Monday, July 13, 2009

The Tupperware Party of the '00s

On Saturday, I went to a jewelry party.  It's like a tupperware party, but with jewelry manufactured abroad and sold/distributed nationally.  Here's the basic concept, as I understand it:

A rep brings catalogs of the schwag, a few pieces of jewelry, and order forms. We sit, listen, play a catalog game, and hopefully (for the rep), buy something. 

What's the appeal?  That's simple.  Money--both making it (the rep) and saving it (the consumer). And that's okay, especially when we're all trying to figure out a way to make ends meet.  Imagine you're unsatisfied with your relatively stable, yet underpaid job, but you don't dare quit while the economy is in a state of disrepair, so you try something to supplement your income so that you can pay for decent childcare, or petfood, or a new refrigerator.  I can respect that.  Identifying a problem and doing something to address it rather than sitting on the couch and sulking is commendable.

Now, I'm wondering if there's a way for a person to take this business model, make some changes, and do something that's both profitable, sustainable, and responsible in his or her spare time rather than funneling money to a corporate structure that may or may not give a damn about the people making their jewelry (clothing, accesories, housewares, whatever) or the environment it affects.

Okay, so back to the business model.  Why does it work?  

1) Money: The rep gets a percentage of the sales she makes.  The host gets a discount on merchandise and can get a percentage of sales she generates independently.  

2) Marketing: This company gets a database full of names and addresses every time someone throws a party.  This is in addition to the obvious influx of cash.  

3) Safety in numbers/familiarity/peer pressure: Friends put their friends' names on the list. Women like myself want to support their friends, so are less likely to refuse a sales pitch or follow-up marketing materials.  

4) Tangibility: There's a catalog, so people have something tangible to take with them, and at the parties, people can see and touch some of the actual goods. The tangibility factor is a big one for me, despite the influence of the online world.  You can't tell what something's going to look like online.  I don't care how good your imagination is, or how high your picture resolution may be. 

5) PR: The company donates jewelry in addition to a percentage of the proceeds of the sales of a specific piece to Dress for Success.  I suspect that that is more of a tax write-off than it is a genuine desire to help disadvantaged women to dress smartly for job interviews, but maybe I'm just being cynical.  I should give them a little bit of credit and say at least they are doing something.  But I want more.

What I'd like to know is how could the positive points of this business model be used in a way that could help legitimate local artisans and craftspeople sell their wares (see the pic below of rings that Davidson Alum Julie Failey has designed) while allowing everyone involved to nuture the triple bottom line (i.e. People, Profit, Planet)? Also, if anyone has direct experience being involved with something like this, what do you think the flaws are?  How could it be improved?
Would it be a cross between an Amway/Tupperware pyramidish scheme, one of those excluive business networking clubs, and a craft show?  What would that look like?  Would it include or be exclusively custom designs? Who would the market be?  How could it be scalable?  How could online media and social networking sites promote this effectively?  How could this model help other artistic disciplines (clothing, music, dance, film, fine art, etc.)?  Feel free to respond if you have any ideas.

1 comment:

magpie said...

I have several friends in AK who have house shows of their own jewelry and other crafts/art. They set up at friends' houses, just like the Lia Sophia stuff, and sell their own one-of-a-kind, amazing, well-priced products. But it's all on a very small scale, since everyone knows everyone else.