’m comfortable, and I don’t feel like I’m taking on more than I can handle.”

The first step to get into network marketing is finding a company with a good reputation and a product that you are enthusiastic about. The second step is to be willing to tap into your circle of friends and family to start off. Age, gender, education and language are not impediments for entry into direct selling. The unemployed, underemployed and fully employed go into the field. Some people are looking for a career or their own business, while others want only a temporary or part-time income. The Direct Selling association says 35 percent of direct sellers are college graduates while 24 percent have a high school diploma.

The appeal of a social networking business, beyond income and product discounts, includes the opportunities to build new relationships and friends and to receive rewards and recognitions for accomplishments. The direct selling business model enables individuals to get a taste of business ownership on their own terms and consider where they could go next.

August print cover story by Eileen Mattei.

Freelance writer Eileen Mattei was the editor of Valley Business Report for over 6 years. Her articles have appeared in Texas Highways, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas Coop Power magazines as well as On Point: The Journal of Army History. The Harlingen resident is the author of five books: Valley Places, Valley Faces; At the Crossroads: Harlingen’s First 100 Years; and Leading the Way: McAllen’s First 100 Years, For the Good of My Patients: The History of Medicine in the Rio Grande Valley, and Quinta Mazatlán: A Visual Journey.