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Selling at home works for women
By CHRISTINA REXRODE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007
Teresa Thompson watches as Elani Mosser (center) and Melissa Kennedy work with hammers by TomBoy Tools during a product demonstration at Thompson's home in Palm Harbor. The tools are made by women for women, but men can use them, too.
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
[ATOYIA DEANS | Times]
Gislaine Saucerman (left) reacts as Kellie Akehurst, an independent consultant for Passion Parties shows a designer condom case made to look like a box-shaped compact.
Compared with their newer, hipper cousins, the customary Tupperware and Mary Kay parties are just ho-hum. Direct sellers, who are the people who throw such soirees, have expanded way beyond plastic food storage and lipstick. Instead, they're using their time-tested medium - the home party - to hawk cordless drills, aphrodisiacs and a host of other products. In the process, their ranks have exploded. According to the Direct Selling Association, there are about 14-million direct sellers in the United States, up from 8.5-million in 1996. Here are three of those recent area recruits to the industry, all of them part of its new, eclectic incarnation.
Teresa Thompson, Tomboy Tools
When Teresa Thompson first showed her husband a toolset from Tomboy Tools, he indulgently replied, "How cute."
"Then he started taking (the tools) out of the bagand saying, 'Oh, wow, look at this handle,' " she recalled. "He couldn't find anything better. They even fit his hand."
Tomboy Tools sells tools made by women for women, though they're ergonomically designed to benefit anyone, said Thompson, 51, a Palm Harbor resident and grandmother of two. She became a seller about a year ago.
At parties, she teaches women how to use tools correctly and how to perform simple repair jobs. If the hostess' faucet is leaking, Thompson will fix it as a demonstration.
With more women owning houses now - single women account for almost one in five home buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors - education in the do-it-yourself arena is especially important, Thompson posits. But they're certainly not the only women who can benefit from home-improvement lessons.
"You know how a toilet runs and runs and the husband fixes it," Thompson said, "and he says, 'Oh, I fixed it, honey,' and it still runs?"
Their wives make good customers, too.
Rose Almendinger, Petlane
The first rule is this: The pets themselves are not invited to Petlane parties.
"I did that once," said Rose Almendinger, who has been selling for the company for about a year, "and it's not a good idea."
All the human partygoers, she said, were distracted from her sales pitch.
Almendinger, 62, is a longtime expert on chew toys and water bowls: She has two Yorkies and a Shih Tzu, and she has run Peace of Mind Pet Sitting of Tampa for nine years. She took on Petlane as a part-time gig because she noticed that her Peace of Mind clients were looking for toys to keep their pets active and alert.
Petlane offers just that, and also a few products without any redeeming utilitarian value. The doggie tiara, which sells for $9.99, is an example. "Doesn't your princess deserve to be this glamorous?" the online description entreats.
Kellie Akehurst, Passion Parties
Kellie Akehurst seems like the perfect seller of Pampered Chef: The graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Portland was a professional chef before moving to Clearwater two years ago.
But she's not really into kitchen gadgets, she said. And besides, she's excited by the principle of Passion Parties, which sells body lotions, shower gels, lingerie and other, um, "sensual products."
"Our main thing," said Ake-hurst, who is 35, married and the mother of a teenage son, "is trying to enhance the relationship by increasing communication, and also to remind women that they are still passionate," despite the weight of jobs, children and to-do lists.
The parties are open to adult women of any age: Akehurst once did a bachelorette party for a 69-year-old bride-to-be. "I really love that group," she recalled. "They're in the Red Hat Society."
Direct selling numbers
$30.5-billion Annual sales
64.9 Percent of sales that take place in homes
14.1-million Number of salespeople
82 percent are female;
76 percent are married
35 percent are college graduates;
8 percent have master's degrees
29 percent said their main reasons for selling are the discount and free products
Types of products
33.6% Personal care (cosmetics, jewelry, skin care)
26.8% Home/family care (cleaning products, cookware, cutlery)