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Sales Report

Once tainted by get-rich-quick schemes, the direct-sales industry is changing its image. See what experts and business owners have to say about going direct.

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This story appears in the July 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

To buy and sell in the comfort of a home setting--that's the heart of the direct-selling industry. From kitchenware to vitamins to cosmetics to stamps--if it can be made, it can likely be sold via the direct-sales route. Today, direct selling is usually characterized by an independent consultant with a portable kit of wares. The sellers visits people's homes by appointment to have home shows where items are displayed; customers invite family and friends to share in the demonstration. The latest available figures from the Direct Selling Association (DSA) show retail sales of more that $28 billion for the direct-selling industry in 2002-and an estimated 13 million independent direct salespeople across the country. This is an increase from about $22 billion in 1997, with 9.3 million salespeople.

How has this industry evolved? "There are five elements I see," says DSA president Neil H. Offen. "We have a lot more people involved, we're more sophisticated as an industry, we have more college graduates [as consultants], we're very global and international, and we're [now] very attractive to Wall Street investors and VC groups."

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