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

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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…

Youngevity: A Perfect Balance

by Jennifer Workman Pitcock

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Youngevity

Company Profile:

  • Launched: 1997
  • Headquarters: Chula Vista, Calif.
  • Top Executive: Steve Wallach, CEO and Chairman of the Board
  • Products: nutrition, gourmet coffee, weight management and mineral makeup

When Youngevity Essential Life Sciences and Javalution Coffee Co. merged to form AL International in 2011, the executives assumed they were in for some surprises. But the biggest surprise of all was how smoothly everything dovetailed together. With the additional merger of Financial Destination Inc. (FDI) that October, this newly formed entity has outperformed all expectations.

“I was surprised by the growth that occurred even while we were learning about each other—how quickly we succeeded and how much positive came out of the marriage of these companies,” says Bill Andreoli, who founded FDI and now serves as President of Youngevity.

CEO and Chairman Steve Wallach believes that’s because they all understand the direct selling space. CFO Dave Briskie co-founded and was CEO of Javalution Coffee Co. with JavaFit, a line of healthy coffees sold via direct sales. But his primary experience is in traditional businesses.


“I was surprised by the growth that occurred even while we were learning about each other—how quickly we succeeded and how much positive came out of the marriage of these companies.”
—Bill Andreoli, Founder of FDI and President of Youngevity


“Steve and Bill’s whole lives have been in direct selling,” Briskie says. “Among the three of us, that’s a perfect balance.”

AL International’s blend of direct sales and traditional business is a winning combination. In 2011 AL International netted $40 million in sales—$16 million more than Youngevity and Javulation’s combined sales the previous year.

And in 2012 the nutritional and coffee company’s sales nearly doubled year over year with sales over $75 million. That exceeded the Opus Research Group’s prediction of $66 million by almost $10 million. “We beat  the 2012 forecast, and we anticipate that continuing,” Briskie says. “The 2013 forecast is $87 million. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t do more.”

One Big Happy Family

(Pictured left to right from top) Steve Wallach, CEO and Chairman of the Board; Bill Andreoli, President; Michelle Wallach, Chief Operating Officer of Youngevity; Dave Briskie, Chief Financial Officer, President of Commercial Development, Director; Vanessa Hunter, Vice President of Marketing; Steve Schulz, Vice President of Training; and Mike Randolph, Vice President of Leadership Development.(Pictured left to right from top) Steve Wallach, CEO and Chairman of the Board; Bill Andreoli, President; Michelle Wallach, Chief Operating Officer of Youngevity; Dave Briskie, Chief Financial Officer, President of Commercial Development, Director; Vanessa Hunter, Vice President of Marketing; Steve Schulz, Vice President of Training; and Mike Randolph, Vice President of Leadership Development.


Renowned researcher, veterinarian and naturopathic physician Joel Wallach founded Youngevity (then known as American Longevity) in 1997 along with his wife, Dr. Ma Lan. His conviction that everyone benefits from 90 essential dietary supplements keeps him going. At 72, he’s still on the road 300 days a year, sharing the company’s nutritional message.

As early as 2003, Youngevity fueled its growth by partnering with and acquiring other direct selling companies. In the year and a half since the merger, the number of companies that have joined the Youngevity family has continued to grow. It now exceeds 20.


“We want to be one of the top 10 direct selling companies. We know in order to do that we need to expand internationally.”
—Steve Wallach, CEO and Chairman


But Steve prefers not to focus on the number of acquisitions. For him, it’s about people, products and places. “People are the most important asset,” he says. “We look for great people in the field, terrific leaders.”

And the executives at Youngevity aren’t egotistical enough to think that they have a corner on the market when it comes to good products. “When we partner with or acquire companies, we get fantastic, amazing products. For instance, Projoba’s lead product PollenBurst is one of our top 10 best-selling products companywide,” Steve says.

Since the merger, Youngevity has become even more intent on expanding globally. Though the company already has a presence in more than 50 countries and 10 percent of their revenue comes from international markets, they know that must increase to reach their goals.

“We want to be one of the top 10 direct selling companies,” Steve says. “We know in order to do that we need to expand internationally. One way to do that is to find companies that have great products and great people who already have the licenses and logistics figured out in countries where we want to go.”


Youngevity’s company headquarters in Chula Vista, Calif.

Youngevity’s company headquarters in Chula Vista, Calif.


Rebranding the Message

When FDI and Youngevity merged, Youngevity gained the considerable talent of Andreoli. He is the force behind the rebranding of Youngevity’s message. With more than 400 products, Youngevity needed a clear focus. In November 2011, Youngevity launched its 90 for Life campaign, which Andreoli masterminded.

“The 90 for Life campaign was something we came up with to summarize Doc Wallach’s 40-year message,” Andreoli says. “That became the slogan for the company. Before 90 for Life, you could go to four different meetings, and at each one they would be pushing a different product line based on what they liked best.”

Andreoli is behind the company’s revitalized training program, as well. “We’ve expanded the tools available to our distributor base,” he says. “We offer live seminars, recorded seminar webinars, conference calls, DVDs and videos in the back office. We teach our people to leverage the tools.”

In the merger, the entire FDI team was kept intact. Along with training, Youngevity puts in great effort to recognize people, which has energized the distributor base. Seeing people receive big checks, rings, plaques and other forms of recognition is inspiring. “All of a sudden they believe they can build a business,” Andreoli says.

In January of this year, Marilu Henner came on as Youngevity’s brand ambassador. Because of health issues in her own family, she’s been interested in nutrition her entire adult life. “Her deep knowledge of nutrition makes her a great brand ambassador for Youngevity,” Andreoli says. “That’s essential. Our people would see right through someone who doesn’t believe in what we’re doing.”

Already, Henner is creating a niche. She’s involved in some Youngevity conference calls and training, and the company is looking for products to formulate based on some of her passions.



Social Media Makeover

It’s been less than a year since Youngevity began harnessing the power of social media, but in that time, they’ve created a close-knit, thriving online community. They’re on several social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Already they’re seeing the impact on their bottom line: Because of social media, some dormant customers have reactivated their accounts after a year or more.

“Social media may have its curses and its challenges, but at Youngevity, it’s been a blessing. It has re-engaged people who for one reason or another took a different path. Social media has brought them back around to us,” says COO Michelle Wallach.


“[Social media] has re-engaged people who for one reason or another took a different path. Social media has brought them back around to us.”
—Michelle Wallach, COO


It’s an opportunity the company almost missed. In 2011, in a meeting with the Wallachs, Henry Weinaker told Michelle that if she hired him, he would make her social media great. She declined, saying, “Why would I pay you to do something that I can do for free?”

He agreed that she could, but told her she wouldn’t. Three months later, she realized he was right. “I didn’t have enough knowledge or tools to do it every day,” she says. “I called and apologized, but he had moved on.” Just a couple months later, they crossed paths again. This time, Weinaker was available.

With Weinaker’s guidance as Director of Social Media, Youngevity has gone from zero to 150,000 engages a week on social media sites. Michelle and Weinaker believe that’s because they carefully craft their content.

“Every time Michelle and I get ready to post, we ask ourselves, ‘How would friends of our fans react to seeing this post?’ It’s not simply about targeting our current base,” Weinaker says. “It’s about what would appeal to the broadest audience. We want anyone who sees it to say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool,’ because that’s the only way to grow an audience online.”

Michelle adds, “The posts aren’t about advertising or shoving Youngevity down anyone’s throats. I own the company, and if that’s what we were doing, I’d turn myself off. Henry has educated us on including the subliminal message that Youngevity sent this out without including a product ad. It’s not about selling. It’s about sharing something with them that gets them really inspired and excited.”

It’s a big mindset shift, but Michelle has come to see the value in the social media fan base. Some may not have much money to spend with the company. But they are advertising and spreading the word about Youngevity without any money going into their pocket. “That becomes more valuable to me than the person who is spending $50 and not sharing the Youngevity message,” she says.


“Content is the king of engagement. Every day we try to outdo ourselves. How can we get even better? You can’t lose if you do that.”
—Henry Weinaker, Director of Social Media


Keeping the fan base engaged requires consistency. To keep them coming back each day, Youngevity has incorporated special days like Chocolate Fridays with giveaways of Youngevity healthy chocolate, as well as Deal Day Wednesdays and Take a Pic Tuesdays.

“We stay focused on the basics,” Weinaker says. “We’re always trying to get better at core things. Our greatest challenge every day is content. Content is the king of engagement. Every day, we try to outdo ourselves. How can we get even better? You can’t lose if you do that.”

They believe their success comes down to the relationships being built online. “We’re really friends with our fans,” Weinaker says.

Michelle adds, “I have a well-paid marketing team. It’s their job to sell the products. It’s our job to keep everybody focused and feeling like they belong.”



Spotlight on Products

Along with tweaking Youngevity’s branding, Andreoli is constantly looking for ways to better market Youngevity’s products. At the end of 2012 the company launched the Healthy Body Challenge. The foundation of the Healthy Body Challenge is the healthy body packs. Distributors and customers are encouraged to “Choose Your Challenge,” and select one of seven packs: Healthy Nutrition, Weight Loss, Blood Sugar, Bone and Joint, Digestive Support, Brain and Heart, or Athletic Performance. By referring three friends, distributors and customers can get their own product free. “Everyone fits into one of these categories,” Andreoli says. “That’s why it’s worked out so well.”

The company is especially excited about the results of clinical research studies performed by Clemson University-Institute of Nutritional Research. The purpose of the clinical research was to discover potential benefits of Youngevity’s signature core products, Beyond Tangy Tangerine and Ultimate Classic. The study showed the products to be safe—they did not show any genotoxicity. Also, they heightened the body’s protective responses to possible inflammation.

Going Public

One of AL International’s biggest milestones in 2012 was becoming a public company. Steve says the company decided to become public to create transparency. “We in the industry are always trying to improve the credibility of the industry,” he says.

As CFO, much of the responsibility fell on Briskie. That’s on top of his many other duties: Since the merger, he’s continued to run CLR Roasters, AL International’s traditional coffee roasting company, which sells coffee to numerous cruise lines, major retail giants such as Wal-Mart, and various restaurants as well as supplying the coffee used in the JavaFit line.

Despite the added workload, he believes going public was the right decision because it strengthens the company by allowing distributors to become investors. “Part of our comp plan is structured so that they can earn stock options,” he says. “Many distributors actually invest in the company.”

Though Youngevity is proud of the investment they’ve put into becoming a public company, it has been an expensive, time-intensive commitment. Briskie estimates it will cost about $1 million each year to retain their status as a public company. But he thinks that, for their company, the cost is worth it. “Inevitably our distributors run into someone who has suffered a bad experience. Being public provides a great deal of comfort to our customers and distributors that we’re going to be here for the long-term.”

Be the Change


“Being public provides a great deal of comfort to our customers and distributors that we’re going to be here for the long-term.”
—Dave Briskie, CFO


Giving back has always been an important Youngevity value. Early on, the company required its distributors to devote designated hours to charitable endeavors. This month the company will roll out its Youngevity Be the Change Foundation at the company’s annual convention.

The program will be funded through a partnership between Youngevity and its distributors. Distributors will contribute one-half of their commissions on specific “Be the Change” products, and the company will match this contribution at a minimum of 150 percent. The money will go to the foundation, where it will be distributed among approved charities. The company even expects to expand the foundation in the United States and worldwide as the program gains traction. Youngevity will underwrite the cost of running the foundation and administering the program.

Briskie emphasizes that Be the Change is more than just monetary donations. “We are developing ‘Be the Change Days’ that will take the outreach program to the streets, where we will roll up our sleeves and work together alongside our distributors to improve the lives of others within various local communities.

“As CFO of the company I am very passionate about the program,” Briskie says. “It will be one of our greatest achievements as a company.”

Solavei: Redefining Commerce for the Social Age

by Jeremy Gregg

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Solavei

Company Profile:

  • Founded: Sept. 21, 2012
  • Headquarters: Bellevue, Wash.
  • Founder: CEO Ryan Wuerch
  • Products: Mobile phone service

Ryan Wuerch wants to make life better for millions of people.

“I am not looking to turn a few people into millionaires. I want to empower millions of people to become thousandaires,” he says. “And I believe that the way to do so is by making commerce less expensive and even profitable for everyone involved.”

Ryan Wuerch

Ryan Wuerch

Wuerch is Founder and CEO of Solavei, a company that is pioneering what he calls “social commerce.” In many ways, the concept is at the heart of the direct selling model—avoid spending billions of dollars on traditional advertising, and instead move it into the hands of the people who use the products.

“The growth of direct selling is one of the most significant trends hitting the global economy. I see one of the main challenges in the industry to be the reliance on products that could be seen as unnecessary or as a luxury. That can make repeat sales a challenge in some cases,” Wuerch says. To differentiate itself, Solavei is focusing on a service that customers are already using to connect themselves every day—mobile phones.

Mobilizing a Movement

“A recent study reported that most people would prefer to leave home without their wallet than without their cellphone. These devices have become a part of our DNA, an expression of who we are,” Wuerch says. He adds that there are more than 300 million cellphones in the United States today, and he projects that there will be more than 6 billion cellphones around the world very soon.

Of course, the telecom industry is also one of the most capital-intensive and hotly contested markets in the world. This can be a very tough environment for a startup to survive, particularly when the industry is dominated by a handful of extremely well-capitalized corporate giants.

For example, the top two wireless service providers—AT&T and Verizon—have a combined advertising budget of more than $5 billion per year. While that would intimidate many less experienced entrepreneurs, Wuerch believes this actually provides a tremendous advantage for his new company. He sees those advertising budgets as a billion dollars he doesn’t have to spend, since Solavei wants to invest its resources in what he calls the “best form of advertising—satisfied customers.”

“At Solavei, we empower our customers with low-cost alternatives for the services that they are already using and make it easy for them to share Solavei with others,” Wuerch says.

The approach seems to be working. Solavei launched on Sept. 21, 2012; within 90 days the company had more than 110,000 members in the United States sign up for $49 per month for unlimited voice, text and data mobile service.

“This year we will begin to expand globally. We will also expand our platform to carry multiple products and services in addition to mobile phones. We anticipate millions of new members joining.”


Solavei Solavei

Aligning the Trends

Before launching Solavei, Wuerch had spent nearly two decades in the telecom and technology industries. After several successful exits from earlier ventures, he founded and built his last company, Motricity, into a firm with more than a billion-dollar market cap before he parted in 2011.

When he left Motricity, he told his wife Shawntel—the former 1996 Miss America winner who is now Solavei’s Head of Community Affairs—that he wanted to do something different with his next venture. He wanted to find a way to make a difference.

Wuerch went away for a few weeks to study the major trends that he saw shaping the future, and he landed on four that he saw as underpinning economic growth around the world.

    1. The worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, which was driving people to focus more and more on saving money. This also was leading to the creation of entirely new companies, such as Groupon, to capitalize on this drive.
    2. The rising dominance of social media within so many people’s lives, which was creating an explosion in the number of active relationships between people.
    3. The surge of mobile device usage, driving an incredible number of innovations in not only communication but commerce, banking and more.
    4. The continued growth of the direct selling industry despite the economic downturn. In particular, he was struck by the rapid rise of outside investments in new direct selling companies like Stella & Dot, Ambit and Ignite.

While studying these trends, he also perceived tremendous waste in the “shotgun approach” represented by the $500 billion spent each year on traditional advertising.


Solavei is a company leveraging the power of social media and direct selling to help people save money on their mobile service while avoiding the heavy advertising costs typical within the mobile industry.


T-Mobile

As he studied these trends, he saw an opportunity to align them within a single company, leveraging the power of social media and direct selling to help people save money on their mobile service while avoiding the heavy advertising costs typical within the mobile industry.

“Solavei is positioned to positively impact people without changing their behavior or their environment,” Wuerch says. He explains that the company’s name is a combination of words meaning “sun in your veins,” a metaphor for the powerful opportunity that Solavei seeks to provide to its members.

Investors have put more than $20 million into Solavei so far, allowing it to attract a top-tier management team with experience at major corporations across the country, as well as a former U.S. congressman. Key positions are now held by former executives from T-Mobile as well as Wuerch’s last mobile services company, Motricity.

A New Approach to Compensation

Solavei’s initial service is a $49/month mobile plan that includes unlimited voice, data and text messages. The service is built on the backbone of T-Mobile’s infrastructure, providing customers with leading 4G services at a fraction of the cost of other providers.

Even if they are only interested in purchasing the cellphone service and have no intention to recruit others, all customers are eligible to become independent distributors (whom the company calls “members”). They receive a personalized URL on the Solavei.com website that they can easily share on their social networks, or they can even adapt a Solavei-themed WordPress template for their own Custom URL.

The goal is to make the Solavei service one of the easiest sales to make in the direct selling industry, explains Wuerch. He says that the average time for a new member to transfer their phone service, enroll in their social community and establish their banking relationship using the Solavei enrollment process is less than 6 minutes and 26 seconds.

In addition to removing as many barriers as possible for their members to close a deal, Solavei has developed a patented compensation plan based on social graph theory—primarily, by focusing on points of three within each person’s massive and growing network of social relationships. These focal points, or “trios,” serve as the essential building blocks for the Solavei direct sales program.

“We do not consider ourselves a multi-level marketing company,” says Jason Genthner, Head of Corporate Communications. “Our members are not paid on multi-levels as traditional MLM companies operate. We pay on who they bring in, who those people then bring in, and then on the entire network that they build.”

The primary way that members earn money is in $20/month increments for every trio that they successfully bring into the system. This allows them to essentially have free cellphone service with only a handful of successful recruits, explains Genthner.

Members can also earn “Fast Action Bonuses” for new recruits added within the first 60 days. These one-time bonuses are $50 for the first four trios (enough to pay the full cost of a brand-new smartphone). Additional payment structures include “Path Pay,” a monthly payment for those who have recruited at least four other trios (ranging from $50 up to $20,000 per month); members also earn a one-time payment of these same amounts when they enter a new Path, called a Path Bonus. The compensation plan is based on each phone in the plan, therefore, many members are building more than one business.


Rather than sending members checks, Solavei pays its members through a Solavei card that was developed in partnership with Bank of America to work like a Visa debit card.


“We think a person’s voice is the most powerful form of marketing, so that’s what we want to invest in. While other companies spend billions on traditional marketing, we reward our members for sharing Solavei with their connections,” Genthner says.

But one of the most revolutionary aspects of Solavei has nothing to do with its mobile service offering or its compensation plan. Rather, it is with the method of its biweekly payments to members. Rather than sending them checks, Solavei pays its members through a Solavei card that was developed in partnership with Bank of America to work like a Visa debit card.

“Our vision is to create our own economy,” Wuerch says.

Social Commerce

SolaveiWhat makes this concept so revolutionary is that it allows Solavei to essentially control a significant portion of their members’ “mobile wallets.” Through incentives offered to members, these funds can then be directed toward purchases within the Solavei marketplace—allowing the company to pay its members for the everyday purchases of goods and services.

This is all in line with Wuerch’s goal to make commerce less expensive for consumers as well as more profitable for companies. This platform provides Solavei with an opportunity to harness the collective purchasing power of their members to attract deals from other vendors in a similar fashion to Costco. For example, Solavei members could receive a payment of the percentage of the money spent by members at a retailer such as Target.

“You make money through Solavei, you then save money through purchases in the Solavei marketplace and those purchases then also help you to make even more money,” explains Wuerch.

He also notes that many of these purchases are being made using a Solavei mobile phone and are then being shared using the company’s social technology. The end result is that Solavei becomes deeply embedded within its members’ social and economic lives, making it even easier for them to share the Solavei opportunity with others.

More Than Mobile Phones: The Future of Solavei

Mobile phones are merely the starting place for Solavei, Wuerch says.

“Mobile is the first of many, because it provides an immediate economic and communication conduit to our members. We anticipate that we will soon broaden Solavei from just mobile services to include energy, insurance, financial services… essentially, any of the primary items that you already have as a share of your wallet today.”

In other words, Wuerch never intends for Solavei to sell you anything. Rather, it will provide you with a better deal on the things that you are already buying consistently—and also provide you an opportunity to generate income.

“We will only consider goods and services that everyone uses and that Solavei can offer for less, generally by eliminating the costs of advertising. We started with mobile and created the social commerce system that would work with all goods and services. This is similar to Amazon starting out with books, but ultimately creating an online distribution system to offer many products. Future Solavei offerings must be the kind of services/products that can be easily shared in a social environment and must have an opportunity to create income for the members.”

In its first few months of operations, the company has already received endorsements from celebrities such as Stephen Baldwin—whose video testimonials about the product are already gaining significant exposure for the company on Facebook and other social media sites. Wuerch says that Solavei has never paid for such endorsements, which are being offered because of what these high-profile figures believe that Solavei can do for everyone.

When asked about the future of his company, Wuerch is optimistic: “We are building what we anticipate to be a multi-billion-dollar company. We have spent millions on branding to give people confidence in our brand, and we have built a strong patent-protected technology into a social commerce platform that is irrespective of geography and currency. Solavei is built for global scale.”

Chloe + Isabel: Building a Brand through Social Media

by Jennifer Workman Pitcock

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Company Profile

  • Founded: 2011
  • Headquarters: New York City
  • Executive: Founder and CEO Chantel Waterbury
  • Products: Boutique fashion jewelry

Chantel Waterbury
Chantel Waterbury

Budding Entrepreneurs, Fashionistas, Socialistas and Tastemakers. These are the women who inspired Chantel Waterbury to exit the corporate world and start her own direct sales jewelry company, Chloe + Isabel. Her vision is to empower a new generation of female entrepreneurs, providing valuable training on fashion merchandising, social media marketing, and building and running a business. Waterbury wants to see all women use their creativity to make an income that reflects what they are worth, whether they see themselves as a future Martha Stewart, or just know what styles work together. To facilitate this vision, the Chloe + Isabel merchandiser opportunity has been developed around a model of selling that focuses on social networks and online influence.


The Chloe + Isabel merchandiser opportunity has been developed around a model of selling that focuses on social networks and online influence.

Appealing to Younger Women

Waterbury developed C + I for the modern woman. Of course, there is no age limit on who can join, but she created her company with younger women, age 18–29, in mind. This age group appealed most to Waterbury because direct sales was her own ticket to college. Waterbury spent the summer before her freshman year selling high-quality kitchen knives. She sold nearly $30,000 in just three months, becoming one of the company’s top sales reps.

The desire to help young women—who in the wake of the 2008 recession were facing the highest unemployment rate since World War II—factored into her decision to start her own direct sales company.

“I didn’t set out to be one more option for women who already do this. I set out to be an option for a merchandiser who would have never even considered this industry—the people who were not being served at all,” Waterbury says.


A model showcases the latest Chloe + Isabel jewelry.
A model showcases the latest Chloe + Isabel jewelry.
One of Chloe + Isabel’s jewelry collections.
One of Chloe + Isabel’s jewelry collections.

Built on Experience

When buyers came in to guest lecture in her college retail management class, Waterbury discovered her career path. Buying appealed to Waterbury because it united her love of numbers and her creativity. After graduation, Waterbury went straight into corporate buying, working for Target’s parent company, Target Corp. She quickly became the youngest buyer for their Mervyn’s jewelry division.

Soon she was winning awards such as the Merchandising Hero of the Year. Waterbury attributes her success to her entrepreneurial style. She treated her jewelry division like a business of its own operating within a huge corporation.

She went on to work for several other companies including Macy’s West, GAP, and LMVH’s DFS Galleria, where she gained further experience in jewelry development, merchandising and design. She continued to win awards such as Buyer of the Year. Her final corporate job was at Miriam Haskell, where she gained product development and sourcing experience.

By the time she was ready to create her own company, Waterbury had spent 15 years learning the jewelry business inside and out. “I was very patient,” she says. “I knew that this was the last thing I was going to do in my life, and I wanted to do it right.”

Creating the Right Platform


“I wanted our technology to be our greatest differentiator. If everyone has the same tools, it just comes down to what products do you like the most.”
—Chantel Waterbury, Founder and CEO


To reach her demographic of young female direct sellers, Waterbury knew she must target technological channels used to sell. She needed software that would provide digitally savvy young women with a virtual storefront and the opportunity to harness their social influence to earn income.

After looking at several software options, Waterbury was uninspired. She says, “I wanted our technology to be our greatest differentiator. If everyone has the same tools, it just comes down to what products do you like the most.”

So she began raising investment capital to create her own software platform. In August 2011 she received $3.25 million in a seed round led by First Round Capital and Floodgate Fund. Later that year she raised another $8.5 million.

She’s used investment capital to hire engineers and create selling approaches that appeal to Generation Y. A lot of selling occurs online, facilitated by the tools C + I provides. For example, each merchandiser receives her own online boutique and can fully personalize it using her social media images from Instagram. They can share individual products as well as post photographs of themselves wearing C + I jewelry next to the product shot to display their own personal styling.

“Our online sales are happening through her personal boutique, not on our website,” Waterbury says. “In the e-boutiques, you get to see her curating. You see her favorite pieces and how she styles. Is she a Chloe—a trendsetter known for her fashion—or an Isabel, classic and timeless who loves the quality of a piece of jewelry?

“We’re creating a social media hemisphere for her to operate in,” Waterbury says. For example, a merchandiser can personalize the naming of her collections, and also choose which products appear in them. The e-boutiques have the ability to link to merchandisers’ personal Facebook pages and Pinterest boards, in addition to linking to the company’s corporate pages. Conversely, if a friend sees something she likes on Pinterest, for example, clicking through the image takes her to the e-boutique, where she can purchase the product she admired.

The tools also provide merchandisers with useful information, says C + I Chief of Product Shan-Lyn Ma. “She can see how many people clicked on each picture. Ultimately, how much sales did she drive for herself with each thing that she shared on each social network? She can start to really understand how to create an income stream.”

Focus on Branding

Waterbury’s love of jewelry comes through in C + I products. Her unusual designs and intricate details give C + I jewelry a unique look and appeal.

“We design every single piece of jewelry,” Waterbury says. “We produce everything ourselves. First and foremost we’re a brand. My whole life has been dedicated to building, supporting or executing a brand.”

Waterbury makes sure her merchandisers understand the importance of branding. She believes careful control of the brand will give C + I long-term viability. When creating a pop-up shop, the C + I brand must be integrated. Merchandisers learn how to display the jewelry, how to incorporate the tree fixtures and the blue and yellow birds that represent the company—in short, how to include the brand elements that need to be visible in every display of C + I jewelry.

Each merchandiser has the creativity to incorporate these brand elements in her own way—they design their pop-up shops themselves. While one may use placemats to incorporate the colors, another may use picture frames. Waterbury is constantly amazed by the merchandisers’ creativity. “When I look at pictures of their pop-up shops I couldn’t be more proud,” she says. “They do a better job than we do.”

So far C + I has received more than 20,000 applications from women wanting to become merchandisers. In the beta phase, they’ve interviewed each applicant. Waterbury sees the merchandisers as an extension of the brand. As C + I transitions out of the beta phase, the number of merchandisers is rapidly increasing.

In the beta phase, the company carefully controlled the number of merchandisers. Executives worked closely with each merchandiser to make sure C + I was building technology in the right order. “What we’re doing has never been done before,” Waterbury says. “So I have no one to look to for best practices. There’s nothing out there that looks like us.”

Waterbury plans to keep an application process in place even as the company grows. She wants to keep the merchandiser turnover rate at C + I as low as possible. “When you connect the experience to the right person and everything’s a fit, that’s when you have something really special,” she says.

Developing Merchandisers

A Chloe + Isabel merchandise display at the offices in New York.
A Chloe + Isabel merchandise display at the offices in New York.

With prices ranging from under $30 to around $200, C + I jewelry is affordable. And for the merchandisers making the sales, the way the company works is easy to understand. Merchandisers make a straight 30 percent of all retail sales. Merchandisers can also earn income by building a team. C + I’s merchandisers who choose to develop teams earn a percentage of the sales of their immediate downlines.

Each C + I merchandiser fits into one of four types: Fashionista, Socialista, Entrepreneur or Tastemaker. And because these types think differently, C + I doesn’t train them the same way.

“They want to run their businesses differently, so we’re curating their training experience,” Waterbury says. C + I gathers information up front to discover exactly what each merchandiser wants from the company. Developing clear expectations on both sides, says Waterbury, keeps the frustration levels low.

In its beta stage, C + I utilized in-person training of merchandisers. Training evolved into webinars and finally to the videos the company currently uses. But personal contact with each merchandiser is still present. It’s made easier by the fact that their preferred method of communication is online.

“I have direct dialogue with all of my merchandisers because it takes me two seconds to ‘like’ their comments or say ‘Wow! That was an amazing pop-up shop that you had!’ We’re connected through our social networks,” Waterbury says. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram make sharing encouragement and photos easy from her New York office, no matter how far away the merchandisers actually live.

A Mission to Educate

Before selling knives to put herself through college, Waterbury earned a private-school education by winning scholarships for her grades. She sees C + I as a way to give others the same opportunity she was afforded by the people she considers “angels along the way.” They kept her on the right path and pushed her to pursue her dreams.

“I absolutely love working with people that are at the stage of life where the world is their oyster,” she says. “They can truly do whatever they want.”

The Chloe + Isabel corporate team gathers together for some outdoor fun.
The Chloe + Isabel corporate team gathers together for some outdoor fun.

“They’re learning how to run a business. They’re learning to be social media mavens.”
—Chantel Waterbury


And that’s part of what Waterbury hopes to accomplish with C + I. The company’s motto is “Be creative, be confident, be you.”

“At C + I, the mission of building résumés is just as important as building bank accounts,” Waterbury says. “That’s why they’re merchandisers—they’re so much more than stylists or sales persons. They’re learning how to run a business. They’re learning to be social media mavens.”

While some may continue to sell C + I for years, for others it’s a step on their career path. Waterbury is fine—even happy—about that. She was thrilled when one of her merchandisers recently capitalized on her experience as a C + I merchandiser to land a job at the corporate buying offices of a leading retailer.

C + I’s vision of creating a meaningful opportunity for young women is part of what drew Chief of Product Shan-Lyn Ma to the company. She likes the fact that C + I goes beyond teaching sales. It creates mini-entrepreneurs. “We talk a lot about our mission of making sure women can support themselves, educate themselves, and learn things that will set them up in the future for careers. Focusing on how we can provide even more to our merchandisers underlies everything that we do,” she says.


“We talk a lot about our mission of making sure women can support themselves, educate themselves, and learn things that will set them up in the future for careers.”
—Shan-Lyn Ma, Chief of Product


Building the Future

In November 2012, C + I celebrated their 2.0 launch. A redesigned website better showcases the merchandisers’ boutiques and the jewelry itself. New and improved software creates a more highly curated boutique for each merchandiser, as well as integrates the boutique more fully with her social networks. Waterbury says, “Our new platform creates a better experience that will undoubtedly improve their potential sales and income.”

Waterbury expects C + I to continually evolve. When a company is based primarily online, it’s essential to keep up with rapid growth in technology. “I built a company and a brand and a platform for the woman of the future,” she says. “That’s what is so great about building it yourself. You have complete flexibility to change at a moment’s notice.”


Features of the Chloe + Isabel Merchandiser Platform

Features of the Chloe + Isabel Merchandiser Platform

  • Highly personalized online boutique: 
    Each merchandiser has her own virtual storefront with a unique URL where she can create custom collections of Chloe + Isabel jewelry.
  • Instagram integration: 
    Merchandisers can market and editorialize their curated jewelry collections by pulling in imagery from their personal Instagram accounts.
  • Comprehensive analytics dashboard: 
    Merchandisers can access data comparing the performance of her personal business with that of the overall company, giving her insights on how to increase sales based on performance of the larger community, and incentivizing her toward important business goals with bonuses and promotions.
  • Streamlined shopping platform:
    The new platform streamlines the order and purchase process for the merchandiser, allowing average Millennials—who make up the majority of Chloe + Isabel’s merchandisers—the ability to shop for their customers as easily as they would shop for themselves, as well as provide better customer service.
  • Social insights:
    Merchandisers gain insight into the effectiveness of sharing with their social networks.

Gigi Hill: Fashion Meets Function

by Lin Grensing-Pophal


Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Gigi Hill


Company Profile

  • Founded: 2009
  • Headquarters: Yorba Linda, Calif.
  • Founders: CEO Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings and President Monica Hillman
  • Products: Handbags, totes and accessories

There’s a reason that “soccer moms” get so much attention, and soccer moms Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings and Monica Hillman are prime examples. The two women met on the soccer field when their daughters, in kindergarten at the time, ended up on the same team.

As young moms everywhere can attest, lugging around all kinds of “stuff” can be challenging; finding a bag to not only accommodate all the “stuff,” but one that also looked fashionable, was virtually impossible. But that was then—this is now.

The company they co-founded, Gigi Hill, addressed this need through a line of bags and accessories that are high quality, stylish and—most important—offer the functionality that busy women need to be organized, whether they’re moms, grandmothers, busy professionals, travelers—or anything in between.

DeSantis-Cummings, Founder and CEO, is the “natural entrepreneur” of the pair. When they met, she had just moved to town. Having spent most of her life on the beach, she found that when she moved inland to Yorba Linda, Calif., and had to drive her kids to the beach that the right bag was suddenly a necessity.


“I’d never really thought about there being something in between being in the corporate world and being at home.”
—Monica Hillman, President


Gigi Hill Founders Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings (left) and Monica Hillman (right) launched a casual friendship into a successful handbag company.
Gigi Hill Founders Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings (left) and Monica Hillman (right) launched a casual friendship into a successful handbag company.


Hillman, Founder and President, came from a corporate background, and at the time she met DeSantis-Cummings, was looking for “something different.”

“When I met Gabrielle and she started talking about how she had started her own companies, it really opened up in my mind the idea that there were more opportunities out there,” Hillman says. “I’d never really thought about there being something in between being in the corporate world and being at home.”

Those early discussions led to the realization that they definitely wanted to start a business together, but what kind of business?

“What really rose to the top of the list,” Hillman says, “was the need for a better bag.” Their own experiences and those of their friends who were going to the lake, the beach or the pool, initially made them realize that the bags they were using simply weren’t delivering—“they were ugly bags and they didn’t have any pockets,” Hillman recalls.

“We definitely knew there was a need out there and the more we investigated it the more we knew we could provide a great product that was fashion-forward but really delivered as far as being functional—it had pockets for everything, it had water bottle pockets, it had a strap that was comfortable. We really thought about all of those things that so many of the bags on the market didn’t address whatsoever.”

Developing a Prototype

Entrepreneurs everywhere know that the development of a sound business plan is a critical first step for any successful endeavor. Many entrepreneurs, though, fail to take this step formally. Not DeSantis-Cummings and Hillman. Their collective experience led them to spend a significant amount of time researching their idea, potential business models and their market.

“Once we knew what the product was we really just put one foot in front of the other and started to build on our ideas,” says DeSantis-Cummings. On the business side, the women developed a business plan based on a review of case studies of others who had gone before them and on consultation with industry experts.


“Once we knew what the product was we really just put one foot in front of the other and started to build on our ideas.”
—Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings, CEO


In addition to a solid business plan, they knew they would need to create a prototype that they could use to bring their product to life.

Neither of the women had any design expertise, but they didn’t let that hold them back. “We cut out patterns from paper bags,” says DeSantis-Cummings with a laugh. “We pasted, glued and stapled them together and then took them to a local seamstress and asked her to make a bag and she did. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for that moment,” she recalls.

After that, they connected with a manufacturer who, she says, “does make handbags for a living.” They took their rough prototype to him and “he turned it into a real bag from a real manufacturer.”

With an actual prototype and a manufacturer, the women next went out to the marketplace and looked at fabrics. “We picked fabrics that were appealing to us—we wanted them to be vibrant so we looked for vibrant patterns,” says DeSantis-Cummings. They picked about 100 patterns, which they narrowed down to about 35, which were launched as a test in 2006 at their first party.

“That night we were in business,” she says. “We spent the rest of 2006, 2007 and part of 2008 doing parties. Monica and I went out and did parties every week and we learned so much about the business model from the business side and about the consumer and the purchases they were making. From that experience we learned about the best of Gigi Hill and what it was going to be.”

When they officially launched the company in 2009 they had a well-developed product line and a comprehensive and competitive business model. The rest, as they say, is history. Now their goal is to achieve $100 million in sales.


The Gigi Hill Platinum Showcase is offered to stylists at an affordable price and includes a variety of bags, accessories and business tools to launch their business.The Gigi Hill Platinum Showcase is offered to stylists at an affordable price and includes a variety of bags, accessories and business tools to launch their business.


Growing to Meet Demand

Hillman and DeSantis-Cummings knew early on that to grow at the pace they envisioned, and that demand suggested they could achieve, they would need outside investment.


“We had the opportunity of being interviewed for the Los Angeles Times and we were very open about what our goal was and what we needed, [an outside investor].”
—Monica Hillman


“In 2008 we knew that we wanted to go national and we knew at that point we needed to bring in an investor,” Hillman says. While many companies find this to be challenging—think of the experiences of those eager entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas on ABC’s Shark Tank—Gigi Hill found themselves in the enviable position of having investors come to them.

“We had the opportunity of being interviewed for the Los Angeles Times and we were very open about what our goal was and what we needed,” Hillman says. “Our phones didn’t stop ringing for the next three weeks after that article came out.”

The women found their first angel investor through this experience, and the funding helped them lay the foundation to launch nationally in 2009.

Then, in 2011, another investor found them. “We were not out seeking any venture capital,” says DeSantis-Cummings. In fact, she recalls, the investor found them through Direct Selling News. “They saw an article about us in there and cold-called. We always say that Direct Selling News was responsible for connecting us with Maveron.”

Maveron is a venture capital firm that was established in 1998 by Dan Levitan, who had been a director at one of Wall Street’s leading investment banking firms, and Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbuck’s.

“It was huge—it really was,” says DeSantis-Cummings.

“We plan to be $100 million-plus in the next several years. We spent the last 16 months really laying the foundation to be able to support that growth.”

Both Hillman and DeSantis-Cummings feel that their relationship with Maveron is a perfect fit. “Maveron is a consumer products investor,” says DeSantis-Cummings. “They, first and foremost, are looking for consumers products that are very e-commerce driven.” And, she adds, “They really let us spend the last 16 months doing what we needed to do to lay the foundation for our growth.”


Iconic is the latest Gigi Hill collection for Fall, featuring beautiful blues, reds, animal prints, and statement-making blacks and whites in a range of fun fabrics.
Iconic is the latest Gigi Hill collection for Fall, featuring beautiful blues, reds, animal prints, and statement-making blacks and whites in a range of fun fabrics.
Recognition is a big part of Gigi Hill culture. Stylists celebrate their sales and leadership achievements at the annual Success Summit.
Recognition is a big part of Gigi Hill culture. Stylists celebrate their sales and leadership achievements at the annual Success Summit.

Offering Independence and Balance to Stylists

Gigi Hill’s vision is to “empower women to accomplish their unique goals and achieve success by sharing a lifestyle collection that offers function and style and enables customers to be confident and fashionable.” They’re achieving this vision by providing their sales team—who they call stylists—with an opportunity that fits their lifestyles and personal needs.

Hillman and DeSantis-Cummings had researched the direct selling business model before they launched their company and felt it was a perfect fit. “If our bags were sitting on a shelf in Nordstrom’s they would not get the attention that they get in a living room at a party in front of several women,” Hillman says. “The stylist can really describe the bag and explain it to the customer. The customer can really hear the full story about how this bag is going to add value for them.”

The business model resonated with Hillman, in particular, because she had been searching for this type of opportunity—an opportunity that would bridge the gap between a full-time, corporate job and staying at home to be with her family.

“It was a very comfortable business model because it was really fulfilling what I wanted and also giving other women that same opportunity,” she says. “It’s about doing something else while you are a mother, while you are a wife, and having the ability to bring income into your household but not sacrificing your ability to be with your family.”

That model resonates with others as well. Gigi Hill has benefited from a passionate team of stylists who love the product and love holding parties to talk about and demonstrate the product to other women.

“We love our stylists,” Hillman says. “They’re very passionate about our product, so it’s really fun. They’re so passionate about their stories and how they use the product. They always say ‘it’s just so much fun.’ ”

Training is a large part of the support that Gigi Hill provides to stylists and something that has been done very intentionally to help build the brand and ensure a consistent message.

“We learned very early on that the best way to communicate your brand and get the message across is that they’ve got to hear it from us,” Hillman says. “So we provide very extensive training through videos, webinars, live training—just giving them the brand awareness, brand education, product education, so when they’re out at parties they’re truly communicating the message they heard from us and not a watered down version of it.”

Gigi Hill stylists can work as little as 3 or 4 hours a week and earn an average of about $650 a month holding a single party each week—or as much as they’d like based on their own needs and busy schedules. At a five-parties-a-week level, Gigi Hill estimates average potential earnings of about $3,250 a month, with an investment of about 15-20 hours. Sponsoring new team members can lead to even greater rewards through commissions on team member sales. Stylists can also qualify for free products and business tools, monthly and annual sales recognition, training and access to Gigi Hill home office-sponsored events, as well as vacations and other incentives. A low startup investment also makes the company attractive to potential stylists.

The Future


“This business is back-to-the-basics. … And that’s really what our focus is to get us to the next level with our company.”
—Gabrielle DeSantis-Cummings


Gigi Hill’s success has been built on the basics, says DeSantis-Cummings. “This business is back-to-the-basics,” she says. “It’s the training, it’s the support, it’s the messaging, it’s the branding. And that’s really what our focus is to get us to the next level with our company.”

The passion that DeSantis-Cummings and Hillman have for their business is apparent and has not dimmed since their initial meeting on the soccer field. “Right now we feel really good about where we are,” says DeSantis-Cummings. “This is what we love; this is our passion.”

Jusuru International: Success Begins from Within

by Jeremy Gregg

Jusuru Independent Representatives on a manufacturing tour at Jusuru’s headquarters in Anaheim, Calif.


Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Jusuru


Pronounced Joo-SOO-roo

Company Profile

  • Founded: January 2010
  • Headquarters: Anaheim, Calif.
  • Founder: Asma Ishaq, President
  • Products: Joint and Skin Health Nutraceuticals

Asma Ishaq describes her job as “helping wonderful people to see the wonder in themselves.”

Asma IshaqAsma Ishaq

As the President of Jusuru International, she has instilled this conviction into every aspect of her company. Not only can it be seen in how Jusuru’s revolutionary products work within the human body, but it is evidenced in the way that Ishaq has built the company.

“We have a slogan at Jusuru: ‘Begin from within.’ That guides everything we do,” says Ishaq. “Our patented science starts at the root to help your body, joints and skin heal. It takes time but it will create some permanent and long-term benefits. Same goes for our distributors; we tell them to start within themselves if they want to see their team and sales grow. Both concepts are intentionally similar—success starts within you. My job is just to bring out the best in people.”

The word jusuru means “to live” and was inspired by Ishaq’s belief that her company’s purpose is to encourage people to live their best possible life.

A Product That Works from the Inside Out

Most skin health products work from the outside in, such as ointments and creams designed to smooth the skin and eliminate wrinkles. But Jusuru’s multi-patented BioCell Collagen takes the opposite approach—a liquid form distributed in a package that looks more like a bottle of wine than the medicinal package you’d expect from a dietary supplement.

BioCell Collagen

“We have several human subject, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials showing that BioCell Collagen improves joint health significantly, and reduces wrinkles from the inside out,” says Ishaq, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs who had previously achieved remarkable success in the nutritional supplements industry.

Jusuru was launched out of the science behind BioCell Collagen, which was discovered, patented, researched and licensed as a novel dietary ingredient. According to David Ciemny, Vice President of Business Development for Jusuru, “if you’ve been to a GNC, Vitamin Shoppe or Whole Foods, you’ve probably experienced the credibility behind our product.”

Before launching Jusuru, Ishaq had spent the prior decade with BioCell Technology in marketing this multi-patented ingredient, which included serving other direct selling companies. As she witnessed several of her friends’ companies prosper over the years, she realized that direct sales could be a powerful mechanism for rapidly and profitably distributing a product such as BioCell Collagen.


Jusuru was launched out of the science behind BioCell Collagen, which was discovered, patented, researched and licensed as a novel dietary ingredient.


“Particularly with a product that is proven to be so effective, people naturally have something to share with others. I am passionate about empowering people with personal development and education, which is inherent in direct sales,” Ishaq says.

In addition to possessing scientific studies providing the impact of their products, Frost & Sullivan awarded BioCell Collagen® as the best product in joint and bone health. The company also earned recognition from the Nutricosmetics Summit as the exemplary U.S. brand. According to Ishaq, “We are drawing the connection between ingestible nutritional supplements and effects on beauty, and pioneering this emerging category.”

All of this emphasis on proven results is no accident. Ishaq says that scientific validation is very close to her heart, and explains that “it’s very important [for a company like ours] to support our claims, to provide a product that is indeed effective, and to offer something that is worth every penny that someone is spending.” She believes that this differentiates them from their competition.

“I think differently,” Ishaq says. “We arrived at a scientific breakthrough, and thereafter, chose this distribution model because we believe in it. It was our product that drove that decision, not the other way around.”


Jusuru corporate headquarters in Anaheim, Calif.
Jusuru corporate headquarters in Anaheim, Calif.
Jusuru President Asma Ishaq in Haiti contributing donations as part of Jusuru’s Giving Back Program shortly after the 2010 earthquake.
Jusuru President Asma Ishaq in Haiti contributing donations as part of Jusuru’s Giving Back Program shortly after the 2010 earthquake.

A Company Built from the Bottom Up

Despite the natural fit, Jusuru was not originally envisioned as a direct selling company. In fact, its signature product was originally marketed as an ingredient in other companies’ products.

“I spent a decade communicating the benefits of this ingredient to the nation’s largest nutritional brands and educating their sales teams and marketing departments about the science, clinical data and efficacy of our product,” Ishaq says. “We received an overwhelming number of requests from potential clients about developing this particular ingredient to work in a liquid application. After years of R&D, we finally discovered the possibility in 2007.”

That was when she felt the calling to reach for her own dream.


“This company aligned all of my passions and interests into what I had always envisioned as my life’s course.”
—Asma Ishaq, President


“I wanted to have the exclusive opportunity to market it in a finished product,” Ishaq says. “I stepped back from my other roles with the other companies, and we started Jusuru International. This company aligned all of my passions and interests into what I had always envisioned as my life’s course.”

Having a background in the nutritional and manufacturing industries, Jusuru is able to leverage their strategic relationships. This not only provides Jusuru with exclusive access to its multi-patented products and scientific research, but it also supports Jusuru with manufacturing, product development and formulating capabilities. Ishaq describes this advantage as positioning Jusuru as a “pioneer in the nutritional industry, beyond the direct sales industry.”

She describes Jusuru International as a “values-driven” company that “inspires people who are thirsty for an ethical company that lives up to its word, so that they can do what they do best—sell our product and change the health of their customers.”

The company’s distributors—which it refers to as iReps, for Independent Representatives—can join for a low annual fee. Thereafter, Jusuru charges a smaller annual renewal fee to maintain a wholesale partnership, through which they can purchase Jusuru Life Blend™ at wholesale and sell at retail price, yielding a 30 percent retail profit. Bulk pricing is also available for up to a 40 percent profit. The company does not require iReps to register for an autoship to earn income.


David Ciemny, VP of Business Development, speaking at Jusuru’s annual convention, Rise To Enterprise.
David Ciemny, VP of Business Development, speaking at Jusuru’s annual convention, Rise To Enterprise.
  Jusuru’s flagship nutraceutical, Jusuru Life Blend.
Jusuru’s flagship nutraceutical, Jusuru Life Blend.
Jusuru Life Blend bottles on the manufacturing line at Jusuru’s corporate headquarters.
Jusuru Life Blend bottles on the manufacturing line at Jusuru’s corporate headquarters.

A Marketing Program Based on Serving

 

Jusuru has experienced significant growth since it launched, which Ishaq credits to a combination of their unique products and the servant-leadership model they employ within the company.

“I learned and fell in love with this concept when I saw it happening before my eyes with mentorship from Mike Hannigan and Sean Marx,” she says. Ishaq had previously worked with Hannigan and Marx at Give Something Back, a company that sells office supplies online and donates around 75 percent of its net earnings to charity—compared to the 1.1 percent national average for corporate giving.

Describing how this model guides her leadership at Jusuru, Ishaq says, “I report to our management, the management reports to their teams, and their teams report to our customers and iReps. We have a very unique culture.”

Jusuru’s iReps come from a wide range of backgrounds. They share a bond of wanting to look and feel younger, to be active and enjoy a high quality of life. The field distribution is about 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but they come from every variety of professional and educational background. According to Ishaq, “We have everyone from business owners to retirees to students, as well as lawyers, doctors and engineers—all of whom find the time to work their business and share their Jusuru story.”

With such a diverse field, she greatly emphasizes the value of listening to iReps’ input. She explains that Jusuru’s corporate responsibility is to provide the field with the tools and training that works for them, not just for the corporate team. Within the past two years Jusuru has tweaked its messaging, its website, its technology and even its new product introductions in response to input from the field.

“I say this in the office all the time: Our role is to serve our field. That’s it,” Ishaq says. “Our weekly webinars allow us to verbally discuss our week’s news and company updates, and includes an iRep Feature segment interviewing an iRep. We also send out our Success Weekly newsletter, which surveys have indicated is our highest-rated tool.


“We know that our business grows sharply when everyone is engaged in more activity. Activity equals results.”
—Asma Ishaq


“We know that our business grows sharply when everyone is engaged in more activity,” Ishaq continues. “Activity equals results. The more in-homes, conference calls, three-ways and guest speaking opportunities we have, the better it is for our business. Similarly, events drive business. Whether over the phone, a webinar or in person, they accelerate business growth. Our company puts on an annual event, incentive trip and a regional event. We also support many local events in each region and an open house event at our corporate office each month.”

Among all of the tools in Jusuru’s training cabinet, Ishaq believes that their brief, engaging videos are among their most important. Social media also has an increasing relevance for engaging their field, more so than as a sales tool.

“Videos facilitate the duplication process. They’re an invaluable tool so long as they deliver the message that the field wants. Social media is important, but not as a source of new business. We use social media to keep our field abreast of updates and announcements, but most important, to develop a bond and, overall, a community. Our Jusuru Pet Blend Facebook page is a perfect example of animal lovers coming together to admire just what we love: our pets. It inspires and strengthens a bond. We do not use social media to recruit or solicit any business.”

Ishaq is very direct in the rationale for this strategy: “This is a relationship marketing business, not an Internet marketing business.”

A Focus on Giving

Ishaq would much rather talk about how much she is giving away than how much she and Jusuru are earning. In an industry that has occasionally been known to attract people looking for a get-rich-quick opportunity, her perspective brings a refreshing change of pace.

“We are a socially responsible business that is focused on improving its community, customers, employees and all stakeholders alike. That is my why for starting this business. I wanted to start a business where people came first and a portion of the proceeds was contributed to noble causes. At Jusuru, there are no challenges in carrying out this mission; I have support from the management team, my family, our customers, our iReps and our employees. If anything, we have more work in this regard ahead. To help others is at the core of our mission.”

Ishaq says that she began Jusuru as a vehicle both to create wealth and to give back. This philanthropic spirit not only leads the company to provide donations to the local drug rehabilitation center as well as to international relief efforts in Haiti, but it also guides their efforts to empower, motivate and educate their iReps on a daily basis. As Ishaq explains:

“Giving hard-working people an opportunity to achieve financial success is one thing, but we work to challenge them to find something deep inside themselves that can show them that they can do anything they put their minds toward. It’s been a pleasant challenge and a rewarding way of life.”

A Vision Beyond the Company

With their patented and scientifically substantiated products, Ishaq believes that the company’s challenge has never been competition with its product. Rather, as she looks to the future, she sees Jusuru’s biggest challenge as avoiding hasty decisions.


The company is currently evaluating opportunities to launch into 10 countries and create nearly 20 more new products.


The company is currently evaluating opportunities to launch into 10 countries and create nearly 20 more new products. Jusuru’s management team is also focused on technology upgrades and additional clinical research. This growth can be particularly challenging to delay when it is being requested by iReps in the field.

“What I know is to go slow,” says Ishaq. “Have a strong foundation and expand when the timing is right. I have the responsibility of thousands of people’s livelihoods. All decisions are made to protect that.”

Ishaq confesses that she has learned quite a bit from her mistakes over the last several years, but she is grateful that she went through it. In fact, she embraces the uncertainty of the future along with the challenges it presents:

“The commonality between our company and the individual reps that sell our product is that we are not perfect. We will all make mistakes. It’s about how you bounce back from them that counts. And it’s also learning the lessons that come from those mistakes that matter. As we pursue international expansion and new product launches, we also look forward to taking our iReps along with us on this journey—they deserve it. With every milestone we achieve, it brings us closer to creating more wealth for our iReps, for our employees and for the causes in the world that are ever-deserving.”

Azuli Skye: Engineering a Better Home Party

August 2012

Young Company Focus

Azuli Skye: Engineering a Better Home Party

by Jeremy Gregg


Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


Azuli Skye

Company Profile

  • Founded: 2008
  • Headquarters: Apex, N.C.
  • Founders: CEO Deb McNaughton and President Allan McNaughton
  • Products: Sterling Silver and Fashion Jewelry

Imagine that it is early 2008 and you are an engineer working for a Silicon Valley-based software company. You are married to a statistician who teaches part time at Stanford, and together you are comfortably raising your family in the small Southern town of Apex outside of Raleigh, N.C.

One weekend, your wife tells you that she is going to a small get-together with some friends. She mentions something about jewelry, but you are playing with your kids and miss the details. She heads off, and you go about your day.

Over the weeks that follow, you notice that your wife is wearing a bracelet with your children’s names on it. You also notice that some of her friends are wearing similar pieces of jewelry. When you ask, she tells you that she made them—and many more have been ordered. Your eyes widen, and then she says something that will forever change both of your lives—and the lives of many others who will follow you:

“Allan, I have more demand for my jewelry than I can possibly meet by just doing this on the weekends. I want to turn this hobby into a business.”

Built from Scratch

This is the story of Azuli Skye, a successful home jewelry party business that is the brainchild of Deb and Allan McNaughton.

Co-Founders Deb and Allan McNaughton
Co-Founders Deb and Allan McNaughton

“I was managing a group of engineers when Deb told me that she wanted to launch this company,” says Allan McNaughton, President of Azuli Skye. “I have a lot of faith in Deb and in her intuition, so I said yes, but let’s start slowly and figure out how to build this business.”

In the beginning, Deb, Azuli Skye CEO, was making all of the jewelry by herself. She quickly learned that she did not want to build a business that trained others to make jewelry, but the demand was increasing so much that she had to find a better way to meet it. By the time she approached her husband about launching the business, she was making much more than just the custom name bracelets—which remain some of Azuli Skye’s highest-demand items. She was getting requests for necklaces, earrings and more.

“I was also making everything from sterling silver and Swarovski crystals, and we launched the business right at the time that silver jumped to $50 per ounce. So we had to quickly explore ways to make the business more efficient,” Deb says.

That was when they discovered direct sales. Neither had any experience in the industry, but the McNaughtons instantly saw its potential for their business. At the same time they were learning how to build a jewelry design and manufacturing business; they also took on the challenge of creating their own direct sales program. Allan later admits that the process involved “trying a lot of things up front that didn’t work.”

Originally launched in September 2008, the company did not join the Direct Selling Association until 2010. Deb shares: “It was only four weeks before their annual meeting when I learned about the DSA. I did everything I could to get there—and it turned into one of the best things that we ever did for our company. Had we joined in the beginning, we would have known so much more up front.”

While it has presented challenges, this “do-it-yourself” mentality has also been one of the keys to Azuli Skye’s success. For example, when they launched the company, Allan leveraged his experience in the software industry to develop a custom solution for their back-office systems and website.


While it has presented challenges, a “do-it-yourself” mentality has also been one of the keys to Azuli Skye’s success.


The experience allowed him to finely tune the software for their unique needs while gaining a valuable perspective on what drove the company’s key metrics. Of course, with the tremendous advances in off-the-shelf technology that are now available to the industry, Allan advises, “I would probably not recommend our path for people who are not hardcore techies.”

Driven by Data

The Stars in Azuli Skye:

Key Differentiators

    • Products are customizable and offered in a variety of colors.
    • Customers can personalize jewelry with a loved one’s name.
    • Training is almost entirely done by video, not live events.
    • Marketing materials feature QR (Quick Response) Codes, including on consultants’ business cards.
    • Hostess “Bonus Buys” offer deep discounts on every page of the catalog to entice other potential hostesses.
  • Customer Specials provide incentives to customers, not just consultants.

Azuli Skye may be in the industry of selling beautiful pieces of jewelry, but its business model is driven far more by scientific analysis than artistic inspiration.

“We capture a lot of data!” laughs Deb, whose bubbly personality belies her background as a statistician. Speaking with her, it is hard to imagine her combing through spreadsheets and crunching numbers.

Allan, on the other hand, comes to life when talking about data. “We run a daily update on our website to prioritize the items that are the highest selling. Every 90 days, we analyze what is most popular and revise our entire catalog to ensure that we are keeping up with trends.”

This analysis has also allowed them to refine their website’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to maximize their online marketing efforts. These efforts have allowed Azuli Skye to attract consultants from all over the country without a significant amount of infrastructure.

“We have been national since the beginning, so we never really built a big local presence anywhere,” says Deb. “This means that we don’t do much live training, and are focused much more on video training and conference calls.”

“We make a lot of videos,” she says multiple times during our hour-long chat. This has been crucial to helping the company train their core market of consultants: “mompreneurs” whose full-time job is typically raising a family or having a traditional career. According to Allan, the company’s short videos have enabled their consultants to easily watch them on their smartphones during breaks in their day. Despite the lack of live training, Azuli Skye has seen rapid growth in both the number and productivity of its consultants.

Deb reports that sales jumped 240 percent from 2010 to 2011, with continued strong growth in 2012. So far this year, their traditionally slow month of January had sales equivalent to their highest month in 2011.

“We attribute this good performance to offering double Customer Specials in January,” says Deb. “Most companies offer extra hostess incentives in January, but we chose to excite our hostesses by offering more incentives to their friends.”

Constantly Evolving

Azuli SkyeAzuli Skye’s management team is just as focused on securing qualitative feedback as it is on tracking hard numbers.

As Allan says, “Getting the pulse of customers and actively seeking their feedback has been incredibly important. We use social media, but direct conversations with our consultants have been the top way we have learned what to do and where to take our company.”

For example, after hearing from their consultants that their customers were interested in more Pandora-style jewelry, the company added its “Mimzi” line of special beads. Mimzi customers have become repeat customers, as they return to buy more and more beads to customize their pieces for different occasions.


“Getting the pulse of customers and actively seeking their feedback has been incredibly important.”
—Allan McNaughton, President


Azuli Skye also recently added fashion jewelry in response to customer demand for more affordable options than the sterling silver jewelry, and the response has been unprecedented. While the McNaughtons expected fashion jewelry to become around 20 percent of their revenues, it has already grown to over 40 percent.

Like all things, this customer-oriented focus was something that the company had to learn over time. As Deb expressed: “We used to do everything ourselves. We used to make the jewelry in-house. All of it. We used to handle our own catalog production. We even built our own software. We did everything ourselves!”

“We finally realized that we weren’t in the business of building jewelry … ” begins Deb before Allan interjects, “We’re in the business of selling it!”

Azuli Skye now acquires most of its jewelry from other manufacturers. The custom bracelets are still manufactured in North Carolina; while they provide little revenue, they are one of the company’s best ways to recruit hostesses. As Deb says, “Every mom wants a piece of jewelry with her baby’s name on it!

“We have made it very easy for our consultants to recruit party hostesses. Nearly every jewelry party business includes free jewelry for hostesses, but we’ve added special discounts on premier items and our Hostess Exclusive items have been very successful at recruiting new hostesses.”

Deb continues: “These Bonus Buys help us the most. Anyone who sees that savings wants to host a party themselves!”

The company also recently refined its very successful Customer Specials to drive more revenue to the bottom line. Like many of its peers, Azuli Skye used to offer a discount on multiple purchases. Earlier this year, this became a promotion that allowed customers who purchased larger amounts to become eligible to purchase special pieces that were otherwise not available for purchase.

For example, customers who spend a certain amount can become eligible to buy one Customer Special. If they spend a certain higher amount, they can buy four items. These one-time items are promoted in monthly flyers and on the company’s Facebook page, creating a sense of urgency that draws attention to the website and helps the consultants to develop repeat customers.

Increasingly Social

Azuli SkyeAzuli Skye’s marketing program is laser-focused on a single goal—driving recurring traffic to the website.

Consultants get their own web pages, and Allan and his team are working to deepen the social media integration within the catalog for individual consultants. “They will soon be able to go to the catalog and share a specific piece of jewelry with their Facebook friends, and be able to get credit for the purchase,” he says.

The company posts regularly throughout the week on its Facebook page. At the end of the week, all consultants receive an email with a recap of all of that week’s postings. Combined with the company’s blog and Pinterest page, this makes it easy for consultants to share the company’s updates and product features with their contacts.

Consultants can also have online parties by allowing hostesses to simply share a link with her contacts. As Allan describes, “We are working to create as personalized and ‘hands off’ a marketing program as possible to make it easy for our consultants to sell products.”

Focused on the Future

Azuli Skye expects to continue growing as consultants build teams that spread across the United States. Expansion will be easily supported by the company’s existing training infrastructure, which relies on videos and conference calls rather than live training events.

The latter has been particularly effective at recruiting younger members of Gen Y. Deb explains that companies like Azuli Skye tend to have a “very diverse customer base but a fairly homogenous consultant base, mostly comprised of moms in their 30s.”

However, Azuli Skye’s recent marketing efforts are successfully attracting people in their 20s. This includes adding a QR (Quick Response) code to all of their materials, including to their consultants’ business cards, catalogs and car magnets. These codes allow anyone with a smartphone to use their camera to access a consultant’s website.

Deb says, “These young people don’t necessarily want to host an event at their house, but they want to get together with their friends. They are all on social media. When they see the QR code, they know that we are reaching out to them and not to an older generation.”

The company’s internal promotions are similarly aimed at consultants whose lives are deeply embedded in social media. One example is the “Stars in the Azuli Skye” program, where top performers have their names displayed on stars in the company’s headquarters. Every month, the company broadcasts a video of the new stars that they are adding. The series has been so successful that it will be prominently featured at the company’s annual conference this month.

When asked about the company’s name, Deb shares that Skye is their daughter’s middle name, which they selected to show that the company is built around the family. The word Azuli, though?

Deb laughs: “I invited some girlfriends over and gave them some martinis. I told them that one part of the company’s name was Skyebut we needed another word. Within 10 minutes, we had made up the word Azuli!”

Who knew that a statistician and an engineer could have so much fun?

Miche Bags: A Bag With Buzz

Young Company Focus

Miche Bags: A Bag With Buzz

by Lin Grensing-Pophal

Click here for original story.


Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.


MICHE

Company Profile

  • Launched: 2005
  • Headquarters: South Jordan, Utah
  • CEO: Corbin Church
  • Products: Interchangeable purses and accessories
Quote

Ask any woman who has ever owned or encountered a Miche bag and she will tell you that it’s a bag with buzz. Women who carry Miche bags become walking advertisements for the product and its unique design. What makes it so unique? The fact that it offers the opportunity to change its outer design without having to change the bag’s contents. In literally seconds women can change their bag to match an outfit, choosing from hundreds of design possibilities.

Corbin Church
Corbin Church
Jennie Platt
Jennie Platt

The concept was the brainchild of Michelle Romero, who spilled something on her bag and was frustrated with the thought of searching for a replacement and transferring the contents—something that virtually all women can relate to. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Spurred by an immediate need, Romero had an idea: Why not create a bag with changeable covers?

She created a prototype out of glue and some scrap fabric and showed it to a friend, Annette Cavaness, an accessories buyer. Together they launched Miche Bag LLC in 2005. Pronounced MEE-chee, the name stems from Romero’s nickname. She later brought the concept to serial entrepreneurs Corbin Church and his partner Chris Seegmiller, and Romero is no longer actively involved in the day-to-day management of the business.

“My childhood friend approached me in early 2007 and said ‘I have a product for you to look at,’ ” recalls now-CEO Corbin Church, who joined the company in 2007, and up until the spring of 2012, worked out of his basement with 19 employees. Initially, when he learned the product was handbags his response was lukewarm, but he says, “He proceeded to explain that it was a very unique handbag and unlike anything else out there.” And, indeed, Church says it was a unique concept. “It had the characteristics of what I look for in a product.” To test the concept further, Church turned to some women who represented different demographics and asked for their input. “They absolutely went nuts over this product,” he says. “They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was that shock or ‘aha’ factor that everybody gets when they see this product.”

Jennie Platt is the Chief Design and Production Officer at Miche Bag, the woman behind the trendy and continually evolving designs that keep customers coming back for more. “From a design standpoint what we do is really unique in that we have found a way to really help women find a unique product,” she says. For Miche representatives, she notes, “It gives them an opportunity to create a lifestyle inexpensively that is still very fashionable and fun. It has been really amazing to create a product that has given the opportunity to so many women to find ways to either support their families or to create additional income, whether for vacation or travel or to send their kids to college.”

Despite its youth, Miche has already evolved significantly from its initial launch.


“It gives [representatives] an opportunity to create a lifestyle inexpensively that is still very fashionable and fun.”
—Jennie Platt, Chief Design and Production Officer


Early Marketing

Miche was not an overnight success—but it was close. Initially, Church sold the product through kiosks in malls, which provided the opportunity to demonstrate and explain the product.

“We opened the first kiosk in July 2007 and it exceeded our expectations by almost two and a half times,” says Church. “So right away, we got off to a good start, but we had the typical challenges of a new company.” Chief among these challenges was the economic downfall that hit its peak in 2008. “Malls became ghost towns, and it was a difficult time to try to be in a retail space to conduct business,” he says.

Faced with these challenges the company began to look at alternative sales channels. These included infomercials, home parties and web marketing.

Direct sales through home parties proved to be an important part of the mix for Miche, recalls Church. “Our home party business began to grow, and grow fairly dramatically,” he says. “So we started to embrace that, but we didn’t turn away from some of those other channels. We still had carts going, we still had the infomercial going, web was a big channel for us, retail was still a big channel for us—but home parties started to dominate our business, so our focus became home parties.”

By the fall of 2008, 80 percent of the firm’s revenue was being generated through direct sales. “We were seeing dramatic sales growth,” says Church. The company did about $200,000 in sales in 2007; in 2008, about $7 million; in 2009, $30 million; and, he says, this year they expect to approach $100 million.


The company did about $200,000 in sales in 2007; in 2008, about $7 million; in 2009, $30 million; and this year they expect to approach $100 million.


Secrets to Success

MICHE

Why such significant success? “This is a big question,” says Church, who points to a few keys. First, the product. “Unlike other sales companies, our product is a walking billboard,” he says. “If you have a Miche handbag and somebody walks up to you—a total stranger—and says, ‘oh, that’s a cute bag,’ you don’t turn to her and just say ‘thank you.’ You say, ‘This is one of those really cool Miche bags.’

“You can carry any other bag and it’s just a great bag. It could be a Michael Kors or a Gucci and you make whatever statement you make. But there’s only one bag that makes a statement on its own, and that’s Miche.” The nature of the product itself is what has contributed to the company’s success, says Church. “It’s really been phenomenal for us. We are so unique. That puts us in this category pretty much all by ourselves. We’re pretty much all alone in the exchangeable handbag business.”

The other element of the company’s success, says Church, is an element of direct sales. “We change people’s lives,” he says. “Our business is very fun. The fun factor with us is very apparent—the fact that you’re in the fashion industry, in fashion accessories.” He says Miche is not a fad. “So many people have asked, ‘How have you kept this fresh and exciting?’ We constantly change our products and we are adding new styles every single month, which is a mammoth task.”

Over time, the demand for Miche has fueled continued growth, new designs and related accessories. Base bags are now available in six styles and range from the petite to the prima and demi. Base bags come in black or brown and some styles also offer interchangeable handles. An increasingly wide range of shells for the bags is continually updated and augmented with new styles and designs. Shells are attached to the bag with magnets. The product line also has been augmented with the non-interchangeable hip bags, wallets, coin purses, closet organizers, a purse organizer and bag charmers—key ring-like accessories that can be attached to the bags’ handles. The bags and accessories, says Church, are “an affordable luxury” for women.

Paying It Forward

BAGS

In addition to pride over the impact that Miche has on the lives of its representatives, Church says that contributing in bigger ways is also important to the company.

Church lost his father to cancer in 2007, just two months before starting the business, he says. Cancer became a very personal issue for him. “I wanted to kill cancer,” he says. So, cancer has become the cause that Miche focuses on. And, in keeping with its product line, the focus has a direct tie-in with its products.


“In the past two years … more than $2 million has been donated to cancer research from a very young, very small company.”
—Corbin Church, CEO


Platt designed a shell that has become known as the “Hope shell.” The shell incorporates quotes from people who have been impacted by cancer. All of the profits from the sale of this shell, says Church, are donated to cancer research. “In the past two years that has amounted to more than $2 million being donated to cancer research from a very young, very small company. It has turned into an amazing program.”

The company provides opportunities for employees to make a personal impact on others’ lives as well. Miche does a humanitarian trip each year as a company and “everybody is invited,” says Church. Last year the company went to Peru for a week to provide basic education on hygiene at an orphanage. “We brought the children gifts and became part of their lives for a week,” he says. They also brought electricity to a wing of the orphanage. This year in June the company will spend a week in Ghana putting the finishing touches on a school dedicated to one village. “We’ve learned that these things are so important to show heart and meaning for a company.”

Finding Focus

As Miche focuses its efforts on making a difference in the lives of its staff, its representatives and people around the world, it is also finding focus in its approach to creating a sustainable business model for the future.

Over time Miche had developed multiple channels of sales and distribution—retail sellers, national distributors, and independent representatives of two types—those who purchased through a distributor and those who carried their own inventory. The multiple channels created overlap and competition, though. That, and the obvious potential afforded through Miche parties, prompted the recent change, which is being phased in as retail outlets and distributors are phased out.

In August 2011, Miche Bag announced a new business model that launched it firmly into the direct sales industry. Miche Parties now provide thousands of representatives around the world to reach out and personally connect with women who have quickly become enthralled with a simple idea—purses that can be transformed in seconds through interchangeable shells in a wide array of colors and styles.


In August 2011, Miche Bag announced a new business model that launched it firmly into the direct sales industry.


“We became a full-fledged party company on Feb. 1 this year,” says Church. “There were a lot of questions about who and what we were as a company because we were in so many different channels. We decided that since party plans represented over 80 percent of our revenues that we needed to become a true party plan company and provide our representatives with the growth opportunities and the resources they need to succeed.”

To support this shift, he says, retail has been entirely cut out of the mix, and he admits this wasn’t a very popular move. “We had a number of distributors that were selling our products around the country. The representatives that formed our company were representatives under these 300 distributors. That was a very difficult decision to figure out how to give these representatives what they needed to grow and flourish, yet take care of those distributors. We built in programs so that everybody could be happy.” But, he adds: “Is everybody happy? No. But I think we found a good balance in getting the company to where it needed to be.”

And it was a move supported by the company’s sources of demand for its products. “The end result is a company that is more appealing to a broader group,” says Church. With the change, Miche is shifting focus to its representatives exclusively, he says. “We brought on a software system that gives our representatives all of the tools that they need to be successful, and an income opportunity they had never seen before.” Previously, he says, representatives could earn a commission on their sales, but now they have the opportunity to build and support a team to enhance their income opportunities. “That’s a huge development for our company in the last three months,” he says.

Early results suggest the shift has been a wise one. “It’s exciting to report that our company is 25 percent ahead of its projections,” says Church. “We’re growing more than we expected and it is very exciting.”

A Bright Future

Jayma Woods
Jayma Woods

Church says the company at 5 years old is still poised to present tremendous opportunities for its very newest representatives. “Most people still have not heard of a Miche bag,” he notes. “There is a lot of opportunity yet—not to mention that the customers we bring on stay very, very loyal to us.”

The future holds opportunity and innovation as Miche continues to focus on what matters most—its customers. “We spend so much time doing trend analysis and research, not only from a marketing perspective but also from a customer perspective,” says Chief Design and Production Officer Platt. “It’s very important to us to really understand who our customer is, what she wants and what her needs are.”

Jayma Woods, Executive Vice President, Domestic Distribution, agrees. “Providing this unique experience is unlike anything I have ever been involved with in retail before. As we’ve made this transition to a true direct sales model we have really seen how impactful it can be in somebody’s life. To be a part of that has been an honor for us.”

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