Mary Kay consultations, Tupperware parties--God bless 'em. Some multilevel marketing companies will always have a high kitsch rating. (C'mon--mini Tupperware bowls on a key chain?) But thanks to Dottie Gruhler's Web-based party venue, The Party Project, direct selling can move out of the '50s and into the future.
The 33-year-old Webmaster of an online women's community and an affiliate program partner is no stranger to how average Joes and Janes use the Internet. As a member of Mom's Network Exchange (thepartyproject.com's host server), Gruhler noticed an increasing number of women offering catalogs or touting wares online. "They were attempting to expand their businesses but didn't exactly have the avenue to do it," she says. "That's how [The Party Project] came to be: to give them a place to show their products, have an online order form and not just give people a catalog to look at but the [chance] to shop and talk to the seller."
Luckily, Gruhler's knack for coding and her Frederick, Maryland, home computer let her provide a solution for less than $500 in start-up costs. Fifty dollars each month go to chat technology provider ChatSpace (look, Ma--free plug), which had Gruhler's service up and running less than 24 hours after she first e-mailed for information last November. With ChatSpace's help, Gruhler can offer sales party hosts a framed environment, with a chat on one side and pictures of products on the other, for $25.99. Options are extensive: There's music, party games with "door prizes," ordering capabilities--you name it.
The events aren't limited to business pitch-parties, either: Gruhler now offers birthday party, baby shower and business meeting packages so friends and colleagues can congregate online. The best part: Everyone involved can attend in pajamas if so desired. So far just a part-time affair for Gruhler and partner Lori Callen, 36, The Party Project should bring in $50,000 this year.