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December 01, 2017

Cover Story

Direct Selling Icons

by DSN Staff


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


In This Issue:
Bringing Gender Parity to Direct Selling
Advocating for the Direct Selling Community
Navigating the Millennial-Driven World
Sticking to a Winning Business Model
Leading with Passion and Commitment
Launching New Products and Segments
Recruiting and Retaining the Field
Direct Selling Icons


While we have chosen to highlight each of the women on the previous pages, we know that the recognition is not complete without mention of the women who opened the door and set the standard for these future leaders. Though we don’t have space to record all of the women who have made opportunities possible for many women, we couldn’t finish this issue without calling out a few. The most notable icons of our channel are featured here.

P.F.E. Albee (1836-1914)

TextP.F.E. Albee

The very first “Avon Lady,” Persis Albee, began selling perfumes for David McConnell in 1886.

The Historical Society of Chesire County, New Hampshire, relates this story about Albee on their website (www.hsccnh.org):

“With her good business sense, the 50-year-old Persis welcomed the chance to sell perfume as a second career, earning income with which to raise her two children during a time when there were few employment options. The face-to-face direct selling approach relied on Persis’ social skills and her reputation in the community, in addition to the quality and desirability of the products she promoted. Her stature in Winchester added respectability to her door-to-door sales approach. And with her friendly manner, Persis was a welcome sight. It was in this way that Persis pioneered the company’s now famous direct selling.”

Mary Kay Ash (1918-2001)

TextMary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash had written that in 1963, when a man she had trained was promoted above her and paid twice her salary, she quit her job and planned to write a book about the injustice of it all. The notes, however, became the foundation for her legendary beauty and cosmetics company. Ash’s salesforce was made up of women—an uncommon situation in the 1960s—as she laid the groundwork for hundreds of companies to build upon. Recognition programs, ranging from sparkling tiaras to the famous pink Cadillacs, and compensation plans that included commissions for building teams of salespeople have become core parts of most direct selling companies operating today.

Doris Christopher

TextDoris Christopher

In 1980, Doris Christopher decided to start a business from her Chicago home selling high-quality and time-saving kitchen tools. She knew she wanted to utilize the direct-to-consumer model, so that her consultants could demonstrate the tools with real food and share tips through an in-home party that included the guests eating the end results of the demonstration. The company flourished so much that in 2003, investor Warren Buffet made Christopher an offer to buy her company, saying in a press release, “Doris Christopher has created from scratch an absolutely wonderful business. We are delighted to add The Pampered Chef to the family.”

Mary Crowley (1915-1987)

TextMary Crowley

After becoming a single parent of two children in the 1930s and putting herself through school, Mary Crowley had pushed herself to achieve success by 1957. She joined her friend and sister-in-law Mary Kay Ash at Stanley Home Products, but when she began selling home accessories for a small company called World Gift, Crowley had discovered her place to shine, growing to have 500 salespeople underneath her. When the owner put a limit on the amount of commission the women’s sales staff could earn, Crowley quit and started her own company that would never limit a woman’s earning potential. Home Interiors & Gifts became a direct selling powerhouse and by the early 1990s had surpassed $850 million in sales. The company was bought in 2009 by Penny and Steve Carlile, who merged it with an existing company they owned. The resulting Celebrating Home is still operating today.

Jan Day (1920-1997)

TextJan Day

1956 bore witness to the founding of yet another exemplary company, JAFRA, by Jan Day and her husband, Frank. The company name is a combination of their first names. Jan Day had represented Stanley Home Products as did her successful contemporaries Mary Kay Ash and Mary Crowley, where each had experienced success and seen the power of in-home selling. Remaining committed to the empowerment of women, Day started JAFRA with skincare based on a natural substance produced by bees called Royal Jelly. Gillette bought the successful company in 1973; Vorwerk acquired it in 2004.

Jinger Heath

TextJinger Heath

In 1981, Jinger Heath and her husband, Richard, bought a defunct cosmetics company, BeautiControl, from then-owner Tri-Chem. The Heaths’ tenacity, along with Jinger Heath’s ability to attract women to the business brought the company back to prosperity. She continued to bring new ideas into the company to complement the skincare and cosmetics line such as professional color analysis, total image analysis and product innovations. The Heaths took the company public in 1986 and continued to manage daily operations. Tupperware acquired the company in 2000, but after modest sales in 2006 and 2007, the business started declining. In summer 2017, Tupperware decided to close the business.  

Joan Horner (1925-2010)

TextJoan Horner

Joan Horner and her husband, Andy, spent 17 years working alongside their friend Mary Crowley encouraging the salesforce at Home Interiors & Gifts. Though near retirement age themselves in 1985, the Horners decided to start their own direct selling company to support women who wanted to stay home to raise children, to provide encouragement and extra income for single moms, to provide a way for those in full-time ministry to meet their financial needs, and to give financial support to the many various ministries in which they believed. They decided that jewelry would be their product choice. Premier Designs has fulfilled the Horner’s mission for over 26 years and is still run by the family.

Cheryl Lightle and Rhonda Anderson

TextCheryl Lightle and Rhonda Anderson

In 1987 Rhonda Anderson was a stay-at-home mom who made creative albums for her family out of keepsake photos. She shared her process with her community and took 40 orders for the brand of album she used. When the company was no longer going to produce the albums, she called after hours again and again until then Marketing Vice President Cheryl Lightle finally picked up the phone. Intrigued that someone would want such a large order, Lightle started discussing possibilities with Anderson, and this phone call started what became the largest scrapbook company in the world, Creative Memories. The company closed in 2014 but was purchased by Caleb Hayhoe, a previous business collaborator of Creative Memories who was also a big fan of its passion and culture.

Brownie Wise (1913-1992)

TextBrownie Wise

Another dynamic woman whose first experience in direct selling was at Stanley Home Products, Brownie Wise steered Tupperware into the home-party arena by convincing the company founder, Earl Tupper, it was the best place for understanding the functions of the containers’ plastic seal. She was appointed Vice President of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951 and led the salesforce with her keen marketing intuition, especially concerning women and social selling in the home.

Wise also pioneered the extravagant rewards and recognition system now common among direct selling companies, giving top sellers at Tupperware such items as speedboats and exotic trips. Her intuition about recognition systems appealed to women and led her to become the first woman featured on the cover of Business Week magazine in 1954.