December 01, 2011
Cultivating the Next Generation of Direct Sellers
by Aaron Garrity, Founder, Chairman, CEO, XANGO, LLC.
Success doesn’t happen by chance; it happens by choice. It often happens by a series of choices, linked together by a commitment to lead with bold strides. I celebrate the achievements many of you have made in creating opportunities in both prosperous and difficult financial times, and I offer a few perspectives on what we can do next. We hear many gloomy forecasts—for example, the dismal headlines of 9 percent unemployment and 18 percent underemployment in the United States—but the direct sales community remains engaged to buck these trends and make a difference in the lives touched by our businesses. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that dramatic socioeconomic changes require us to adjust our approach. Together, let’s reaffirm the series of bold strides that direct sales needs in order to cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs for our shared success.
One issue we need to face is that of demographics. Simply put, we could age out: Baby boomers revolutionized the industry with their hard work and passionate embrace of the message of shaping your own destiny, and we hope to retain these talented individuals as the backbone of our industry for as long as they wish to work. However, as U.S. News and World Report notes, the first of 78 million boomers turned 65 in 2011. Some want to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, others retired several years ago, while plenty more plan to hold onto their jobs for the foreseeable future or even seek additional employment to supplement their savings or contribute meaningfully to the world. We have an opportunity to help them both pre- and post-retirement in these efforts.
Labor economists in the Congressional Resource Service indicate that boomer retirements will have a varied effect on industry. Whether an industry actually experiences a labor shortage as a result of impending waves of boomer retirement depends on whether it is boomer-dependent or generationally diversified. Following the baby boom, the United States experienced the “baby bust” of much fewer births from 1965 to 1976, followed by an “echo boom” of increasing births. We at corporate headquarters must embrace the need to refill the distributor ranks with talented Millennials from that echo boom, who are now promising adults in their 20s and early 30s.
But, it’s more than a pipeline challenge. The industry, if reinvigorated, could also offer a lot of opportunity to Millennials, who graduate into a world of unemployment and underemployment. While many boomers contemplate whether they can afford to retire, there are millions of smart, talented Millennials who are members of what The New York Times has called “Generation Limbo” and cannot find the work they seek. Thus, I would posit, the direct sales industry needs Millennials, and Millennials need the direct sales industry.
Direct sales is uniquely poised to offer solutions to economic stagnation. I know this from experience: We launched and grew XANGO nearly 10 years ago during an economic downturn, and understand the importance of providing people with options, opportunity and even training and development if that is what they seek. We have a unique ability to connect with those looking to do something they will enjoy, develop aspiring leaders and empower those seeking a greater sense of fulfillment and security, but we must do it on today’s terms, not relying on recruitment methods from the past.
What does this mean? Provide tools customized for Millennials, such as digital solutions that offer training and sales support for the mobile, tech-savvy user. Recognize that entrepreneurs have grander goals than just the bottom line. Foster women’s leadership in an industry that deserves applause as one of the first to crack the glass ceiling and where women are quite simply the majority of the workforce. Continuing this great legacy is both the right thing to do and the catalyst—one that you already have—for transformation.
First, let’s tackle the technology issue. As people decide to start anew, they need training. XANGO welcomes newcomers with business tools suited to their needs and designed to set them up for success. As an example, for XANGO’s GO! 2011 Global Convention, we reached tens of thousands of current and prospective distributors through the technology innovation that is GO! On Demand. In a groundbreaking agreement, XANGO partnered with a leader in live streaming videos to bring the energy, excitement and education of our convention directly home to distributors—wherever their home business may be. The patent-pending, proprietary streaming video technology gives access to more than 15 hours of convention coverage, including product announcements, news and featured speakers, available in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese and Italian. Providing a stay-at-home solution paid off: Thousands of distributors gathered in offices and homes around the world, from Mexico City to Taipei, Taiwan, for GO! On Demand viewing parties, flanked by tens of thousands of individual users streaming the content and, of course, the nearly 10,000 registered convention attendees who were able to make the voyage to Salt Lake City for the robust onsite experience.
Likewise, we understand that distributors need mobile tools to engage customers, whether meeting in private homes, cafés or countless other settings where Millennials may view it cumbersome to bring a laptop computer or other traditional sales aids. Therefore, we offer smartphone and e-tablet applications for making product presentations, which—along with mobile business management tools across multiple languages and cultures—empower business-on-the-go that is not restricted by geographical or socioeconomic boundaries. And this is just the beginning of how we intend to leverage technology.
Making a Difference
Second, let’s imbue our work with a sense of social purpose, which I’ll define through an example. A centerpiece of our business at XANGO is caring for the health and well-being of our global community. That’s why we create and manufacture premium natural products for the health and wellness of our customers and their families. That’s why, like many of you, we volunteer our service to children and families in need, and seek out solutions to improve lives around the world. And it’s why we are paving the way for more sustainable products and packaging in our industry.
Interestingly, as an unintended result, XANGO is poised to benefit from a perfect alignment with Millennials, who categorically aspire to work for companies who are committed to “giving back.” This is a generation instilled with the belief that they can personally make a difference with their lives, including where and how they work, thanks to parenting by their boomer moms and dads. After all, Millennials were raised on Earth Day (first celebrated in 1970). My advice for other direct sales companies is that corporate social responsibility cannot and should not be an add-on; it must be essential to your DNA and what you say about it must be true, or Millennials will unearth your lack of authenticity and broadcast it to their social networks. I am heartened that the direct sales industry took an early role in supporting the underprivileged, and I’m proud of the work we as an industry continually undertake in our social purpose of bettering lives.
A study reported in Ad Age noted that 76 percent of Millennials emphasized the importance of brands being eco-conscious; supporting the green movement makes a brand more credible in their eyes. Furthermore, 69 percent of Millennials expressed genuine interest in the environment, but also admitted a lack of personal involvement in daily activities. In short, this group “understands the why but is unsure of the how,” and appreciates brands and employers that make it easy for them to tacitly do right by the environment. Subsequent studies corroborate Millennials’ green attitudes, as you might imagine, and measure an uptick in their contributions—compared to the overall population—to green causes. To care for the planet, our new XANGO Green initiative works to improve sustainability in our day-to-day business, manufacturing processes, distribution systems and even individual employee/distributor carbon footprints. As part of the XANGO Green launch at our convention, my Co-Founder Gordon Morton announced new 100 percent recyclable eco-smart packaging for our flagship product, XANGO® Juice. This builds on XANGO’s current commitment to eliminate waste by using 100 percent of the mangosteen, even the rind, as well as using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper in print materials.
Sixty percent of young adults in one study say that environmentally friendly products are good for business, and we agree. The manufacture of XANGO® Juice eco-smart packaging offers significant benefits. For example, this will include 85 percent less material than the previous bottle, 34 percent less energy used and 64 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.
This is our newest initiative under the social purpose umbrella, but hardly the first. Charitable action, known as XANGO Goodness, laced itself through XANGO’s DNA since inception. Around the world, XANGO has partnered with Operation Smile to provide more than 1,200 new smiles to children and supplied about 3.5 million meals to malnourished children and adults through a XANGO Meal Pack initiative with AmeriCares. As a global citizen, every community is equally important to XANGO.
Closing the Gap
Direct sales enjoys a rich legacy of empowering women, minorities and others who have traditionally lacked opportunity. Since XANGO’s founding, we’ve committed ourselves to these noble ideals. We foster women leaders by providing training and mentoring as well as connecting women direct sellers with a network of their peers. In emerging international markets with great inequalities, these women direct sellers are the revolutionaries who will close the gap. In a unique program led by Senior Vice President Beverly Hollister in collaboration with some of the company’s most successful female distributors, we invite women looking to grow their XANGO business to special weekends of training and motivation seminars called Women Building Bridges. In 2011, thousands of women participated in the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. I’m excited to expand this initiative worldwide in 2012. XANGO’s portfolio of natural health and wellness products for parents and children appeals to young moms looking to make responsible choices that protect their families’ well-being and the planet. I view these Millennial women as customers and distributors, to be sure, but also the next generation of entrepreneurs, agents of change and potential superstars of our industry.
Investing in the Future
Empowering Millennials—via technology, social purpose and opportunities for women—is key to our industry’s success. I want to reiterate XANGO’s commitments to make bold strides, and I warmly invite you to do the same. The people and companies who comprise the Direct Selling Association embody the sense of caring and commitment to creating opportunities that the world needs during this generational shift and challenging economic time. Leading won’t always be easy, but I know the DSA membership will make a difference for the families who depend on our businesses and for the industry itself.
Don’t wait! Now is our time to reach forward, to evolve how we think about who we recruit, how we grow and who will drive business forward. Let’s be the good stewards of what we’ve learned and open the doors for others. Decades from now, we’ll look back and see how Millennials revolutionized the industry all over again, and I believe we can offer them the innovative tools to shape and expand our linked destiny, powerfully. Together, we’ll create the next generation of networkers and cultivate our future—and theirs.
Aaron Garrity is Founder, Chairman and CEO of health and wellness company XANGO, LLC. As Chairman of DSA’s Member Services Committee and having served on DSA’s Board of Directors for three years, he has a unique perspective on how DSA member companies can move the industry forward.