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May 31, 2016

DSA News

Diversity and Empowerment: Strengthening Direct Selling

by Joseph N. Mariano



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


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I truly believe that direct selling is the epitome of the American Dream: entrepreneurs from all walks of life striving to better themselves and improve the lives of their families by building a business of their own. I particularly wish to emphasize all walks of life. As the United States becomes more demographically diverse, so too, of course, does the consumer base that buys goods and services from direct selling companies. Common sense would decree, therefore, that ensuring your salesforce is reflective of and conversant with your customer base is not only socially responsible, but commercially prudent.

Direct selling can offer a route to entrepreneurialism not found elsewhere for members of untapped or underserved market constituencies (UUMs)—those who may have few or no transferable formal qualifications, limited access to capital, language and/or cultural barriers to overcome, and unfamiliarity with U.S. business practices. Our business model, with its relatively low risks and low entry costs, and its flexibility in terms of hours and location of work, is incredibly viable to people from all cultures and backgrounds.

In 2013, the U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA) established its Diversity & Empowerment Council, charged with supporting member companies in developing a broader consumer base by recruiting salesforce members and customers from minority groups and UUMs. One of the fruits of the council’s labors was the successful U.S. Hispanic Submarket: Increase Your Sales in One of the Fastest Growing Markets panel, offered at DSA’s Sales and Marketing Conference in Las Vegas in 2015. If you missed it, we will be offering an encore Hispanic Market panel at this year’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix this month.

DSA’s most recent industry overview factsheet, which will be updated at the June Annual Meeting, shows that 21 percent of those involved in direct selling in the United States are of Hispanic ethnicity—higher than the 17.1 percent of the overall U.S. population reported by the Census Bureau to be Hispanic. To help realize the enormous potential of the Hispanic market, DSA made available in February a Spanish translation of its Code of Ethics. Translations of other DSA consumer protection resources are in the pipeline. And in March, the Association formed a partnership with The Latino Coalition, a membership and advocacy organization for Latino-owned small businesses. This partnership will enable DSA to keep abreast of the concerns of the Latino community and also to raise awareness of the direct selling opportunity.

I would strongly guard, however, against resting on our industry laurels. DSA’s research also reveals that the number of people involved in direct selling who are Asian is lower than the overall Asian population of the United States — five percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. Black/African-American representation in direct selling is lower still: 13.2 percent of the population, as compared to 11 percent involvement in direct selling. As an association, we want to see these figures improve. DSA’s Diversity & Empowerment Award works to that end by recognizing and celebrating the achievements of DSA Members in promoting diversity and empowerment. The inaugural award was presented in 2015 to Primerica in acknowledgement of the company’s African American and Hispanic American Leadership Councils and its Women in Primerica initiative, which provide leadership and resources to establish an inclusive environment of financial independence through entrepreneurship.

Direct selling must be a mirror on society. DSA members adapt well to changing demographics by updating their product line to meet the shifting needs of customers, but more can be done to promote the direct selling business opportunity itself as one that is open to all walks of life. Is your company equipped beyond simply translating websites, starter kits and other documents into another language for use by existing distributors? Do you even do that much? Ensuring your salesforce is truly representative of your desired market will go a long way to overcoming the language and cultural barriers that can hinder access to new markets and new success stories for direct selling.


NameJoseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association and the Direct Selling Education Foundation.