Pulling Double Duty

Published 12:02 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

Emily Prichett, Lecole Bush, Mandy Hilson, Heather Owen, Jennifer Palmer and Christy Copeland (pictured above) are among the scores of local residents who operate direct sales businesses in their spare time. The women are also hosting a benefit tonight for Ayla Powers, a cancer victim, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Springdale. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News

When people think of a home party business, these companies come to mind – Avon, Mary Kay and Tupperware. Over the years, that list has grown to include companies like Pampered Chef, Chez Ami, Thirty-One Gifts, Premier Designs and Willow House.

The list is really too long to name, but the companies each have one thing in common – representatives here in Covington County who are using the direct sales approach to make additional money.

In 2010, the industry estimated sales at $28.56 billion, according to the Direct Selling Association. The biggest sellers – females age 30 to 46 who work their business on a part-time basis using “home parties,” where friends and family are invited to try products and see new wares. Hostesses are often given free merchandise or large discounts for sponsoring a party.

In Covington County, the “why” of starting a direct sales business is as diverse as the “what” that is sold.

Heather Owen works full-time as a recruiter at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and part-time as a representative for Chez Ami Children’s Wear. She said she was introduced to the company after buying a Chez Ami piece at the local Little Lambs children’s consignment event.

“I found out later it was years old, but it still looked brand new,” said Owen, a mother of two. “For me, this business is a great way to clothe my children.”

Pampered Chef consultant Jennifer Palmer said the business was a way to restock after a kitchen redesign.

“I’d attended Pampered Chef parties for years and loved their merchandise,” she said. “Those parties were a way for me to get out of the house for some adult conversation after being at home with my children all day – which is one of the reasons that many women do these kind of businesses. They’re great ways to get merchandise that you love, to meet people and to work the schedule that works best for them. It’s a win-win.

“My advice to anyone thinking about starting a direct sales business is go for it,” she said. “You don’t know if you can do it until you try it.”

Most of the women agreed one doesn’t have to be a “salesman” to be successful.

“Really, the products sell themselves,” said Christy Copeland, a consultant for Tastefully Simple, a company that sells easy-to-prepare foods. Copeland said at her home parties attendees taste 18 different food samples. “When customers can see it, touch it or taste it, they know what they’re purchasing. I am not a good salesman at all, so I’m proof of how these products sell themselves.”

Company types are as diverse as people’s preferences – ranging from candle and home fragrance collections, children’s clothes and food products to cosmetics, home décor and even pet products.