The History of Direct Selling
I have been involved in the profession of direct selling for 35 years, since I was a young teenager. But what is direct selling you may ask?
Direct selling is the sale of a product or service away from a fixed store, typically person-to-person or in a small group setting. The most common products sold are cosmetics, skincare, nutrition and homewares.
Direct sellers generally aren’t employees, they are independent contractors. It is truly the most incredible industry to be involved in and I do feel very fortunate that I didn’t let the opportunity to be involved pass me by… it nearly did!
Let’s start at the very beginning of how this industry evolved.
The history of direct selling is as old as civilisation itself. As early as 2000 BC, the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law, protected the welfare and integrity of the Babylonian direct seller known then as a ‘peddler’.
In the 5th century A.D., the industry flourished in Greece. Later, during the Middle Ages, the direct seller contributed to the growth of trade. The concept was brought to the shores of America, where ‘Yankee Peddlers’ branched out to the frontiers of the West and the Canadian territory in the north bringing in supplies. This selling tradition continued to thrive in the 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S. as individuals from all walks of life entered the industry to improve their quality of life, facilitate social contact and sell the products they loved.
Avon was one of the first direct selling companies that presented a fully coordinated earning opportunity to its representatives. Their first consultant joined in 1886, Mrs P.F.E. Albee. She launched her career selling perfumes door-to-door.
In 1910 in the US, the first version of the Direct Selling Association (DSA) was set up to look after the companies that were joining the industry — it was called The Agents Credit Association.
In 1930, we had the emergence of the first in-home presentation method often referred to as ‘Party Plan’. Stanley Home Products created a Party Plan Method and Hostess Reward structure.
1951 was the year that Tupperware entered the retail world both through retail and through the Party Plan method. They found the in-home demonstration approach to be so successful that they withdrew all their products from retail stores and began to distribute solely through direct selling.
Mary Kay Ash arrived in 1963 by investing her life savings to launch her company, Mary Kay. Her company thrived on an upbeat culture of inspiration and reward for effort. Many incredible companies moved into the direct selling space at this time with great success.
1991 – the year the world is finally exposed to the internet. The National Science Foundation first allows commercial use of the internet, and virtual direct selling ignites!
Today, the industry is dynamic and with the massive support of the internet and technology, it continues to grow and thrive in ways that would never have been imagined back in Babylonian times.
Much like in the beginning, we have an association to protect the welfare and integrity of the consumer, distributors and organisations called Direct Selling Australia (DSA). The DSA has been protecting the business for almost 50 years.
We represent and support organisations that manufacture and distribute goods and services sold directly to consumers. Around 70 organisations are members in Australia, including many well-known brands.
In our market place today, the customer rules. The customer can choose how they want to be served. Face to face, with small groups in the home or office, online, via Zoom, and Skype are just a few of the ways to access product and services involved in direct selling.
Basically, our method of service can be tailored to the client’s needs. The choices are endless. We often refer to our business today as ‘social selling’ as it is exactly that. Whether you are buying product or selling product, it is an amazing way to meet others and build friendships that last a lifetime.
Author: Sandy McDonald
Publication: Samara Magazine
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of DSA