2017 Best Places to Work in Direct Selling

by Courtney Roush

4 Signs
4 Signs

Click here to order the April 2017 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

“Most people think trust is earned. Here, trust is granted. We wouldn’t have hired you if we didn’t trust you.”

These very words are spoken by Xyngular CEO Russ Fletcher to new hires during the company’s new employee orientation sessions, presented by the four members of its executive team. At Xyngular, one of this year’s Best Places to Work in Direct Selling (see special award supplement included with issue), that statement sets the tone for what’s to come: a culture and a host of perks and benefits that convey an implicit message of trust, a key component of employee engagement. So what kind of impact does it have when an executive not only takes the time to personally welcome a new employee, but also makes a declaration of trust right out of the gate? For starters, a 97.7 percent employee retention rate.

Employee engagement: It’s both a simple concept and a complex dynamic. On the surface, employee engagement refers to satisfaction and happiness, but it is so much more than that. It’s a science that puts hard data around “soft” variables like emotional investment and intent to stay. Examine any high-growth company, and you can count on finding employees who believe their opinions are heard, who know specifically how their jobs contribute to the company’s objectives, who have access to professional development opportunities, and who feel valued by leadership. All too often, a company first learns of an employee’s disengagement with a resignation letter. Earlier intervention through better onboarding, mentoring, professional and personal development, recognition and occasional, but regular, touchpoints with senior leadership could have made a difference.

Engagement is a critical topic because, according to our third-party vendor and research partner Quantum Workplace, which conducted surveys and compiled findings for the 2017 Best Places to Work in Direct Selling contest, those perceptions are directly tied to a company’s bottom line.

For more than 10 years, Quantum Workplace has been conducting in-depth surveys with organizations throughout the world. Along the way, a consistent theme has emerged from their findings: Companies with higher employee engagement see better retention, better productivity, better profits. Based on that knowledge, Quantum, through its in-depth research, has revealed some of the primary drivers of engagement, along with factors that can diminish it.

When we speak of employee engagement within direct selling companies, the contributors and detractors really don’t differ from the business world at large. However, it’s important to note the effect of employee engagement on our ultimate customer: the independent salesforce members we serve. It stands to reason that happier employees mean a happier independent salesforce.

The continued growth of the direct selling channel has created an exciting climate in which talented candidates have …

Click here to read the rest of the article at Direct Selling News.




The September 2016 issue of Direct Selling News is available!

Cover Story

Keys to Success part 1: Customer Acquisition

by Andrea Tortora

Of all the misinformation about direct selling, perhaps the most often repeated—even by those who work most closely in the field—is the description of direct selling as an industry. Read more…

Celebrating success is a hallmark of direct selling, and we have two opportunities for you to recognize the great work being done by your corporate teams. Read more…

Like the pink Cadillacs it awards to top sellers, today’s Mary Kay retains a classic feel while embracing innovative thinking and design. Read more…

When husband and wife team Mark and Tracy Jarvis set out to launch their own company, they had listened to numerous suggestions for the name until “zurvita” was proposed and immediately touched and won them over. Read more…

In the year 1855, Reverend J.R. Graves started a mail order company selling books, religious tracts and Bibles. Read more…

It’s another year and you’re gearing up for your convention. Read more…

Over the past decade, rapid developments in technology have fundamentally changed how direct selling organizations operate. Read more…

The speculation started immediately. As soon as the news—Herbalife Settles with FTC—began popping up on mobile alerts and news outlets early Friday morning, July 15, observers inside and outside the direct selling channel began scrambling to understand the bigger picture. Read more…

The U.S. Direct Selling Association held its Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 5 to 7, bringing together direct selling company executives, academics, suppliers and global direct selling leaders for collaboration and conversation about the trends shaping the channel. Read more…

The direct selling industry is at a critical juncture in its long history. Read more…

The role of the U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA) has never been more clear: to serve as a “listening post,” a place to collect, analyze and address the aspirations and concerns of the direct selling channel. Read more…

For more great stories, please click on our subscription button and subscribe to DSN

The May 2016 issue of Direct Selling News is available!!

The May 2016 issue of Direct Selling News is available!!

Cover Story

Direct Selling: Our Unique Position in the YouEconomy

by Courtney Roush

A seismic shift is occurring right now in the American workplace. This shift is happening; there is no stopping it, and the impacts are not yet fully imaginable. Read more…

Publisher’s Note

Let’s Celebrate!

by Lauren Lawley Head

We’re wrapping up a month of celebrations at Direct Selling News, first with the April 1 publication recognizing our inaugural class of Best Places to Work in Direct Selling honorees and then just a few days later the seventh annual Global 100 Celebration. Read more…

The 17th annual SUCCESS Partners University, held at the Dallas Omni Hotel April 7-8, once again provided a platform from which C-level executives and guest speakers shared insights and information with the more than 600 registered guests. Read more…

It’s an oft-told sidebar in the retelling of the Scentsy story: How the multimillion-dollar international party plan company began in a 40-foot metal shipping container on a sheep farm in Meridian, Idaho. Read more…

A wonder kid of sorts that exploded onto the direct selling scene in 2009, LifeVantage has seen its fair share of exponential growth and powerhouse performance of its products. Read more…

On Jan. 5, Gary Young stood amidst the extreme devastation in Nepal, brought about by a massive earthquake a little over nine months earlier. Read more…

Every salesforce has its traditions, whether it’s a quick ritual to gear up for the week or a unique way of approaching follow-up calls.Read more…

If you ask 100 people “What is big data?” you would likely get 100 different answers. Read more…

I love the University of Georgia football team. I’m a big Bulldogs’ fan and go to every game I can. Like a lot of sports fans, I have some peculiar habits in relation to my team. Read more…

John Addison, now President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group and Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine, engages and inspires audiences with his relatable messages. Most recently, he served as Co-CEO of Primerica Inc., a company he joined more than 35 years ago. DSN Publisher and Editor in Chief Lauren Lawley Head had an opportunity to sit down with him this month to talk about his vision and the future of direct selling. Read more…

The direct selling industry today is at a critical juncture. Read more…

The theme for DSA’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix this year is Reimagine. I’ll provide some context. Read more…

The Social Age

by Andrea Tortora

Click here to order the January 2016 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

The Social Age is here. If you’re not taking full advantage of the tools and technologies that social platforms have to offer, you and your company are likely to be left behind as the competition leaps ahead. Now well into its infancy, the Social Age is and will be making a tremendous impact on the sales industry, especially within the world of direct selling. The changes already cannot be ignored.

Technology drives everything—recruitment, retention and revenue—for most companies. Those businesses that realize what they can achieve when all of their internal, back office, social media, field tools and software systems work together are equipped to innovate and leverage essential data that will let them thrive in the future.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram are potent tools that companies and consultants are learning to use as they build connections with customers and grow sales. Other apps such as Periscope and Google Hangout are gaining traction, too. Yet many executives and companies are slow to embrace these advances. A study from CEO.com and Domo finds that 68 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence. Among the 30 percent who do, they only use one social channel. Here LinkedIn was the chosen platform.

In contrast to that study, it does appear that C-level executives within direct selling are more plugged in to the benefits of these engagement tools. A recent study conducted among members by the U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA), titled The 2015 Managing Your Company’s Web Presence and Technology Systems Survey, indicates that nearly six in 10 companies surveyed report that one or more of their chief-level executives have company-associated social media accounts that they actively engage in
(57 percent).

Additionally, over half of those also indicate that the chief executives create the content for those accounts. At Scentsy, the Idaho-based wickless candle company, it’s common for an executive to personally respond to field achievements or post in conversations on Facebook, the social media platform most used by Scentsy Consultants.

Rick Stambaugh, Chief Information Officer at Utah-based company USANA, refers to the focus of today as “Digital Humanism.” He says, “The consumer-driven Internet of things has many components, but the most prominent one is social.”

As direct sellers work toward more fully embracing the Social Age and everything that comes with it, a few things are clear…

Click here to read the full article in Direct Selling News.

The Future of Direct Selling in the U.S.

by Andrea Tortora

Click here to order the October 2015 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

Direct selling in the United States is undergoing a transformation fueled by innovative approaches rooted in classic business practices. The power generators leading the way for direct selling as a channel of distribution can be found in what Direct Selling News has identified as the upper middle market: those companies with annual sales roughly between $300 million and $1 billion.

Because most direct selling companies are privately held and many decline to disclose their financial results, it is difficult to create a definitive list. Our research honed in on a group of more than 30 U.S.-based companies, most of which are experiencing significant growth. Some of them are on the cusp of reaching $300 million, and some likely have recently passed the $1 billion mark. But together they are critical to direct selling’s competitiveness and future. They tend to be among the fastest growing when it comes to revenue, and they account for a large slice of the job creation pie.

An in-depth analysis of this group reveals a high level of consistency when it comes to executing on key common strengths. The ability of these companies to focus in on products, customers, serving their salesforce and creating a culture that reinforces a sense of family put them on track to shape the future of direct selling in the U.S.

Companies emphasize each area in different ways, but in general these leaders:

  • Harness data. The upper middle market knows how to mine the data it has to gain insights that lead to more and better sales. Executives train leaders and consultants to use data to open doors that might otherwise remain closed.
  • Stay true to classic business practices. Technology and social media do not replace person-to-person interactions, they complement them. Upper mid-market firms build relationships with customers that maintain the consultant-client affiliation but also allow the customer to have a connection with the company itself.
  • Use compensation plans that span all levels of engagement. To cultivate trust and long-term relationships, comp plans are created to appeal to new customers, product enthusiasts, fierce advocates and influencers—all the way up to the entrepreneur who is all in. Payments also follow a more modern schedule.
  • Foster an entrepreneurial spirit. Consultants are allowed and encouraged to go far with personal marketing (think YouTube videos) while maintaining brand identity. Companies deliver superior and frequent training and messaging to make this happen.
  • Maintain a laser-focus on selling. The sale of a product, a group experience or an opportunity all lead to more sales, which generate positive results.

No matter the specific approach, one thing all upper middle market companies excel at is …

Click here to read the full article at Direct Selling News.



Direct Selling’s Strength in the World’s Billion Dollar Markets

by Andrea Tortora

Direct selling continues to gain ground worldwide, with global retail sales and the total salesforce both reaching record highs in 2014.

The World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) estimates that retail sales rose 6.4 percent to $182.8 billion in 2014, up from $171.8 billion in 2013, with all regions and three-quarters of direct selling countries posting gains. The total salesforce grew by 3.4 percent in 2014 to 99.7 million people, up from 96.5 million in 2013. All of which lights the stage for coming geographic shifts in market dominance.

“The most recent figures highlight the increasing opportunities that direct selling offers,” says WFDSA Chairman Doug DeVos. “Customers seek personalized service and quality products, and direct sellers are able to meet those needs in a way that is convenient and enjoyable. At the same time, people who aspire to earn a little extra or launch a full-time business venture are drawn to direct selling due to its flexibility and pay-for-performance structure.  It’s exciting to see more people, both customers and distributors, enjoying the benefits of direct selling.”

As part of WFDSA’s annual global statistics gathering, data is collected in local currency figures, which are then converted to U.S. dollars using 2014 exchange rates for all years. When comparisons are made to determine year-over-year change, this practice eliminates the impact of currency fluctuation, explains Judy Jones, Market Research Insights Leader at Amway and Chair of the WFDSA Global Research Committee. The 2015 report comes with an expiration date of May 2016, when the next year’s data will be published. For some markets, sales are estimated until the respective country reports its official figures to the WFDSA. At that time, actual data is restated and accounted for the next year.

These most recent figures confirm direct selling’s strength and its ability to keep reaching more people—as sellers and consumers—in all corners of the globe. The industry’s 6.5 percent three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2011 to 2014 is evidence of that power.

The Top 5 countries account for 61 percent of all global sales. All but one report a positive CAGR (2011-2014):

  1. United States, 4.9 percent
  2. China, 18.7 percent
  3. Japan, -2.3 percent
  4. Korea, 8.1 percent
  5. Brazil, 6.7 percent

In all, 23 countries posted retail sales from direct selling of $1 billion or more in 2014. That group accounts for 93 percent of global sales from direct selling.

Leading the pack of the Top 5 countries once again is the United States, where the 2014 sales of $34.5 billion set a record and grew by 5.5 percent from the prior year. The U.S. CAGR for 2011 to 2014 is 4.9 percent. There are 18.2 million people who distribute products, up 8.3 percent from 2013. Nearly 75 percent are women, which means 14 million females are building their own businesses.

Overall estimated retail sales rose 6.4 percent to $182.8 billion in 2014, up from $171.8 billion in 2013.

Companies that are members of the U.S. Direct Selling Association (U.S. DSA) employ 55,300 people who are highly trained experts in their field. For example: 3,000 employees are science professionals, including chemists, biologists and engineers.

“Robust salesforce and revenue figures only tell part of the story behind direct selling’s success in the United States and around the world,” says Joseph N. Mariano, President of the U.S. DSA. “Our channel also provides …

Click here to read the full article in Direct Selling News.

Don’t Forget The Basics: A Cautionary Tale

by Andrea Tortora

Click here to order the April 2015 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

When companies leave direct selling, their stories present keen lessons for the entire industry. Interviews with industry experts and business leaders, as well as extensive research, show many common challenges and mistakes. The most notable? Forgetting the basics. As companies mature, they become complicated and drift away from their core. This can create weakness in a business’ culture and attitude.

“There has to be a synergy between the efforts of the corporation and the efforts of the field to work together as partners. You have to always respect the field and care about them and love them to be truly successful.”

—Neil Offen, former President and CEO, Direct Selling Association

To remain strong and growing in the industry requires an understanding of many complex issues, but foremost among them is a foundational principle—what makes direct selling tick are personal relationships. This remains true regardless of product offering, level of new technology utilized, or even what label is attached to the process—whether it’s group selling, party plan, social selling or one-on-one.

While it remains important for nearly every business today to maintain a commitment to technology expansion in some form, the manner in which each company embraces technology should never supersede the organization’s commitment to its people who function within that technological framework. Parties and gatherings may move to a more virtual landscape, but the people involved are still the ones engaged in the process and business channel. Indeed, the rapidly evolving landscape in business in general requires everyone to stay nimble enough to respond to market pressures and consumer preferences in ways that align with their company’s true principles.

People First

Every time a good company exits direct selling, it hurts the industry as a whole. There are many recent examples from which we can learn, including two energy companies that closed their direct selling segments: North American Power and NRG, whose business unit operated as Independence Energy Alliance. Other companies include … Click here to read the full story at Direct Selling News.

Show Them Who You Are: Driving Successful Events with Cultural Authenticity

by Beth Douglass Silcox

Click here to order the February 2015 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

Excitement is palpable and anticipation electric. Energy fills the space and all eyes wait, fixed center stage. Perhaps no other industry rallies its salesforce in quite as spectacular fashion as direct selling, where participants create an atmosphere that resembles a professional sporting event, a national political convention and even a homegrown dance party.

DSN February 2015Large-scale events are the culmination of tens of thousands of smaller gatherings that push business growth forward and foster belief among the rank and file selling field. By the time the pockets hit the seats in hotel ballrooms, convention centers and stadiums across the globe, successful direct selling companies have made it their business to fascinate their sales fields. As that first spotlight welcomes believers, it is up to corporate to deliver an authentic experience that lives up to the fascination and defines how the company wants the world to see them.

At an event is clearly one of the few times when a voice from the corporate level goes out powerfully to the field. The independent contractors are present, attentive, and invested in hearing and learning. This is the place to deliver big on consistency in messaging.

Events of all sizes are avenues where direct selling companies pass along their corporate culture. But it is the large-scale annual or semi-annual extravaganza that should capture the essence of a company’s culture in every conceivable way, from the personal development speakers who take the stage and ceremonial recognition of top leaders to the entertainment and extracurricular activities. Often, even the venue locales themselves, point back to the company’s authentic, true self—its culture.

Cultural expressions at these grand events range from Team National’s homegrown comfort, banquet-style roundtable seating, indoor beach volleyball games and sandcastle sculptures to NuSkin’s on-stage pyrotechnics, Cirque du Soleil style performances and innovative musical concerts by top-shelf artists like Seal.

While some companies because of the scale of their corporations or their cultural style may spend more money and offer more visual sizzle, the same event methodology applies to all. It’s not enough to simply tell the field who you are and what you stand for, you must show them.

Event-centric Culture

“If you can’t see it, feel it or experience it quickly, we don’t sell it. We’re all about the experience, and our company name really defines how our events strategy works—It Works!”
—Mike Potillo, Chief Sales Officer, It Works!

For direct selling companies, “showing” starts in living rooms, kitchens and coffee shops across the globe. Every gathering, whether it be just two people or 2,000, is an event, and each of these events layers one on top of the other to lead direct sellers to yet a larger event, culminating in attendance at a national convention.

Participating in local events provides the first degree of connection for the independent consultant to the company, and to other consultants. From this, an individual is much more likely to take that leap to go to a regional event or fly to a national conference. When a company’s strategy includes a layered event rhythm, independent consultants build relationships, gain knowledge and understand the value of that national conference. By layering events with specific intention, it reinforces the perception that the bigger national conference will provide significant value to the attendee.

Whether it’s an intimate one-on-one meetup or an on-stage affair in front of thousands, It Works! events—or parties as they like to call them—are central to the company’s overall business strategy. “The purpose of the event is to not only inspire your existing field, but to create new revenue, increase retention and give recognition,” says Mike Potillo, Chief Sales Officer. “If you can’t see it, feel it or experience it quickly, we don’t sell it. We’re all about the experience, and our company name really defines how our events strategy works—It Works!”

Where some direct selling companies cater their events, marketing, sales strategies, and business models to 100 percent of the potential market, It Works! pinpoints the segment of market share they want and caters only to them. In so doing, Potillo says, “We know that we can be ourselves. We can be who we are. We can be goofy. We can be silly. We can be the crazy one, but we’re going to pull a big percentage of what we want and they are going to be like us. We can truly have a lot more fun and not have to worry about how we are perceived. I think that the genuine authenticity of our company resonates with everyday people because that’s exactly who we are.”

Cultural authenticity also infuses Nerium’s events through the expression of its main core value: Be Real. Their approach is personal and humanizing and giving. “Our speakers and everyone we have on stage share from the heart and are transparent with their stories, their struggles. It’s not like we’re just showing a bunch of perfect people up on stage that aren’t relatable to our Brand Partners,” says Amber Olson Rourke, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Our philosophy for events is to make it a time for giving back, investing knowledge and personal development into the field, giving them fun experiences and opportunities to network and really making them feel special. We see events as a way to give back to our Brand Partners and invest in them, and I think a company gets more in return if they look at events this way.”

While Viridian Energy shares a similar event escalation process, they take a distinctly business-like approach when addressing their independent associates at events. “They are sweat equity investors in our business because they invest their time and talent,” says President Meredith Berkich. “Our desire to honor that investment is taken super, super seriously. We open the majority of our events talking to our independent associates on a business level because they consider themselves the CEOs and presidents of their own companies. We want to take a very mature business approach with them.”

Viridian’s high-level business strategy posture at events attracts extremely professional associates to Viridian’s ranks, while corporate transparency in its sustainability efforts to minimize carbon footprints through renewable energy purchases solidifies the overall integrity of the company and increases trust. It’s a strategy that keeps Viridian growing.

To successfully grow in today’s marketplace, direct selling companies must know who they are and find authentic ways to skillfully exhibit it to their sales fields. Event choices—no matter how seemingly incidental—will read authentic or not to the direct selling field. It’s imperative that companies pay attention to the details, for it is the field that literally embodies the company’s culture when they return home to build their businesses, and it’s their first-hand accounts that will fill the seats of that next national event.

“We see events as a way to give back to our Brand Partners and invest in them, and I think a company gets more in return if they look at events this way.”
—Amber Olson Rourke, Chief Marketing Officer, Nerium

A Fascinating Formula

Meeting Technology

The use and applications of technology have grown in every aspect of business, including meeting planning. In fact, according to the Event Industry Trends Report 2015, published by Julius Solaris, Editor of the Event Manager Blog, the most exciting technologies for events in 2015 will be focused around attendees and maximizing their experience at events. Take a standard Q&A session, for example, a segment that can be challenging for audience participation. Traditionally, attendees would take turns at a solitary microphone, or attempt to pass around a few wireless ones, often creating awkward silences.

A startup company called CatchBox has created an innovative and fun way to get the audience involved. A microphone and its required audio equipment are tucked inside a foam square that can literally be tossed around the room. The attendee simply catches the box and then speaks into it. When the question is answered, the attendee tosses the box to the next person with a question. This unique product promotes not only engagement, but also does what is traditionally very difficult—it motivates attendees to get involved.

New apps can also turn anyone’s mobile device into their own personal microphone, syncing up with the room’s sound system so they can be heard—with top-quality sound. These innovations work at two important levels—increasing audience engagement, which is always a goal, but also making the experience more personal and gamified, and thus reducing the stress usually associated with speaking out loud in front of strangers.

Apps on mobile devices will also replace paper event schedules, and even maps and guides, as the old standard “You are Here” map-on-a-wall becomes a micro-locating flag on your smart phone, ready to lead you to your next workshop.

ACN does a great job at building the belief level of new consultants, not only in the power of the business opportunity, but also the power of attending events. ACN regularly has new people—some only in the business for a few weeks—sign up for national conventions.

Successful companies establish formulaic events. They’ve got a standard set of objectives, and often a standard platform or schedule mixing general sessions with targeted workshops. Basically, each objective or segment should revolve around growth and getting people consistently doing the right things when they return to the field. The event is the largest and loudest “voice” during the year, but everything coming from the company all year long should layer into the messaging from the event, and keep the field going in the same direction.

That’s not to say that the companies should create a boring event that never changes or has surprises. Excitement is critical to a successful event. But it should be within the framework of consistency that the creativity of each company flourishes, instead of simply calling on the same people each year. New attendees generally always bring excitement with them, especially if the company has laid the groundwork leading up to the event. Ideally, the attendee list should be a mix of current leadership and a heavy number of brand-new attendees.

As for those escalation events like Viridian’s Road Shows and Super Regionals, Berkich says a 20 to 30 percent guest-to-associate ratio is a good rule of thumb. “If you get to the point that you have a lot of associates coming to a normal escalation event and they aren’t bringing guests with them, then the business is not growing,” she says. And direct selling companies are wise to heed that warning.

“We approach every event as if we are talking to a brand-new person,” Berkich says. “But the reality is that we all need recharging at times. You miss goals, and you have people out there trying to steal your dreams. Even people who have been in the business for some time need to come and build their own beliefs back up, and sometimes they need to borrow the belief of other people.”

Putting Pockets in the Seats

The same corporate people saying the same corporate stuff year after year can be a hard sell. Companies like ACN have drawn phenomenal speakers to their international training events over the years. These influential voices provide positive front-end promotion, give companies great bang for the buck and drive people into the seats time and time again. Other companies mobilize and utilize the talents of their own field leaders to provide the inspiration they know will reach their particular salespeople.

But personal development speakers and motivational messages are just part of a successful event framework that also includes major corporate announcements. There’s no better time to launch a new product, promotion or initiative than in conjunction with a major event when companies can build excitement for a brand, a message and a product. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Where better to paint a picture of success and excitement than at a national or international event?

Events offer the ideal show-and-tell playground for top leader recognition too. Regardless of the corporate culture’s style, these hard-working direct sellers must get their moments in the spotlight. Primerica’s Next Generation Giants walk away with enormous trophies and fine art portraits, while Ambit Energy awards cash prizes, iPad Minis and even a Cadillac CTS Coupe.

But it’s not only top leaders who benefit from attending events. One of the most important aspects of a successful event is also something that is relatively easy to do: Give people something they may not get elsewhere in their lives—recognition and appreciation. That could be as simple as seven minutes of applause while 100 people stream across the stage waving or handing the microphone over to an unpolished speaker so she can share with the crowd why she joined the company. Recognition is about making every single direct seller feel special because they actually made it to their goal, and it’s about inspiring the audience to earn their way on stage next time.

One of the most important aspects of a successful event is also something that is relatively easy to do: Give people something they may not get elsewhere in their lives—recognition and appreciation.

Events and Strategic Growth

“The biggest mistake most companies make at events is that they think they are just there to have fun,” Potillo says. In fact, making friends and having fun is only part of the equation. “When people leave our events, they don’t just leave with a good feeling that they had a good time. They leave with a specific goal, a specific path, and a very simple system for how to achieve that.”

Without such a game plan, Potillo says It Works! would not have posted year-over-year growth since 2010. “We had an event. We came together as a team, made a lot of friendships, had a lot of fun, put together a plan for freedom, and we jumped to $45 million in sales the next year,” Potillo says. They repeat the process each year, and have continued to experience high growth. Last year, It Works! placed No. 27 on the DSN Global 100 list for 2013 at $456 million.

Startup companies can use an aggressive event schedule to expose as many people as possible to their products and to encourage new consultants to take the first step of engaging with the company. Consistency in events also aids this process, as existing consultants know that the new people they bring to an event will have the same experience they did. It’s this kind of confidence that sparks the daily field behavior that grows events and, by extension, companies.

Still, for a lot of direct selling companies, lack of staff and resources can make such tight event schedules really difficult to execute. In this case, two events a year is an excellent beginning. It establishes the kind of event rhythm companies need in order to consistently gather a captive audience. This schedule creates a foundation to build upon, and part of that is also driving behaviors in the field with product and recruitment promotions that head toward that event.

In the simplest of terms, the field sees the event as a very real deadline for achieving goals. They want to be recognized at the convention, and they know what they need to do to meet their goals. A strategic event schedule allows the company to create deadlines that are good for business and, at the same time, a rhythm to drive the business.

Events are all about the people in the seats—connecting with them, recognizing their accomplishments, and driving and inspiring their behavior and growth.

But it’s a mistake for companies who are culturally ambiguous to believe they can host a large-scale event, give people some good information and see immediate success. Events are best utilized when they are part of a larger strategy to train, recognize and motivate the field to achieve their goals. After all, if the strategic plan is carefully orchestrated, when the field reaches their goals the company also reaches theirs.

Additionally, while it’s true events can facilitate rebranding or repositioning of a company, they are not a place to display ego or confirm the executives’ public speaking skills. Events are all about the people in the seats—connecting with them, recognizing their accomplishments, and driving and inspiring their behavior and growth.

The enemies of direct selling are time and distraction. The average direct seller has only a few precious hours to spend building a business each week with no time to waste trying to figure out what your company stands for or in which city you’re appearing next. Berkich says, “The element of surprise and ‘aha’ for a volunteer army is a slippery slope. You need those people to be able to engage on a level that they have set for themselves for their own personal goals and aspirations. You need to be able to maximize that precious time and provide an environment of stability and consistency.”

Who Will Summit Next?: Reaching $1 Billion

by J.M. Emmert

“Life’s a bit like mountaineering,” said Sir Edmund Hillary. “Never look down.”

It’s what direct sellers do, too—never look down. The direct selling industry is an industry comprising people who seek to achieve things never thought possible, scaling new heights, whether reaching inside oneself to achieve personal goals or driving a company toward what is considered the Mount Everest in direct selling, the $1 billion summit.

But like Hillary, only a few direct selling companies have managed to reach that elite status. In the 159-year history of direct selling in the United States, Avon was the first to achieve the feat in 1972. Amway followed in 1980. In 1996, Mary Kay Inc. and Tupperware both reached $1 billion. In 2004, Nu Skin and Herbalife joined the group. But another nine years passed before the next company, Ambit Energy, reached $1 billion in sales. Many companies are turned back in their efforts to reach that summit. But why? What makes it so difficult?

The simple answer is that growing a company to such an extraordinary level brings with it new challenges, and, like experienced climbers, extraordinary companies know to stop when the footing gets treacherous, even if the summit is close. Because it is an industry focused on people, direct selling companies understand that the welfare of the entire team is more important than putting up numbers. One tragic misstep and the whole team could come tumbling down.

Orville Thompson, CEO of Scentsy and a former chairman of the U.S. Direct Selling Association, once analogized direct selling and the quest to reach $1 billion to scaling Borah Peak in Idaho. At 12,668 feet, Borah Peak, or Mount Borah, is the highest mountain in the state and among the 100 highest summits in the Rocky Mountains. The most popular route to the top of Borah Peak follows the southwest ridge, ascending 5,262 vertical feet from the trailhead in a little more than 3.5 miles. Just prior to reaching the top, climbers encounter Chicken Out Ridge, a thin ridge of rock with steep slopes so intimidating that many abort their summit attempt.

For those chasing after the $1 billion summit in direct selling, the biggest challenge, says Thompson, is simply finding the right path to follow, those “smooth areas worn down by countless others who have blazed trails.” When they reach that direct selling version of Chicken Out Ridge, they must “challenge their skills and test their fears” in the face of new obstacles.

Despite the risks, more companies than ever appear to be chasing the summit. Direct Selling News research has identified 13 U.S. companies with net sales at or approaching the $500 million to $1 billion range and experiencing strong growth. Having as many companies on their way to the $1 billion summit as there are currently at the peak is a testament to the strength of the channel. Here is a closer look at the contenders:

On the Summit Push

In 2011 ACN posted $550 million in sales, down from the previous year’s $553 million. However, the company came back strong the past two years, achieving $582 million in 2012—a 5.8 percent increase—and $700 million in 2013—a 20.2 percent increase. This June, the telecommunications and essential services company launched in Mexico, the seventh-largest direct selling country and the company’s 24th market.

Stream Energy/Ignite
Stream Energy/Ignite has been camped near the billion-dollar summit for the past four years, breaking the $900 million ceiling in 2010. After two years of down sales, the company came back strong in 2013 with $27 million over the previous year—a 3.2 percent increase—putting it at $867 million. The company has seen continued growth, particularly in Hispanic markets, and has significant expectations for company growth across the board in 2014 and beyond as it diversifies its service offerings, allowing it to sell nationwide.

Thirty-One Gifts
Of the 13 companies, only Thirty-One Gifts uses the party plan method of selling, joining Mary Kay and Tupperware as the only companies in the Top 17 of the Global 100 ranking that employ this sales approach. What makes that especially interesting is that, according to the U.S. Direct Selling Association, the party plan method of selling has decreased 4 percent in each of the past two years, going from a high of 31 percent in 2011 to just 23 percent in 2013. The person-to-person method, on the other hand, accounted for two-thirds of sales in 2013, according to the DSA.

Thirty-One also has made one of the fastest ascents in recent years. The company posted sales of $100 million in 2010 and then climbed to $482 million in 2011, a 382 percent increase. Sales continued to rise in 2012—a 48.9 percent increase to $718 million. In 2013, Thirty-One achieved a 6.2 percent increase, ending the year at $763 million. Its four-year growth rate: 663 percent.

USANA, which surpassed $100 million in its first six years, has been the steadiest climber in the group over the past few years. It has maintained an average of $67 million in sales growth annually for the past three years—ranging from a 10.6 percent to 12.5 percent increase—to bring it to $718 million. The company reported $182.4 million in sales for the first quarter of 2014, a 7.9 percent increase over the prior year; second quarter results saw a 0.4 percent decrease, with $188.3 million compared to $189.1 million in 2013; and the third quarter saw record sales of $191.9 million, a 10.5 percent increase over the prior-year period of $173.7 million. For the first half of 2014, USANA generated sales and customer growth in nearly every market in which it operates. Strong growth was seen particularly in Mainland China, the Philippines, Singapore and Mexico.

Expectations are that the wellness industry in particular will continue to thrive in the coming years. In a Sept. 29 article on the health and wellness industry’s global performance, Euromonitor International reported that the United States was leading all countries in 2014 with more than $160 billion in sales. The global industry is expected to reach $1 trillion by … Click here to read the rest of the story