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Hobbies can translate to direct sales jobs
By MARY JACOBS, The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS -- Job hunters interested in direct sales need look no further than a hobby or favorite interest to find something to sell. Today, opportunities in direct selling have cropped up for a wide range of products and services.
"There are all kinds of products that are being marketed via direct sales," said Amy Robinson, spokesman for the Direct Selling Association in Washington. "That's one of the major trends in the business right now."
Once dominated by "lotions and potions" -- cosmetics and nutrition products -- the direct sales business now includes product lines ranging from scrapbook supplies (Creative Memories), cooking products (Pampered Chef), in-home photo portraits (Cooksey Keepsakes) and even golf supplies.
Expanding the direct sales spectrum, established businesses in other retail channels are adding product lines sold only through direct sales.
Southern Living magazine now offers Southern Living at Home -- home accessories sold through home parties. Binney & Smith, manufacturer of Crayola crayons, added its Big Yellow Box business, a direct-marketed line of activity kits for families.
Mail-order giant Lillian Vernon has a direct selling arm, as has the Body Shop, a retailer of bath and body products.
"Direct sales represents about 1 percent of all sales in the U.S.," Robinson said. "That's a small percentage, but it's still a very large market, and many large companies want to tap into that."
All this means that prospective direct salespeople can find opportunities in almost any area of interest.
When a job hunter represents products for a hobby or area of interest, "that's an excellent scenario," Robinson said. "You'll know the product, and you'll know people who are interested in purchasing the product."
That's what Barbara Gumport of McKinney, Texas, was thinking when she signed up to become a pet adviser for Petlane, a direct marketing firm offering pet products.
Gumport owns two West Highland white terriers and is a member of her local chapter of the West Highland White Terrier Club. She plans to work her network of pet-loving friends to organize home parties.
Gumport chose the company after reading a magazine article about Discovery Toys founder Lane Nemeth, who founded Petlane in 2004.
"This woman believes that pets are today's kids -- that is so true," she said. "I liked the idea of having so much fun with people's pets."
Gumport's story illustrates why direct sales appeals to some customers, even when there are plenty of pet products available in stores, said Kimberley Coburn, vice president of sales at Petlane.
"Two words -- customer service," Coburn said. "The growth of 'big box' retailers means a total breakdown in customer service. There are a lot of products available, but you can't find someone with the knowledge to help you choose this product over that product."
Regardless of the product line, any prospective sales representative should carefully research business opportunities. Promises of easy money are usually too good to be true.
Robinson of the Direct Selling Association advises job seekers to be wary of firms that require a large upfront investment.
"If you need to invest $150, you should get something reasonable in return, whether it's samples, catalogs or training materials," she said.
"If you have to pay $4,000 just for the right to recruit other salespeople, that's a huge red flag."
Also, make sure there's an actual product that's being sold to the ultimate consumer of that product.
"You should be compensated primarily on what you sell or what your recruits sell," she said. If compensation is based only on how many people you bring into the business, that's another red flag.
Ask about the company's buyback policy for unused merchandise. The association requires its members to repurchase at least 90 percent of unused inventory. Visit the association's Web site, www.dsa.org, for more information on choosing a reputable firm.
Finally, be realistic about the earning potential in direct sales -- and the work required.
The median income in direct sales is about $2,500 a year.
"Most people in direct sales only work a few hours a week, with a goal of making a couple of hundred dollars a month, so that's not surprising," Robinson said.
Those who work full time average about $44,000 a year.
"Direct sales can be a great opportunity, but you need to do your homework and you need to trust your gut," she said.
WIFE TO PETER
MOM TO BRIAN (6-18-98)