May 01, 2017
Party Plans Embrace the Next Wave: An Inside Look
by Courtney Roush
We’ve heard a lot of discussion in recent years about parties—specifically, whether the concept of a home party remains relevant in our time-pressed, technologically driven society. While this business model has had to adapt to changing demographics and consumer buying preferences, home parties continue to attract customers of all ages. And, for prospective independent business owners, the party plan business model offers some distinct advantages, including highly personalized service, a strong connection to the companies and their respective missions, and, in most cases, a no-inventory policy that lowers assumed risk.
Social media has played a key role in the growth and expansion of three particular brands, supporting the fact that, while party plan companies pride themselves on face-to-face interaction, technology can and does have a place in this business model. Let’s take a look at these companies—two startups and one that just celebrated its 10th anniversary—to gain insight into their unique origins and plans for growth.
Founded: 2009 (direct selling, 2012)
Headquarters: Loveland, Colorado
Top Executives: Marijke Landon, Managing Director
Products: Custom Military and Specialty Charms and Jewelry
In 2010, a group of military wives gathered for a send-off of one of their friends. Send-offs, of course, are second-nature to military families. For all intents and purposes, they’re nomads. Each base is merely a temporary pause on a long journey with an undetermined destination. But each stop brings friendships
Marijke Landon was one of those wives. She and her friends decided to purchase a charm bracelet for their departing friend as a way to commemorate their time together. As they searched for the appropriate charms, “we were trying to find things that were significant to her life and our lives, and so we settled on a bracelet company that makes state charms,” Landon recalls. “But there’s no charm for moving 10 times, or giving birth alone, as many military wives do. We walked away and kind of did a ‘What if?’ ”
Landon and two of her friends, Heather Osborne and Melissa Berris, began talking to some of the bigger charm bracelet companies. “They weren’t really interested in our story, so we realized it was our story to tell,” says Landon, the company’s Managing Director. The idea for Nomadés Collection was born. “It was a rough beginning. It took a lot of steps to figure out what it took to create a charm, then to find a foundry that would make our charms.”
|Nomadés business partners (from left): Melissa Berris, Heather Osborne, Christy DeWitt, Jennifer Lilly and Marijke Landon.|
Why was the party plan model the best fit for Nomadés? “We wanted other women to take ownership of telling the story,” Landon says. “They were the ones who could best represent our company, and help others in the sense that they’d lived the journey.”
Nomadés may appear at first glance to serve a specific niche, but it’s broader than that. First, while the active duty population isn’t huge, it’s not hard to find someone with a son, daughter or spouse in active duty, or whose parents may have served in the past. The company’s consultant base includes everything from active duty wives and mothers to active duty consultants, along with military widows. Second, while the company’s hand-painted charms reflect all services of the armed forces, along with bases and duty stations, many of its charms capture life events and interests beyond the military—sports, hobbies, faith and sisterhood, for example. “We wanted to encompass a woman’s entire story,” Landon says. “Although our consultants spend a lot of time focused on the military, there are other aspects to their lives.”
Today, 150 independent consultants represent Nomadés around the United States and abroad in Saudi Arabia, Europe and Asia. Social media and technology are part of the culture, particularly for those consultants stationed in foreign countries who maintain friendships across the world. While keeping an emphasis on home parties, the company supports consultants with a structured social media party plan, including daily pre-approved posts and product photos to engage their customers.
Growth among millennials is “naturally happening—that’s the most interesting part about it,” Landon says. “Even though, demographically, millennials’ way of interacting is more social media-based, they still love the ability to gather, tell their stories and collect things from their past. We’ve seen an interesting trend toward more informal get-togethers, or pop-up parties.”
Gaining exposure is the company’s biggest priority for the foreseeable future. While technology bridges the miles, face-to-face gatherings will never cease to exist for a company whose products generate an emotional attachment while they chronicle milestones, create a sense of community and encourage the exchange of stories.
Red Rock Traditions
Headquarters: Leawood, Kansas
Top Executive: Demi Lloyd Kiersznowski, Founder and President
Products: Family-focused Conversation Starters Centered on Traditions
|Demi Lloyd Kiersznowski|
Demi Lloyd Kiersznowski was no stranger to direct selling when she founded red rock traditions in 2015. Her father, Harry Lloyd, was the founder and owner of House of Lloyd Inc., a direct seller of gifts. Kiersznowski briefly served as CEO of House of Lloyd after her father’s passing in 1997, and serves as co-owner of DEMDACO, a leading gift wholesaler she founded 20 years ago. The mother of three children, she decided it was time to start a new venture when her eldest child began college, and recruited Carolyn Glasow, now Director of Sales and Marketing, from DEMDACO’s operations in Asia.
“We wanted to start a company whose mission was to strengthen the relationships of family members, and we thought the ideal method would be through traditions,” says Kiersznowski, Founder and President of red rock traditions. “That’s one way to bring families closer and create a sense of belonging and understanding among kids about who they are and where they came from. And we found just great excitement and resonance among those ideas. There’s quite a bit of research supporting the idea of how grounding it is for kids to have tradition in their lives. We haven’t talked with anybody who doesn’t love that mission.”
The name red rock traditions came from Kiersznowski’s own family traditions. In her growing-up years, her family made annual visits to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. It’s a tradition she has continued with her own children. Each year, her family returns to the same park and stays at Red Rock Cabin.
Red rock traditions’ product line—including journals, memory boxes, jewelry, home items, and gifts that encourage conversation—is designed with that in mind, to bring people together through a shared tradition. The products are meant to be immediately accessible, easy and functional, requiring no assembly or artistic skill. “We wanted people to be able to pull these products out of the box and immediately start interacting to get them talking, laughing, sharing stories, memories, wishes, dreams. Things that often don’t come out in a regular after-school ‘how was your day’ conversation,” Glasow says. “When I’m talking to consultants, what I love to say is that we’re strong on two fronts: our mission and our career plan. I love that we’re strong in both. We have a very competitive career plan, and consultants can start their business around a mission that’s very meaningful to them. The way we’ve appealed to millennials is that we’re creating modern traditions, encouraging conversation. This is a really high focus for us in terms of our voice and the creative direction of our products.”
The party plan model “is a natural fit for us,” Kiersznowski says, “because getting a group of women together to talk about their shared experiences and exchange ideas is invigorating, affirming and encouraging. It also offers an opportunity for consultants to explain our products. Some of them require a bit of imagination. People join red rock traditions for a variety of reasons: economic and social, but also missional. They want to be part of something they believe in. We offer them the opportunity to feel good about what they’re doing.”
This privately held company prefers not to disclose its consultant numbers. For now, its focus remains stateside, with plans for international expansion when the time is right. From an operations standpoint, red rock traditions utilizes the manufacturing and warehouse facilities of DEMDACO (a separate business entity), which Kiersznowski says allows for faster product delivery time, and access to expertise. “They have a lot of experience with sourcing and know how to develop products from the concept side. Almost every product is developed from our ideas and not just bought off the shelf. We have decades of experience and teams of people who are good at that, but we’re blessed that we can partner with them for the services we need.”
Red rock traditions currently is on its second product catalog, with about 75 products in its current line. As the company continues to grow, “We have a bias toward the in-person experience,” Kiersznowski adds, “but we want to accommodate the way millennials want to live their lives. We’re a startup, so we’re just following what we learn, and we adapt and follow what successful companies are doing.” For red rock traditions, that means building its social media library, producing a digital product catalog and, in the near future, an app to give consultants on-the-go access to the back office.
“That in-home setting is our core, but we understand the industry has changed,” Glasow says. “So we’re becoming a hybrid model in which you can sell anywhere, anytime.” Additionally, “we like our products to be broad in nature, in the sense that the tradition could apply to a newly blended family or a family steeped in tradition. We have the nest, and you place the eggs. It’s uniquely yours. The products aren’t so scripted that we’re tuning people out.”
Mary & Martha
Headquarters: Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Top Executive: James Barnett, President of DaySpring
Products: Faith-based Gifts and Décor
Mary & Martha, a 10-year-old, faith-based direct seller, is a division of DaySpring, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards Inc. The company originally launched as Blessings Unlimited in 2007 and became Mary & Martha in 2013. It was the vision of DaySpring President James Barnett, “who wanted to open a direct selling business that offered women the opportunity to combine work and faith and also be closer to the consumer—and you don’t get much closer than when you’re sitting in her living room,” says Kim Gentile, National Sales Director for Mary & Martha.
“Hope and encouragement happen face to face in a circle of friends,” she adds. “The personal touch, the opportunity we have to demonstrate and share inspiration with our products, it’s a much different transaction than buying something from a store or online.”
While Mary & Martha does not disclose consultant counts, one significant aspect of its growth strategy is bringing increased visibility to its mission. The company, led by General Manager Mike Markovich, prides itself on having a greater purpose than just work, with a longstanding commitment to Compassion International, a humanitarian child sponsorship organization. Party guests are invited to contribute to a Compassion International program that distributes Bibles to children in countries throughout the world. Many consultants sponsor children, including several consultants who recently spent a day with their sponsor children during an incentive trip to Punta Cana, Mexico. That connection to a larger cause is particularly appealing to millennials seeking purpose in their work. “We want people to be aware that we’re not just a business.”
No Inventory Needed
All of these startups share an easy informality, commitment to simplicity and—particularly attractive to prospective consultants—no inventory requirement. “We discourage it,” Landon at Nomadés says. In the case of her company, “Sterling silver isn’t cheap. We don’t want our consultants investing their money in something they feel pressured to sell.”
Red rocks traditions doesn’t allow consultants to carry inventory. “I’m very sensitive to having people invest money. I want this to be an upside opportunity; I don’t want someoneto get in over her head,” Kiersznowski says. To help provide a thorough and representative product experience, these party plan companies have invested considerable resources in the development of starter kits with robust samples. It’s also worth noting that the party itself and the personal connections it facilitates in turn generate trust, a commodity arguably as important as the products themselves.
Personalized Service, Always in Style
While social media may not represent the core of what a party plan company represents, there’s no denying that such technology can augment a consultant’s efforts to promote her business, while increasing brand recognition organically. As we look ahead to the future, we’ll continue to see technology play a key role in interactions before, during and after the party. But the foundation of party plan companies continues to play a vital role in our changing world.
“I don’t think anything can ever replace the face-to-face, heart to heart, human connection that party plan offers,” says Mary & Martha’s Gentile. “I think that always has been and always will be the key ingredient for party plan. People like to be with people, and that’s the foundation that will always keep party plans relevant. Is it going to change and have ebbs and flows? Yes, and social media is certainly going to have an impact. But we’re so much more than product. We’re really a community of women who share their time and encourage and uplift each other. In today’s world, that’s certainly something we all desire. It’s not high-tech and it’s not revolutionary, but we’re humans, and we like to have that connection with other humans.”