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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.

By Nichole L. Torres

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

To buy and sell in the comfort of a home setting--that's theheart of the direct-selling industry. From kitchenware to vitaminsto cosmetics to stamps--if it can be made, it can likely be soldvia the direct-sales route. Today, direct selling is usuallycharacterized by an independent consultant with a portable kit ofwares. The sellers visits people's homes by appointment to havehome shows where items are displayed; customers invite family andfriends to share in the demonstration. The latest available figuresfrom the Direct Selling Association (DSA) show retail sales of morethat $28 billion for the direct-selling industry in 2002-and anestimated 13 million independent direct salespeople across thecountry. This is an increase from about $22 billion in 1997, with9.3 million salespeople.

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

Direct-sales consultants, though still primarily made up ofwomen, are becoming more diverse. Offen notes that the malecontingent is steadily growing; 25 percent of consultants are men,compared with 10 percent in 1990. Offen attributes this change tothe pervasiveness of new products on the market--vitamins, foodsupplements, long-distance telephone service, etc.--that are notseen as typically female-centric products like cosmetics orhousewares.

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