Opportunity knocks...direct selling is alive and well
With everything from mops to moisturisers among their wares, Leslie Ann Horgan meets the next generation of Avon ladies...
Avon may have pulled out of Ireland, leaving its 5,000 members in the lurch in April 2013, but that hasn't meant the end to product parties, purchase catalogues and door knocks across the country.
In fact, recent figures released by the Direct Selling Association of Ireland showed a 25% rise in the number of people working in the area - with an estimated 20,000 direct sellers now operating in Ireland. For some, dubbed the 'mumtrepreneurs', it's a part-time job to supplement their income, while for others it's a full-time business where earnings are uncapped...
Peigin Crowley, 37
Peigin lives in Ovens, Co. Cork, with her husband and their two daughters. She is a stylist with international accessories brand Stella & Dot.
"Direct selling is perceived as being very old-fashioned and I could never have imagined myself as being an Avon lady. I was working for Elemis when a colleague, Lucy, left to become a stay-at-home mum in America. She'd only been there a while when I saw on Facebook that she was selling jewellery. I wanted to be supportive so I logged on to her website and instantly fell in love with Stella & Dot. The pieces are brilliant quality, beautifully packaged and on trend. All I wanted to know was when it was hitting Ireland. I had to wait a year-and-a-half for that to happen, so in the meantime I took redundancy from my job. I was able to use some of that money to buy my Stella & Dot start-up pack so everything fell into place for me.
The packs cost from €200, but I invested €1,000. I gave myself a month to see a return on the investment - it's a business with immediate results if you put the work in. If you were to sell Stella & Dot as a hobby for three to four hours a week, you'd earn between €250 and €500 a month. Part-time of ten hours a week will bring in €800 to €1,000 a month. Full-time, once you build and coach a team, the sky is the limit - there are plenty of stylists in the US earning a six-figure sum.
To launch a business like this, you need to use your friends and family to get you through the door. Selling to strangers is much more pleasurable because they see you as a stylist. I've actually become more fashion-conscious and stylish through this work. Before, my disposable income went on the house and the kids but now I need to look the part.
I work at property styling on the side for some secondary income, but that's slowly fading away as I become busier with Stella & Dot. I do an average of two trunk parties a week. These are held in the home of a hostess, who gets some freebies and discount in return. There is absolutely no pressure for people to buy, they'll either be into the brand and want to purchase or it won't be their thing. It's a social occasion and good craic either way. Generally in a party of 12, between eight and 10 women will make a purchase.
Stella & Dot hosts quarterly meet-ups where stylists can see new stock and get training on hosting shows. There are also plenty of videos and manuals available, but biggest help has been my friend Lucy who is my sponsor. The company has a very transparent structure for moving upwards but you only go to the level you want to. I now manage my own team of 18 stylists and provide one-on-one coaching to them.
That's my favourite thing about the business - how social it is, both with customers and other stylists. Stella & Dot is positive, women-oriented and very supportive. It's made me very happy."
Jenny Faison, 41
Jenny is originally from North Carolina but now lives with her partner Gerard in central Dublin. A trained massage therapist, she is a consultant for Neal's Yard Remedies Organic, a range of organic beauty, skincare and aromatherapy products.
"I first joined up with NYR Organics two years ago. A fellow aromatherapist first introduced me to the brand. I had no experience of direct selling before that and was mainly interested in getting a good discount on products that I could incorporate into my treatments.
The joining fee is €125 and for that you get a kit of the top-selling products. The whole idea is that you try them yourself and fall in love with the brand so that you can be passionate about selling it. I'm not naturally a sales person but I think that people gravitate towards someone who has a genuine interest in a product.
NYR Organics has a home party model but that wasn't for me. Those parties are still huge in the US and UK, but Irish people are not as embracing of them as they were in the 1980s. Instead, I incorporated the products into aromatherapy and skincare workshops, and also have catalogues and my own website that I sell through. Giving people samples to try is really important. You want them to know and trust the product.
In the six years I have been in Ireland, there has been a definite shift towards natural and organic products. The NYR Organic range is certified by the Soil Association in the UK and all of the ingredients are natural. Skincare is the biggest seller followed by essential oils for me. The mother and baby range is also very popular because pregnant women are very careful about what they are putting on.
It was a real education for me to see how much women in this country spend on beauty products. I'm in the process of opening up a holistic therapy centre with a colleague in Fairview and we need to have a beauty offering if we're to be successful, so the NYR Organic products are perfect for us.
You get out of direct selling what you put into it, so your profits can fluctuate wildly. Last year I was very focused on NYR Organics and it accounted for 20-25 per cent of my profits. At the moment my focus is on setting up the centre so I haven't done much selling but I know it's there to dip back into. With NYR you get paid 25% commission for every item you sell. Some months I come out with zero because that's precisely the amount of work I put into it. Others I make €300-€400 and that's without it being my main work focus. I've been a team leader for a while and stepped back down, but you can always go up again when you have the time.
It was never my goal to make a career from direct selling but as a complement to my business it has worked out really well."
Dymphna Dunne, 56
Dymphna is a mother-of-two from Navan, Co. Meath. Both she and her husband Gerry are managers for Betterware homewares and cleaning products.
"I work full-time for Betterware and look after a team of about 20 part-time people across Dublin and Meath. They will spend a couple of hours every evening delivering catalogues - about 300 in an eight to 10-hour week - and then calling back to see if anyone would like to place an order.
The majority use Betterware to top up their incomes. With all of the extra Government charges and wage deductions, people are finding it hard to get by. Those who need the money are the best people you can hire for a job like this because they have the motivation to do well. In 1988 my family moved to the UK because of the last recession. There, Gerry applied for a part-time job with Betterware to bring in some extra money. It was only when we moved back to Ireland in 1997 that I took it up. Our kids were teenagers by then so I had the time. Gerry is now the manager for all of Ireland so his job is to recruit and train managers, who in turn recruit distributors.
Betterware has a really varied range, from cleaning products and homewares to mother-and-baby items and gadgets that make life easier for the elderly. Demand changes seasonally. Brooms and mops are always big sellers, but in the summer there's more call for gardening equipment and, coming into the winter, people will start buying gift items for Christmas.
Plenty of people ask why they should buy from us when they can get a lot of the same products cheap in Lidl. Purchases from a discounter won't get delivered to your door by someone with a smile on their face - nor will they be guaranteed for 12 months like all of our products. I also think that in a recession catalogue shopping helps people buy only what they actually need and can afford.
We get a huge amount of repeat business. After someone has placed an order, they are no longer buying from a catalogue but buying from a person. They start to get to know you and know that you are reliable and it grows from there.
Direct-selling is not for everyone. If you are going to spend two hours out in the rain delivering catalogues every day then you need to love what you are doing. We all have bad days but there are some fantastic days too, which makes it worthwhile."
Amy O'Sullivan, 22
Amy lives in Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny. She is a manager with Forever Living health and beauty aloe vera products.
"I studied economics, politics and law in DCU and graduated in 2013. After I'd finished college in May, I was looking for jobs during the summer. I have an interest in health and wellness and I came across Forever Living products. I ordered some and started out just using them myself. As an industry, direct-selling and network marketing are areas that I didn't know existed. I had only ever heard of Avon, but Forever Living is very different. There are no parties to host or catalogues to give out, it's all about word of mouth and informing people about what's on offer. If you like talking, then this is the job for you.
I have always wanted to set up my own business and this was the perfect way to do it. There are no overheads and I didn't need to get a business loan to get going, which is particularly good for someone just out of college. In the last eight months I have built up a solid business. The products are all aloe vera-based and include a range of things from weight-loss products to beauty and skincare.
People tend to think that direct selling is a female-dominated area but there are a lot of guys involved. My boyfriend Padraig Phelan works with me and he looks after the sports side. Fitness is a booming sector and Forever Living does products such as protein shakes for people in training. It's a good time to be in this business because people have become very health aware. As a young person, this industry appeals on lots of levels. You don't need work experience or expertise to get started in it. I watched my parents put in long hours at work all their lives and I wanted more freedom than a traditional 9am-5pm. This gives me time to do other things and will also allow me to keep working and travel, hopefully to somewhere with sandy beaches.
Self-motivation is key. I set goals for myself, such as buying a new car, and am very driven when I get going. In July we reached manager level, which is the highest-paid place on the Forever Living business plan. There's no pressure from the company to progress but if, like me, it's what you are aiming for they will support you and work alongside you. I definitely see this as my future career. There's so much potential in it and the income is uncapped."