Not Your Mother's Tupperware Parties
You groan as another dreaded invitation arrives in your e-mail inbox. A good friend has agreed to throw a party to sell kitchen gear. Lucky you, you've landed on her invite list.
Like many of you out there, I have a love/hate relationship with these types of parties to sell a certain product. There's the promise of some socializing, a glass of wine, some cheese and crackers, a break from the family. All good things, right? But then there's the silent pressure to buy. I know my friends won't renounce our friendship if I walk out of their house without plunking down a single dollar. But everyone else is buying and I'm not going to be the chump who doesn't.
The truth of the matter is these types of home-based, direct-selling parties are all the rage these days. They've been going on since the 1970s when I can remember my mother going to a Tupperware party here and there. Today home selling parties, known as "party plans" in the sales world, represent nearly 70 percent of all face-to-face sales, according to the Direct Selling Association.
But these aren't your mother's Tupperware parties anymore. Small entrepreneurs have steadily tapped into this type of selling to get their products out to the masses and to avoid the overhead cost of opening a retail shop.
Michelle Woods, co-inventor of Petal Beauty products, generates 75 percent of her sales from "Petal Parties," where her make-up and beauty line is laid out on a dining room table for party goers to buy. What helps is her prices are reasonable and she tries to make sure there's no pressure to buy. Woods, who makes much of her merchandise in her home along with her New York-based business partner, stands out of the way, ready to demonstrate the product if asked. She says these types of parities have worked for her business because party goers can buy a small $10 lip gloss or shell out as much as $20 for a body polish.
"I really just want people to come and check out our stuff," Woods says. "Sure, it's fun to sell it but I do like the fact that it just gets our name out there."
Melissa Emerick's Bella Designs jewelry has had similar success, with 40 percent of her sales coming from what she calls "trunk shows." Like Woods, she also stays in the background, casually mingling with attendees rather than pitching a hard sell. Her success has also come from offering reasonably priced jewelry that's unique. Pieces range from $8 for a pair of earrings to $125 for a necklace.
"I really think that the personal contact that people feel when they come to a trunk show in person connects them with that piece of jewelry," Emerick told me. "Versus walking into a Nordstrom."
I've felt good about buying from both of these women because, well, what woman doesn't need some new make-up and jewelry from time to time? But also because I feel good about supporting small, women-owned businesses. And Emerick often uses some of the proceeds from the party to make a charitable donation, another way to make party goers feel good about their purchase.
So how do you decide which parties to go to, especially knowing there's a good chance you'll be pulling out your checkbook? Here's some advice from my own experience, as well as friends' experiences:
-- Only go to parties where you know the host and a few friends. It just makes it a more enjoyable socializing experience.
-- Know a little about what's going to be sold. Most businesses and small entrepreneurs have Web sites where you can check out some of the merchandise beforehand. Only go to parties where you know they're selling something you need or want.
-- If you don't think you need something for yourself, think about gifts. I did a big chunk of my Christmas shopping at both the Bella Designs and Petal parties in early December. The receipients liked the fact that the gifts came from local women and they were unique.
-- Keep an open mind. Friends have told me they were pleasantly surprised by the quality of what they purchased even though it was a little more expensive than what you could find in a retail store.
-- If you really don't want to spend money, then don't go. As much as the host and the entrepreneur don't want you to feel that pressure to buy, it's still there. And if you're a weakling like me, you'll succumb to the pressure.
Pampered Chef: The kitchen tools company sends a representative to your house to demonstrate the products. Party goers can buy a knife for as little as 99 cents.
Southern Living at Home: The monthly magazine started selling many of the products seen on its pages seven years ago through independent consultants throughout the country.
So what are your favorite sales parties? What are some good tips for going to these parties? Post a comment and tell me about it.
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