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December 01, 2012

Top Desk

Let’s Not Forget to Remember the Future

by Michael Norris, President, PartyLite North America.

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

Michael Norris

In 2013 PartyLite will celebrate its 40th birthday as a direct selling company. That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment!

Actually, it all started in 1909, when a schoolteacher named Mabel Baker began making fine bayberry candles in her Cape Cod kitchen. Clearly, we’ve come a long way since Mabel’s early entrepreneurship. PartyLite today produces more than 600 kinds of Platinum Quality candles—nearly 200 million every year. And today,

  • PartyLite is the leading global direct seller of candles, candle warmers, candle accessories and premium home fragrance products.
  • There are nearly 60,000 independent PartyLite Consultants in 18 countries around the globe.
  • More than 12 million people attend PartyLite parties each year.
  • There’s a PartyLite party going on somewhere in the world every 18 seconds!

We’re proud that PartyLite remains “the original and the best.” And those of us among the pioneering direct selling companies do enjoy some distinct advantages. We have an enviable reputation built on years of success. We’re an appealing and trustworthy choice for people looking to join our industry—as so many people are these days. We’ve been through all the changes—economic, business and social. Along the way, we’ve all learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Right now, most companies in our industry are working hard to regain previous sales levels. Many possibilities are being explored. Sometimes the problem is saturation. Or the product needs freshening. Other times, product diversification is the answer. Sometimes it isn’t. Ultimately, most companies are examining who they are and where they’re going—always a valuable process.

But our primary role doesn’t really change. For party plan companies, first and foremost, our job is to support the field every day. So what does that really mean? Where should our emphasis go for the best results? It’s worth looking at.

We spend a great deal of time and effort supporting our field leaders because we cherish them, we’re proud of them and we want to help them support the consultants they lead. But sometimes we devote so much energy to working with leaders that, inadvertently, we may actually isolate ourselves from the very people who drive the business—the leaders of the future.

Like most direct selling companies, PartyLite welcomes consultants of all ages. Some come in more as hobbyists; some are serious income seekers. Generally, the serious income seekers tend to fall into the 25–35-year range. They have the drive, the ambition, the determination and the stamina to succeed. But they live in a very different world. And if we don’t offer them the right kind of support for right now, they aren’t likely to stay. They can always “Google up” a new opportunity.

Key support for right now involves the primacy of technological tools for this generation. These are women and men whose businesses are done on their smartphones and, perhaps, on an iPad or other brand of tablet, both handily tucked into a purse or pocket. They don’t need an office. And soon—very soon—they’ll handle their entire business on one of these devices.

Of primary importance is a parallel truth: Their customers live the way they live. Their time is compressed. Their time outside of their job or their home is extremely limited. Their willingness to host parties in their home, or to attend parties in someone else’s home, may likewise be limited. There are also enormous changes in the way they receive and process information and in the way they shop. The good news is that they still love and want the product. But today, more than ever before, their entire interaction with our consultants needs to be brief, clear, dynamic and compelling.

PartyLite welcomes consultants of all ages.
PartyLite welcomes consultants of all ages.
PartyLite consultants are very active on mobile devices.
PartyLite consultants are very active on mobile devices.
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Yes, party plan still works, but the definition of a party has changed totally. It all needs to be much, much simpler.

Yes, party plan still works, but the definition of a party has changed totally. It all needs to be much, much simpler.

Consultants need to meet the needs of their customers. The party itself has become one of their new tools, and therefore it needs to be genuinely flexible. It has to be a show on the go—practical, easy, fast and entertaining. Women want to get in and get out. They may prefer a more transitional environment. It could be lunch at Panera Bread or dinner at a public location in the evening. Nothing can be a barrier. If that means a week engaging on Facebook, or a 15-minute live demo, or a “meet me for coffee with three friends,” it’s all good.

The same holds true for product information. We still write and print product catalogs, but now we have shoppable, online catalogs designed specifically for this age group. (As I write this, Newsweek magazine has just announced it will no longer do a print version of this major American brand. We’re not surprised.) We have online magazines and blogs and Facebook pages and Facebook groups. Our information is constantly updated. We know these women and men are used to getting information in a few seconds per page, or else they move on. We know our products need to be searchable and interesting—easy to see and easy to buy.

The same applies to training. It all has to happen online. At PartyLite, we’ve had an online learning center for years. Now we’re looking at technology that looks like Skype on steroids; everyone is remote. Training and regional meetings and staff-to-field communications are changing. Right now, 20 percent of our top leaders conduct meetings by streaming live online. The days of driving 50 miles to a regional meeting are disappearing. And our senior staff members spend time every day posting their messages or engaging with like-minded individual consultants and leaders on Facebook. Yes, it’s time consuming, but they really value its effectiveness and intimacy.

Do older leaders resent these changes? Absolutely not! I just attended a luncheon of our Worldwide President’s Club where the members are the elite PartyLite top leaders from 18 nations. Everyone at the table was on a cellphone checking email, Tweeting ideas, posting on Facebook—keeping all the balls in the air. In my own family, my two sons—14 and 22—live their lives through technology, just as you would expect. And my 85-year-old dad is much more tech-savvy than I am. He and his grandsons share a relationship I can only marvel at.

Finally, have you ever watched a 3-year-old try to swipe the TV screen? Keep your eye on her. She knows what’s next, and she just might be a future leader for your company—or mine!

Michael Norris is President of PartyLite North America.