December 01, 2013
DSA’s Direct Selling Summit Connects Direct Sellers, Members of Congress
by Alyssa Wolice
Photo above: Summit attendees gather with DSA staff for a formal presentation of the Direct Selling Proclamation and Compact on the Capitol steps.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, more than 100 independent direct selling consultants and industry executives from across the country came together on Capitol Hill for the Direct Selling Association’s (DSA) first-ever Direct Selling Summit.
Independent consultants from more than two dozen companies shared their personal success stories with Members of Congress and their staffs. For many direct sellers, the event marked their first-ever visit to the nation’s capital and their first experience connecting with their Members of Congress. All told, direct sellers took part in more than 70 individual meetings.
Additionally, Summit attendees renewed their commitment to the highest standards of ethical business practices, innovation and customer service by signing the Direct Selling Proclamation and Compact. The proclamation was displayed throughout the day to remind participants, as well as bystanders and others on Capitol Hill, of the role direct selling plays in the economy and in the lives of millions of men and women across the country.
“Do not underestimate the importance of what you are doing,” Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said to this year’s Summit attendees. “Do not underestimate the importance of folks like me seeing the real-life implications of what… the Federal Trade Commission or anyone else is doing. Because when you’re up here [as a Member of Congress], you see the end results, and it’s all numbers and statistics. The reality is that’s not what this is about. It’s you. ... You might say, ‘I don’t see how what I did [during meetings with Members of Congress] is that important.’ Just your presence—for people to see, to visualize what we’re dealing with—is so important.
“Democracy does not work by osmosis,” he continued. “It requires involvement. You’re involved in your industry and your businesses. You’re also standing up for wealth creation, for what has made this the most prosperous and, therefore, the most generous country in history.”
Prior to meeting with Members of Congress and their staffs, attendees were provided with an overview of the direct selling industry, DSA and the purpose of the day’s events. From there, attendees were briefed on how to prepare for meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs, as well as media interviews. DSA President Joseph N. Mariano said, “We thought it important that we, at least indirectly, answer some of the misinformation and myths that are out there to make sure that they don’t grow or, more importantly, end up a part of legislation here in Washington, D.C., or the states that could affect direct selling businesses negatively.”
“That is why it is more important than ever that we bring our folks to Washington so that Members of Congress and their staffs, as well as regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, can gain a better understanding of who we are,” he said. “In fact, we represent a diverse population of people from all around the country with diverse motivations, different demographic backgrounds, races and religions.
“Some of the most impressive people I have ever met are independent direct selling consultants,” he continued. “So many people have pulled themselves up from nothing and built businesses to help their families and increase their skills. Many are newly immigrated to our country or have no significant education or prior business experience, and yet they now find themselves with much more affluence and a renewed sense of confidence in their business and leadership capabilities.”
After the morning briefing, direct sellers, executives and DSA staff came together for a formal presentation of the proclamation and a picture on the Capitol steps. Attendees were also invited to take individual portraits with Mariano, and many took advantage of the opportunity to capture snapshots of the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.
“Direct selling is my life,” said Theresa P., an independent consultant with Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry. “I’m in this full time and, for that, it is so important to me that Congress knows about this industry. My favorite thing about direct selling is the transformation—seeing someone come in shy, intimidated or down on themselves and watching them gain confidence as they achieve their goals.”
Mark Petersen, Vice President of Field Development for 4Life Research, accompanied one of 4Life’s independent consultants on the trek to Capitol Hill. He said, “One of the many things most important to me about direct selling is the fact that, in almost every other industry, legislation has been required to ensure there is truly equal opportunity for everyone.
“In direct selling, that’s not the case,” he continued. “Anyone can pursue a career in direct selling regardless of their education or background. Direct selling truly provides an equal opportunity for everyone, and it really becomes apparent when we hear some of the success stories direct sellers have shared. In direct selling, success is directly tied to effort and perseverance, rather than who you are, where you come from, where you were educated or what you believe.”
Throughout the day, attendees donned T-shirts that read “Create a Better Life as a Direct Seller” across the front. On the back of the shirts was a word cloud, which featured adjectives such as empowering, innovative, entrepreneurial, genuine and enriching—just a few of the words direct sellers used throughout the day as they shared their stories with Members of Congress, DSA executives and one another.
“There is no doubt that the biggest reward I have found through direct selling is being able to help other people reach their goals,” said Cynthia D., an independent consultant with LifeVantage Corp. “You start out in this industry seeing the big picture of the possibilities that could impact your own family’s future, but helping other people, that’s the true essence of being a part of direct selling.”
|Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.)||Summit attendees sign the Direct Selling Proclamation and Compact.||Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)|
Addressing Summit attendees, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said, “We appreciate you being here. This is a critical, critical part of the process. As a Member of Congress, we represent about 800,000 people. That’s a very difficult task—to try to be in touch and in tune. There’s nothing more important to us than meeting with people from our own districts and from across the country—those who are feeding real families, who are trying to take care of themselves and trying to improve their lives or the quality of life for others.”
Congressman Chaffetz shared his story of how he first experienced direct selling when he worked for Nu Skin more than 10 years ago.
“You can’t be successful unless you help other people,” he said. “That’s the beauty and the magic of direct selling and the companies you’re with. You’re only successful if you help others to reach their goals and aspirations. If somehow, some way, you can capture that message and share it with Members of Congress, that will be very helpful.”
Congressman Chaffetz briefly addressed challenges that have impacted—and could impact—the direct sales channel, such as product agreements and labeling issues, as well as tax laws and threats to the independent contractor status.
“Please, keep invested in this,” he said. “I talk to my district office every single day, and you should be communicating with those people as well. You’ve got great leadership here in the DSA. I believe in [direct selling] in my heart. I know this helps people; it gives us opportunity and creates real success for people’s lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
To cap off the day’s excitement, Summit attendees gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building for an ice cream social open to all Members of Congress and their staffs. Direct sellers shared their stories with executives, DSA staff and Congressional staffers while posing for pictures and celebrating the day.
“I went to a Viridian Energy meeting three years ago, and I had, at that time, just reached a point in my life that I knew would come—I had three kids in college at the same time,” said James K., an independent consultant with Viridian. “I had been in the printing industry for years, but when I saw the opportunity that Viridian could offer, I said to myself, ‘This is real. This is something I can put my time into.’ Now that I’ve been with Viridian for three years, the thing I find most rewarding about my direct selling career is the ability to help others become successful and watch direct selling change their lives. It’s an amazing experience, and you get such good feelings when you see others achieving success as well.”
Sherri G., an independent consultant for Scentsy, also reflected on the event with DSA staff. “I am so thankful DSA gave us this opportunity to have our voices heard,” she said. “This is a critical part of what makes direct selling so successful, what can help make our businesses successful; and it’s important that Congress hears from us. DSA has given us our voice, and we appreciate that.”
DSA is continuing its efforts to see all direct sellers have their voices be heard by launching an online Proclamation page (www.dsa.org/proclamation), where individuals can affirm their promise to uphold the highest standards of business ethics and reinforce the positive impact direct selling has on people from all walks of life.
“Each of the names affixed to the Direct Selling Proclamation represents a life impacted by the direct selling industry,” said Mariano. “These men and women represent not only a sample of today’s direct sellers, but also family, friends, customers and supporters who recognize what direct selling means to the U.S. economy, to the livelihoods of nearly 16 million people and their families, and to beneficiaries of direct selling’s countless charitable undertakings.”
While the Proclamation resonated with this year’s Direct Selling Summit participants, as well as Members of Congress, their staffs and passersby, those in attendance represented a very small percentage of the entire sales channel.
“This Proclamation is about reaffirming who we are: a sales channel that helps those involved create better lives for themselves, their fellow sellers and their communities,” observed DSA Chief Marketing Officer Amy Robinson. “We know there were companies who were not able to send their sellers to Washington, D.C., to talk to Congress, but they too are represented by this Proclamation, and they should have the opportunity to sign it.”
DSA encourages all of its member companies to make their salesforce members aware of the online Proclamation and ask them to lend their support for all that is good about the channel. Doing so will provide independent direct selling consultants with an opportunity to show solid commitment and support for direct selling as the new year approaches. It will also demonstrate the breadth and reach of the direct sales channel to Congress, as well as to the general public.
“Once we’ve gathered the signatures, we’ll send this Proclamation to relevant federal and state agencies and legislative bodies to showcase the strength of the sales channel,” Robinson said. “The more DSA member companies make their field members aware of the Proclamation and encourage them to sign it, the greater the impact we’ll have.
Mariano added, “There are countless stories out there of lives changed by the direct selling opportunity, and this Proclamation serves to recognize as many of them as possible. Direct sellers sent more than 17,000 letters to the FTC when they were considering changes to the Business Opportunity Rule. If even a fraction of direct sellers sign this proclamation, we will eclipse that incredible success 10 times over.”
Alyssa Wolice is Communications Specialist at the U.S. Direct Selling Association.