By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
From leggings to essential oils to makeup to kitchenware — if you can name a home or lifestyle product, you can probably find someone selling it on Facebook.
More and more people are signing up as salespeople for direct sales, also called multi-level marketing, companies.
Direct sales companies don’t sell their products in stores.
Instead, the only way customers can purchase them is from independent consultants.
They sell the product, but also recruit new consultants to their team. Tupperware and Avon are two well-known, decades old companies that follow this business model, but new companies are springing up all the time.
According to the Direct Selling Association, 20.2 million people in the U.S. were in involved in a direct sales company in 2015. That’s a 27 percent increase over the previous five years
The association also estimates that 77 percent of sales consultants are women.
Stephanie Meester knows a thing or two about direct sales.
She’s been a sales consultant for the kitchenware company Tupperware for nine years. Before selling Tupperware became her full-time job, the Lynden woman was a teacher.
Recently she won her third Mustang convertible from the company for her team completing sales goals.
She’s the first person ever to complete that challenge three times.
To win the car, Meester and her 75-person team sold $1.3 million worth of Tupperware in 18 months.
Her team is all made up of consultants that she has recruited.
In addition, she has an organization made up of people she has recruited and then promoted, who can then recruit teams of their own. In total, she has more than 800 people, spread all around the country, selling Tupperware as part of her organization.
Recently Meester sat down with the BBJ to answer some questions. Answer have been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started selling Tupperware?
My aunt needed freezer labels. I couldn’t just order them online. Only Tupperware ones would do.
So I called Tupperware and they said “Here’s the name of someone in your area.” My mom said, “I need a catalog. I haven’t seen a catalog in 20 years.”
So the consultant sent me some catalogs. Between my mom, my sister and my aunt we had a $600 order.
The consultant said, “Oh, there’s a special going on right now.” So she spent her own commission and bought me a [startup consultant] kit.
I’m like, I’m not selling Tupperware. About a month later, I was talking to a friend, and I just mentioned Tupperware, she was like, “Oh you sell Tupperware? Can I have a party for you, I’ve always wanted to know someone who sold Tupperware!”
I’d sold other things and nobody ever wanted my catalogs before. So then it snowballed.
So what was it about Tupperware that worked for you?
It has nostalgia attached to it. Grandmas had Tupperware. So I get people saying to me, “Can you get me that bowl that my Grandma had?”
They have a lot of the classics. They’re also very inventive.
And then there’s all the incentives. The three Mustang convertibles. I sold the first one, and when I get the third one (it’s been ordered it just hasn’t arrived yet), I’ll sell the second one. The trips — I love to travel. I’ve gone to Mexico for free, I’ve gone on an Alaskan cruise for free.
I’ll go to Europe this summer, and I’m on pace to go Argentina next year.
My team is amazing.
The level of care and help and love on our team, is — I’ve never experienced that before outside of my family.
How did you get from ordering the kit and selling by yourself to having a team?
People were interested. And that surprised me.
It was mostly me, and my aunt and my sister buying it at the beginning. Then people wanted my catalog.
And I started realizing, well I’ve done really well with it. And I’ve gotten lots of free stuff. And then I was starting to think, why wouldn’t other people want to do this?
So what does your team do? How is having a team different than selling by yourself?
My team sales, I get a bonus on, from Tupperware. How well I train my team is a direct correlation to what my bonus check will be.
I don’t take anything from the the people I recruit. They don’t pay me, they don’t give me anything. Anything that I make comes directly from Tupperware, both commission-wise and bonus-wise.
So what makes you a team is that you recruit them, and then continue to train them?
Yes. I’m their trainer.
What are your strategies for selling Tupperware? Do you have a lot of parties?
I do. I do maybe two a week, home parties. I do Facebook parties. I like the home parties more, personally. I have young children; I love getting out and having adult time.
So are your customers mostly people you already know?
Every party I do I meet new people. I do have return customers, but I am constantly meeting new people.
We do events. We’ve had a booth at the fair here for about seven years.
The party is my favorite place because then you have time to connect. You have time to get to know what their needs are in the kitchen.
So how does a party work? You take your product to someone’s house and then do they get a commission?
They get free product based on how much their friends purchase. I’m a non-pressure kind of a person. But I do show them how Tupperware will make their lives better and either they buy it or they don’t. So each party itself will last about an hour once I start talking and demo-ing. And then people chat and place their orders.
Why do you think the direct sales business model is so appealing to women?
I think because women can be their own boss. I’ve turned myself into, almost, the leader of my own company. So I’ve created a position for myself through the company where I have leadership, but I didn’t have to create the company from the ground up.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I take care of people. From my customers to my recruits. I was raised knowing I could do anything I wanted to do. My mom always told me that if I worked hard enough I could accomplish anything I wanted to and I really believe that.
Once people wanted my catalogs, and I realized the kit thing was a really good idea, and I realized, oh, this is career level income.
I want to help every woman realize that they can change their lives.
Sometimes I feel like that is my biggest job, being their cheerleader, whether that’s in life, whether that’s in business.
What are your keys to success when it comes to selling the product?
I believe in the product. I couldn’t sell a product that I did not honestly believe made people’s lives better.
And my market is everybody. Everybody eats. It’s a good market.
There are so many new direct sales companies springing up. Do you think that’s good or bad?
I think it’s a bad thing. Tupperware does not run this way, but most direct sales, they rely on their consultants purchasing their product. And if they’re not purchasing enough, then the company just closes its doors, and consultants are left with all this product leftover.
Tupperware encourages you to not carry an inventory. So the product ships straight to the host or straight to the customers.
You’re not making money off of something that is sitting in your living room.
So what advice would you give people just starting out in direct sales?
Be careful carrying an inventory. It will be sitting there not making any money, and it is a potential loss. Especially if your product expires.
Make a plan and start today. Make a plan and work the plan. Make goals.
So why do you think so many people are signing up to be consultants, both for Tupperware and other direct sales companies?
In general, it’s easy in, easy out. It’s very low risk, depending on which company you choose.
Most kits are a very good deal. So even if you wanted the kit and did very little, it’s often worthwhile, no matter which company you’re in.
What is your long term goal with Tupperware?
I don’t know. Because if you had told me two years ago that this is where I would be, I never would have believed you. I would have laughed in your face. So I don’t know.