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July 01, 2017

Exclusive Interviews

New DSA Chairman Inspiring Change

The U.S. Direct Selling Association named a new Chairman of the Board in June: John Parker, Chief Sales Officer of Amway. Parker is an experienced direct selling executive, having spent more than two decades with Amway, including positions as President of Amway Japan and as the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. He has been active with the broader direct selling community, having spent four years as Chairman of the Direct Selling Education Foundation and, most recently, serving on the executive committee of the DSA. He recently spoke with Direct Selling News about his goals for the 2017-18 board year. The following is a condensed version of that conversation.

DSN: What is your vision for the U.S. Direct Selling Association?

JP: The way I think about it is in three different categories: Core to DSA’s mission, we are focused on enhanced protecting, policing and promoting the industry through DSA. When I talk about protecting, really the focus there is on our government affairs and legislative agenda and ensuring that we take advantage and continue to grow our effectiveness both at the state and federal level. When we talk about policing, it’s taking this opportunity to create a much stronger, more robust self-regulatory effort at DSA, one that’s viewed as credible by regulators and external groups. Then in terms of promoting the industry, it’s the intentional way in which we tell our story and engage on these issues with outside audiences and constituents. We need to not only tell the great story that we have to tell about our industry, but also tell the story about how we’re facing challenges head on—how we’re changing and how we’re willing to change for the better. 

John Parker

DSN: How do you describe the direct selling landscape in the United States today? What do you feel is the pulse of the channel itself in terms of its alignment with consumers and independent sales associates?

JP: The concepts that have really driven the growth of our industry in the U.S. and around the world over the years are entrepreneurship and natural communities of like interests and passions forming in a way that will benefit our businesses. I think we’ll see continued success in becoming viewed as even more mainstream and more relevant to the next generations of entrepreneurs in America.

Likewise, I think that as long as we are able to adapt the way in which our businesses meet the needs of consumers through great products and meet the needs of our representatives through great support and great entrepreneurial opportunities, the future is brighter than it’s ever been. That, against the backdrop of some of the challenges we’ve faced, just creates a clear need for us to focus on both. To focus on the way in which we’re providing great consumer experiences, great entrepreneurial experiences, and all of that done in a way that proves our commitment to the highest level of ethics and consumer protection. 

DSN: There are an increasing number of opportunities out there for individuals to engage in this emerging YouEconomy. How do you see direct selling continuing to differentiate itself in the marketplace?

JP: While there’s risk of direct selling being less differentiated in the marketplace than it was in the past, I continue to be very optimistic about our opportunity because the sheer number of people who are choosing to engage in part-time and entrepreneurial endeavors are doing it in a way that didn’t exist in the past. 

The desire to live a gig-focused existence—because of its attractiveness to adventurous people who value experiences over “things”—is just one of the big opportunities that direct selling fits into. Yes, there’s more competition in that space. It does require us as companies, and as leaders, to approach the marketplace with a different mindset, given the changing expectations that consumers and today’s entrepreneurs have. But, we’ve proven our ability over time as an industry to successfully do that. While this may be the biggest, most fundamental change we’ve seen in the economic landscape in our country’s history, we’ll bet on our industry to do that effectively in the near term and over time.

DSN: How can the Direct Selling Association best advocate for member companies? What can member companies do to help best support the association?

JP: Let me answer the second question you asked first. I would say that the best way for individuals to advocate for the association is to get involved in the association and truly help the association understand what their needs are, so that we can, in fact, respond to them. 

In terms of how the association can best advocate for our members, I refer back to those three P’s. I think the first thing that we need to do is ensure that we have advocacy happening for the direct selling industry with the most important audiences—promoting. And to protect ourselves—the second “P”—we’ll need to stretch even further our ongoing commitment to government affairs and public policy outreach, and to leveraging the great work of the Direct Selling Education Foundation with academia. 

There are two parts to how we’re viewed. One part is how the industry is viewed and how our companies, as a part of this industry, are viewed. The other part, frankly, is the strength and credibility of the DSA brand. We need the DSA brand and its work to be viewed as essential and meaningful by policymakers, legislatures and regulators.

The standards to which we hold ourselves, and the standards to which we hold the industry collectively, need to get higher—that’s the third “P” of policing. The opportunity we have is to raise the bar as it relates to consumer protection standards and what it means to be a member of DSA. 

DSN: What changes are underway in terms of allocating more resources toward Code enforcement and toward the Code Administrator’s office?

JP: In the current year’s budget, we have made significant increases in the investment we are directing toward Code enforcement, and we have begun the process of accelerating and moving in that direction already. What we’re going to work on in the next year is to define how that is not just a one-year, or one-off approach, but how we build it into the ongoing operation of the association and what it means to be a member of DSA. This isn’t just an idea that’s kind of floating around; this is a direction that the DSA and membership have already chosen as the top priority as we begin the new board year. In the longer term, our goal is to have a model of self-regulation that’s well thought out and credible—one that inspires confidence, and that others can learn from—one that the FTC points to as a model for other industries to emulate.

DSN: What will have happened that, when you look back at the end of this board year, you’ll know it was a success?

JP: We’ll know it is a success when several audiences—existing members, direct selling companies who are not members but maybe are thinking or have thought about being members, policymakers and regulators—look back at DSA and say, “Wow, things are changing pretty substantially at DSA.” Specifically, we’re going to make changes in the way in which we self-regulate, and we’re going to be successful in advancing good public policy. All of that together is going to result in DSA being a more credible organization with member companies and with policymakers and regulators. 

That isn’t just going to happen because we continue to do things the way we’ve done them. It’s going to happen because we’re going to make important, necessary and visible changes that will be very positive for the long term.