Entrepreneurs: There’s hope for sales this holiday season

Many mompreneurs, wahms, retail store owners and direct sales representatives are fretting like the rest of the nation, wondering how to survive with the current economic chaos. There’s so much bad news out there right now to keep us up at night.

How about some good news?

Read on!

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Direct sellers strike balance, maybe gold
Jewelry firm says sales are holding their own, even in tough economy

By Ann Meyer | Special to the Chicago Tribune
September 29, 2008

Raking in more than six figures her first year in business, Jennifer Samuels isn’t your typical kitchen table entrepreneur. But then neither is her mother.

Lemont’s Samuels, who is the sole provider for her family of five, and mother Debbie Rotkvich, a 17-year veteran direct seller from Burr Ridge who netted more than $3 million last year, are star producers for Lia Sophia, a direct sales jewelry business based in Wood Dale. The two are among 27,000 independent sales representatives who collectively sell more than $100 million of the fashion jewelry at house parties each year.

“Our family is supported by Lia Sophia,” said Samuels, whose husband stays home with their children while she and her sales team of 600 associates sell $700,000 a month in jewelry. “The bulk of the money comes from other sales reps I’ve brought in,” said Samuels, who earns commission from team sales.

Samuels is continuing to expand through recruitment of motivated women who like the idea of being their own boss. “A lot of women now need to find jobs but they don’t want to have to put their kids in day care,” she said.

Those who succeed in direct selling tend to be highly motivated self-starters with enough savings to see them through the early months until their businesses get going.

The Washington, D.C.-based Direct Selling Association reported direct sales as a whole declined 4 percent, to $30.8 billion, in 2007. Lia Sophia announced its business grew 55 percent in 2007.

Samuels’ sales have doubled every year since 2004, but they won’t increase that much this year, she said. “This is the first year I’ve seen it kind of stay the same.”

Rotkvich’s sales team of about 8,000 achieved $9 million in sales in August, holding its own from a year ago. Even in a down year, Samuels and Rotkvich are unusual. The median income of direct sellers is $2,400 a year, because nine of 10 sales reps work part time, said Amy Robinson, a Direct Selling Association vice president.

Lia Sophia offers startup kits for $149, but most sellers invest more to have a broader range of jewelry. The firm has been growing rapidly since 2004, when owners Tory and Elena Kiam rebranded the business to convey a more feminine, fashionable image, said Tory Kiam, president and son of the late Victor Kiam, who acquired the business in 1986. The company redesigned the jewelry, launched a Red Carpet line aimed at celebrities to generate buzz, and invested in capital improvements.

Samuels and other advisers earn up to 40 percent commission on their own sales. The firm also pays advisers 10 percent of their recruits’ sales once at least three recruits bring in $1,500 a month.

It’s not just Lia Sophia reps succeeding in a tough economy. Jeannine Marran, who is an independent sales rep for Silpada silver jewelry, rang up more sales this September than any September in the previous three years, she said. Marran, a mother of two, works about 30 hours a week from her Wilmette home and makes more than she did as a full-time social worker. She earned $825 at her last show, which sold about $2,800 in jewelry.

Marran also has recruited 12 sales reps. Silpada pays Marran between 4 percent and 12 percent commission on their sales. “When I started, I had never been to a meeting and had no training. I figured it all out on my own.”

Rotkvich, who grew up in public housing on the South Side, also made her own success. “This is not a get-rich-quick, overnight scheme,” she said. “But if you follow the program, it works.”

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