Sunday 24 September 2017

Dosh on the doorstep

The Avon lady may be a thing of the past but the thriving direct sales industry is worth €54m

Ding-dong Catherine Morgan calling. MARTIN MAHER
Ding-dong Catherine Morgan calling. MARTIN MAHER
Catherine Morgan on her rounds. MARTIN MAHER
Nadia Shah (right) hosting a jewellery party. DAVE MEEHAN
Mathilde Balluas sells direct for French lingerie firm Soft Paris. Photo: Ronan Lang
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

Kitchen appliances, sex toys and make-up – just some of the products consumers here are splashing out on without leaving home.

Avon may no longer be calling, after the US cosmetics giant dramatically pulled out of Ireland last month, but it seems door-to-door sales are still going strong.

Six decades after Tupperware first popularised the home party, Ireland's direct sales industry is worth over €54m, according to the Direct Selling Association of Ireland.

"Nationwide, we still have around 200 women working for us and do about 50 parties a week," says John Keane of Tupperware Ireland.

"If anything, the recession means consumers are looking for value for money, and are willing to invest a little more in items that will last."

Just like the iconic Avon Lady – famously portrayed by Diane Wiest in Edward Scissorhands – around 75pc of direct sellers are women and 85pc work part time.

With cosmetics and clothes just a mouse click away though, is there still room for saleswomen on the doorstep?

"Direct sales is a definite option for women," says Mary Fehily-Hobbs, vice-president of Network Ireland, an organisation for women in business.

"The continual challenges facing women in the workplace are access to adequate childcare and creating the right work/life balance.

"With direct sales, the hours are flexible, enabling women to spend time with their family, as well as in the workplace."

Here we meet three of the women who could be knocking on your door today.

'The key is to give samples'

Biofresh Skincare boss Catherine Morgan, who is in her 40s and from Dublin, says:

"I first discovered Biofresh, an organic skincare and cosmetics range, on holidays in Bulgaria 10 years ago. When I saw the difference it made to my skin, I wanted to use it for the rest of my life. And the only way to do that was to bring it to Ireland.

"So, after working in the bank for 12 years, I started off bringing it home in suitcases and going door-to-door with my family and friends. Friends started telling friends and it just took off from there.

"In the beginning, I couldn't afford to employ anyone. Now I have a shop in Drogheda and two girls on the road. Eventually, I'd love to do a catalogue and sell it throughout Ireland, just like Avon.

"We already have customers in Cork and Kerry. Nowadays, a lot of people are knocking on doors with crap products. The key is to give them a few samples, so they can try it for themselves.

"Girls will always spend money on skincare. Women are selling products they wouldn't put on their own face to other women every day, but because I'm passionate about the product myself, I don't have to lie. At the parties, we do a full skincare and make-up demonstration. It's a great night in for girls.

"When my daughter Anna (11) was younger, I stayed at home with her. Now that she's a little older, I work every day, and I have three parties next week. Anna says she wants to follow in my footsteps by becoming a Biofresh Lady'!"

'Girls still love their bit of bling'

Starlit Jewellery founder Nadia Shah (25) from Dublin says:

"After studying fine art, I took a year out to go travelling. When I came home last year, I decided to set up my own company Starlit Jewellery, specialising in custom-made jewellery such as headpieces, earrings and bracelets.

"Setting up a business in the middle of a recession hasn't been easy. In the beginning, I had to work around the clock just to get it off the ground.

"Although Starlit Jewellery started online, now we do more home parties, have 10 sales reps around the country and even one in Scotland. Ultimately though, I'd love to have my own shop.

"Nowadays, jewellery is seen as a bit of a luxury. People aren't throwing parties every night of the week.

"Depending on the time of year, there could be weeks when you have no parties. But girls still love their bit of bling and because we don't have many overheads, we're able to sell it at an affordable price.

"Parties usually last around three hours and make anything from €270-€800. But there's no pressure on anyone to buy.

"The whole idea is to get a group of friends together in a relaxed environment for a few drinks and a chat and introduce them to the brand. If people decide to treat themselves to a pair of earrings, then all the better!"

www.starlitjewellery.com

'To be honest, it's not really like work'

Soft Paris lingerie sales adviser Mathilde Balluas (30), from Dublin, says: "I first started working as a direct sales rep for a lingerie company in France, where I'm from. After I moved to Ireland in 2007, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make money and meet people.

"Earlier this year, I started working for Soft Paris, a French brand which sells lingerie and bedroom accessories. When you're selling sexy lingerie, it's not that difficult. Everyone is in a girly mood and guests can try on the lingerie if they want.

"Normally our parties are women-only. If someone brought their boyfriend, I think the other women would feel uncomfortable. However, we also do couples' parties.

"At the moment, I do around one party per weekend. On an average night, you would sell around €500 worth of products, on which you make 25pc commission. But I have sold up to €1,000 some nights, making €250 for myself. At each party, I try to book another party with one of the women.

"To be honest, it's not really like work. Wearing nice lingerie helps women feel beautiful – I love being part of that."

www.softparis.com

Irish Independent

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