From the November 1996 issue of Startups

Tis the season to be jolly--especially for network marketers. Holidays traditionally bring a flurry of gift-buying, and this year you can get the lion's share of seasonal sales by implementing a holiday-spirited marketing campaign. But increased sales are just part of the revelry; the holidays also offer a wonderful opportunity to introduce old customers to new products, and new customers to the great service you provide. Try the following five tips, and you can celebrate successful holiday sales long after you ring in the New Year.

Have an Open House

This holiday season, fling the doors of your home wide open and invite everyone inside. Besides spreading holiday cheer, an open house provides a casual and festive marketplace. An open house, where you convert a few rooms of your home into a "shopping center" for a day or so, offers the public a unique and hassle-free buying experience, away from the crowded malls, that emphasizes personalized service and features your products.

Jean Bade, a Phoenix Avon representative, reserves the weekend after Thanksgiving each year for her annual open house. Bade clears all the knickknacks from her living room and rearranges the furniture to allow for extra display tables. With holiday music adding ambience, festive decorations and a Christmas tree finish her sales floor. The tree showcases Avon's Christmas ornaments, which customers are invited to purchase right off the branches. "Usually, by Monday, the tree's been a bit depleted because so many ornaments have been sold," says Bade.

It's no wonder. Last year's open house ran from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two days and served more than 400 people. Bade entices customers to attend by sending out brightly colored, attention-getting fliers. She also posts signs around the neighborhood, inviting local residents to attend. Last year Bade sold $61,794 worth of product over the 12-week holiday sales period.

One of the highlights of her open house is the 50-percent-off clearance sale, featuring surplus stock from her inventory (mostly items from last year's collection). Many clients begin talking about the sale as early as September; some clients Bade sees just once a year--at the open house. Not everything sold at the open house is on sale, though. Bade also sells Avon's current Christmas collection and other stock at full price.

Door prizes, another customer draw, give the open house a festive and exciting air. Bade awards small items, such as hand creams or talcum powder, every hour. Bigger prizes, such as items from the current Christmas line, are also presented at the end of each day. "People are really excited about winning, even if it's just a hand cream," says Bade. Her husband, Jim, who is a distributor for Watkins Inc. (a network marketing company that sells more than 375 specialty-food, personal-care, nutritional and household products), provides chips, dips and cookies for refreshment, and also sells his products at the open house.

When hosting an open house, remember to use all of your resources. For instance, encourage your customers to invite their friends, offering a discount or prize for every extra person they bring. You can double your sales by allowing customers to collect orders for you from their friends who cannot attend; again, reward those clients with discounts or product. Bade also recruits others to sell for her throughout the holiday season. Last year she had more than 24 people take her Avon brochures to work to sell products on a commission basis.

Give Products as Gifts

Attract new customers each holiday season by giving gifts of your product to friends, family and acquaintances who have expressed interest but have never bought anything. If they like the product, you just might get them hooked.

Rhonda Curtis is an ICU nurse and part-time distributor in Springhill, Louisiana, for Advocare, a company that sells nutrition systems and skin-care products. She estimates that eight out of 10 people become regular clients after receiving the product as gifts. Curtis, a representative (with her husband Danny) for nearly three years, recommends giving the gift to people who would truly use or benefit from the product rather than using this technique as a calculated selling ploy. Giving a product as a gift should seem like a quiet introduction rather than a hard sell.

Marketing . . . Holiday Style

Tailoring your sales approach to the holiday season can net you extra sales. To promote Advocare's nutrition systems, Curtis advises her downline of more than 100 distributors to glance into people's carts at the supermarket for signs--like low-fat or low-calorie foods--showing that they're health conscious. She suggests that her distributors then approach them and explain how, over the holiday season, there is a way to eat all that "party food" and not gain the extra pounds.

Telling people about what you sell works particularly well during the holiday season, with its glut of gift-buying. Bade's year-round Yellow Pages ad pays off especially well during the holidays; she receives about six calls a day. "During the holiday," says Bade, "people are always looking for an Avon Lady for gifts."

To encourage higher purchases among her holiday clients, Bade established a layaway system. Customers make a minimum purchase of $100, and put down 25 percent. Bade keeps the items on hold until each order has been fully paid.

All through the holiday season, Bade carries a basket filled with small gifts and stocking stuffers so she can utilize every selling opportunity and maximize her sales calls. For instance, when visiting a client's home, she'll set the basket aside while they talk shop and she fills their usual order. Then she'll say, "Oh, by the way, I have this little basket"--and suddenly she'll have an extra sale on top of the regular one. "You've got to be prepared for impulse buying," says Bade.

Offer Gift Baskets

Incentives, like free gift-wrapping and gift baskets, often keep customers purchasing from you year after year. Customers love one-stop shopping, so a network marketer who offers an all-inclusive buying experience often comes away with not just sales, but also referrals.

Offering gift-wrapping and gift baskets is simple. Just buy baskets, ribbons, tissue paper and decorative wrap in bulk at your local paper-goods or party store. Then, through a flier or a phone call, let your customers know that gift-wrapping and gift baskets are available. Curtis also suggests that when customers come to your home, have samples of gift baskets waiting, because seeing promotes buying.

Curtis advises tucking a business card or brochure into all the baskets you create. "Literature has a residual effect," she says, "and I have received calls from new customers because they saw this literature at someone's home or at an office or beauty shop. You never know whose hands your card or brochure will fall into."

Reward Your Customers

Jay Brenner, president of Life Source Products Inc., a company that sells pet products, sees the holidays as a time to thank his clients by giving them gifts from his product line. Giving gifts to regular customers, he feels, solidifies his relationship with them. "It's a reciprocal experience," he says, "with you receiving good will and customer faithfulness. In today's sales arena, customers need to be rewarded for buying from you."

Gift-giving is also a perfect opportunity for Brenner to introduce clients to products they might not yet have used. For instance, he might give a regular buyer of dog food some dog treats or biscuits as a present.

Brenner also gives his customers gifts, such as free Christmas stockings filled with pet-food products, which he suggests they give to their pet-owner friends. He feels that if a customer gives Life Source as a gift, the product has instant credibility. Every gift also includes literature about the company and its product, and a business card. "The best part of the business is that the dog or cat ultimately closes the deal," says Brenner. A positive pet reaction will usually motivate the owner to order the product again. According to Brenner, pet food generates tremendous repeat business; pet owners tend to use the same brand for 7 to 9 years. "We don't look to make sales," he says. "We look to make customers."

Contact Sources

Advocare Distributor, 601 Meadow Creek Cir., Spring Hill, LA 71705, (318) 539-4496.

Avon Distributor, 1514 W. Mitchell Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85015, (602) 279-2866.

Life Source Products Inc., P.O. Box 56, New Rochelle, NY 10802, (914) 654-8342.