17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.
 

Thursday, October 05, 2006

From the Tales Inbox: Prostituting Friendship in the Name of Home-Sales

From Tales reader "LouLou M."

Another post-card sized invitation arrives in the mail. Details of the exciting “party” are disclosed along with a promise of a free gift if you bring a friend. The set-up is usually the same: three to five other suckers, like myself, sitting in the living room of the hostess wishing they were anywhere else. The hostess makes her sales pitch for _____ (insert “candles,” “cookware,” “stamps,” etc.), claiming she makes enough money to pay her mortgage pedaling these products and peppering her spiel with the word “family”—as in family-friendly job, family products, family-oriented business.

A very limited line of products is displayed and in some cases sampled. These include items such as $15 spatulas—similar ones found at Target for $2; a spice blend that promises to make this scrumptious spinach dip that is passed around and sampled. The bottle is $10 but only makes two bowls of dip and doesn’t include the mayonnaise and sour cream you must add.

The unique aspect of these Home Party Sales is the psychology of women, on which they depend. The reason for the success of these parties is that women can’t say no to their friends. They are afraid the party hosting friend will take it personally and it will affect their friendship. Executives are exploiting the notion that women cannot separate business from friendship and will continue to overpay for items based solely on a duty to support their friends, fit into the social norm and make everyone happy.

Women, eager to make some “fun money” prostitute their friendships and family relationships all to make a small sale or book another party. Unfortunately, these parties create a vicious cycle. Consultants from different companies rely on other consultants to swap parties. I’ll put on a Children’s Toy show for you if you have a Spa Party for me. The consultants, themselves, probably spend a lot of their own earnings supporting other companies in a quid pro quo manner. This explains the mass mailings of the invitations I receive since everyone is trying to support everyone else as the circle of friends gets more expansive.

The majority of women I have met who pedal these items are doing it for “fun money” not because they can’t feed their children. They are essentially hitting us up to spend our “fun money” on overpriced items so we can fill their pockets with “fun money.” The “family friendly” speech on why they are doing this job doesn’t hold up when the reasons for sales and sources of sales are examined. Instead you see selfishness.

I’m sorry ladies, but the extra $200 you are making a month is not worth it in loss of respect among your friends. Do not invite me to another home party. Do not ask me to host one. If I really “need” any of these products, I will load up my kids and go to the nearest Wal-Mart, Target or if I’m feeling extravagant, a department store and I will find them for less. Do not advertise the parties as a chance to “get away from the kids” and “stock up on things you need”. If I want to get away I will go to the spa or go shopping to a place where the base price isn’t figuring in a 30% commission. We can stop the annoying perpetual At-Home-Sales parties by saying “NO!” No, I would not like to order. No, I would not like to host. I will not bring a friend to the party, even though the three page paper-backed recipe book “free prize” is appealing. These companies will go out of business if regular women like you and me quit attending and worse, buying the low-quality, highly commissioned products. If stay-at-home Moms really want to make extra money and get some time away from the kids, spend the same amount of time from the parties at a real job. Don’t have the degree? Invest in night-school classes and get some “time away from the kids” furthering your education and preparing yourself for a career that won’t make your friends squirm whenever they see you coming towards them with the newest catalog featuring a $20 ice cream scoop.

-About the Guest Contributor: "LouLou M." has chosen to remain anonymous for fear of offending her array of Pampered Chef, Stampin’ Up and Layerz consultant friends. She lives in the midwest, is an active mother of five, and holds an MBA and CPA.

24 Comments:

  • We had a huge group of stamp party fans in our ward (yes, I was one of them). Every month a different woman would host a party and get the rewards. We always needed something so we benefitted by not having to pay higher shipping for an individual order, and since we always had the same consultant she always taught us new techniques we could use, it wasn't ever the same thing twice. It wasn't a sales pitch as much as a bunch of friends getting together to eat and gab and stamp. The invitation (hand delivered) was just a reminder of the next get together. It was fun to talk and fun to buy a special something for myself. I never felt pressured and I always had fun. I miss those people now, and the parties. But mostly because it was never about buying things, it was about having an excuse to get together. I know, you shouldn't need an excuse, but sometimes in our busy lives, we do....
    posted by Blogger Mo Mommy at 10/05/2006 05:19:00 PM  



  • Every party has a pooper that's why we invited you! I am so glad my friends would never make me feel like I was a loser for deciding to not go to their party. It's certainly great to know that my friends would not be angry if I said, "you know what, I just don't need any of these things that you are selling today". And thank goodness my friends are not money hungry and selfish. Keep inviting me girls, I love parties whatever form they come in.

    P.S. I own 98% of the PC catalogue and I do so because I LOVE the products. When the Avon lady comes around, I have to have my lip stuff and Skin So Soft, it is the best! And who doesn't love Salt City Candles?? YUMMMMM!
    posted by Blogger Zinone at 10/05/2006 07:43:00 PM  



  • I really enjoyed the post and thought it was well written.

    I both agree and disagree with you, Lou Lou...although mostly agree.

    I've been to fun parties that are totally low stress, low pressure to buy. I think there is a way to do it right...but you have to be among trusted friends and the host has to be very non-agressive about selling. Sometimes I go so far to say..."I'll come to your party, but I'm probably not going to buy anything." (unless it is PC...then I usually can't resist)

    I think you are right-on about the marketing strategy....it totally plays on the need for friendship women feel....and it is obviously a successful strategy since these businesses multiply faster baby rabbits.

    When I first moved into my current ward, I must have received a dozen invites to various parties from people I didn't or barely knew....it was pretty lame. Whatever their intention, I felt like I had to buy their crap to "earn" their friendship. I didn't go to a single party and it really left me feeling socially isolated for awhile.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 10/05/2006 09:22:00 PM  



  • I went to a friend's tupperware party and there was a prize bag passed around, I reached in, and guess what...I won my own tupperware party! It was like: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! If that had happened now, I would have put the prize back in the bag, but then, I was more of a pushover.

    For me, the best improvement on the parties would be those selling...they just need some coaching so that they are more entertaining. And they need to take out the line:
    "Selling ___________ helped me win a new car!" I dislike that.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 10/06/2006 06:38:00 AM  



  • I love this post because for about 5 or 6 years I was known as the "party girl".

    I threw these types of "parties" for everyone. You name it, I've done it. I thought it was great to have get togethers and then I didn't feel as guilty for not buying much.

    But the time and the money got out of control. I still like some of the products --like Mary Kay, although I'm lucky that my consultant never calls me and I just call her when I need something. Why can't more people be like that!?!? --but I quit cold turkey.

    No more Pampered Chef. No more Creative Memories. No more ANYTHING.

    And life has been blissfully wonderful. I have too many things to worry about then how much credit I can earn to get that great pan I never use and if enough people RSVP'd so I can get a discount on scrapbooking supplies that collect dust in my closet...

    I know these parties can be fun (I did a great pedicure party with Mary Kay), but they seriously can be a burden. And I hated feeling conned into going to them --so why was I trying to make others come to mine?
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 10/06/2006 07:55:00 AM  



  • I made the mistake of attending a Mary Kay meeting as a "guest". I was told it was a time to do my lips. Not. It was a recruitment meeting. It was interesting, I guess, and I did get my free lip stuff, but the fact that I was polite and said, 'Yeah, I could think about selling Mary Kay' turned my life into a nightmare. I got calls from every freakin' superviser all over the place, and it was really annoying. I finally said that if I was going to spend any time away from my family, I wanted to do it pursuing the career that I got my degree in. My consultant was extremely offended, and said, "Mary Kay isn't just for people who don't have degrees!" I'm sure that's true, but I didn't want to spend my limited time outside the home on something other than Speech Pathology.

    Also, I think that it does change your relationship with people if they think you are always evaluating them based on their money or buying potential. I actually don't mind going to product parties--I quite enjoy Tupperware parties, actually, because you usually get cool free stuff! And I don't feel bad about coughing up some money to help somebody else out. Besides, usually they are kinda fun, especially if the food is good. But it can get tiring after a while, and I could never sell those kinds of things myself. It would feel too exploitave.
    posted by Blogger Heather O. at 10/06/2006 08:52:00 AM  



  • Ooh! Heather! That same thing happened to me with the Mary Kay people. Man, it took a year before they realized I wasn't gonna do it. Now I'm struggling with the Arbonne people...grrr...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 10/06/2006 10:50:00 AM  



  • Home sales always make me question the motive of my acquaintances. In a voice message I received from a ward acquaintance, she asked if I could host a party for her and oh, by the way, did I want some of her old baby clothes? All of a sudden the baby clothes seemed to be held over my head as a way to lure me into throwing her a party for a product that frankly isn't that great or one that people would seek out on their own. Typically I like to make a sympathy purchase here and there, but the problem is that once you show vulnerability to buying, the word is out and you are soon getting hit up for another handful of overpriced products.
    posted by Blogger jean at 10/06/2006 01:46:00 PM  



  • Hello ladies. I wish to comment that I do not think everyone sitting in the living room of a Home-Sales party is enjoying themselves. If the purpose of an evening is for a fun get-together with friends, there should be no sales-pitch or any hint that a purchase should be made. If a group of women really wanted to get together for a fun night out they could play games, watch movies, talk or scrap-book without anyone standing in front asking anyone to buy products. Even in low-pressure sales environment, the pressure is still there to make a purchase or look like the schmoe who showed up, ate the food, stayed to talk and didn't buy anything. To the sweet lady who bought the entire Pampered Chef catalog, I am happy you have found satisfaction in their products. I would, however, choose to buy the same products for much less at Target or, if feeling extravagent, would purchase the same products at Williams-Sonama where a life-time guarantee is included that does not require the receipt and no questions are asked. We bought a toaster there four years ago, it just broke and they replaced it free of charge without a receipt. Try getting your Pampered Chef consultant to do that! The major argument I have is that we need to steer women away from these type of professions and towards careers that are family-friendly yet don't rely on hitting up friends for sales.

    -Lulu M.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 10/06/2006 03:53:00 PM  



  • (having trouble logging in, this is tales-girl katie)

    My husband an I have never liked multi-level-marketing or such parties because of the way you use your friends and family. When I was invited to these in the past, I used to get nervous about going and "needing" to spend money that I didn't have. Now that I've been to a few I've made my own philosophy about going--which makes ME more comfortable. I only go if I'm going to buy something (so I'm not bothered thinking of my "line" of why I'm not spending tonight)and I give myself a small budget--like $10-20. Yeah, so don't invite me if you want to make lots of moola. :) Anyway, it works for me and I haven't found it to be a problem with friends. Also, I have a stamper friend who was interested in getting me into it, etc, and I just told her honestly that though I liked scrapbooking, I didn't have time/money/space for a new hobby of stamps. She told me she really appreciated me being up front and not "leading her on" or being on the fence.

    Also, it's funny because I just threw a PC party. I did it just for the pure fun of it and I made some great food and had a lot of fun with 20 ladies and the PC guy and his partner--and I mean "parnter". (Nope, not a peppy wooden spoon-weilding woman this time!). I also got a lot of "free" money to spend on PC stuff at the end--which was so cool. BUT here's my lesson from being a host: 1) Just throwing the party (food) can be expensive and time consuming 2) When I got to do my shopping spree I realized why this can be so bad. I could go to a lot of effort to have another party, not for FUN, but for STUFF. And my friends would essentially be buying that stuff. I did NOT like that thought and decided I would not be hosting another party for quite some time. And when I do it has to be for the right reason. Fun adventure, don't regret it, but I don't want to get sucked in. 3)Ok, the other thing I learned while inviting guests is that some ladies LOVE PC!! They were so excited about the party and already needed stuff and knew what they wanted and were bringing aunts and cousins along. That's what made it so fun--I knew people were coming because THEY wanted to and not because of pressure.

    Boy, when do I stop gabbing? I had a lady approach me at Target so long ago and she was SO nice. She was sweet to me and my baby and so friendly. Later, to meet her by "chance" in another isle and get hit with the Mary Kay lines. I was so so SO bothered that the fact she was nice was to sell me something.

    My dh and I knew a guy who, upon moving in kept trying to sell us what he sold. Every time he approached my dh something would relate to a sell. Yes, it can be frustrating to wonder why people want to be your friend. Luckily this person is kind and a good guy and is also now in another line of work.

    Lulu, I'm so sorry because I just spattered out a bunch of anecdotes, none of which even touched on your biggest emphasis about women working. Forgive me!
    posted by Anonymous katie at 10/06/2006 05:32:00 PM  



  • I know I've blabbed enough about this today, but I had one last thought about women working "from home" when they do these sales businesses:

    Every person I've thrown a party for does talk about how great it is to work from "Home". But where are they? Where are they 4 or 5 nights a week? And throughout the day delivering things? And going to their regional meetings? And spending time on the phone trying to recruit? That part never sat well with me.

    I mean, hey, it's cool if a mom works. But to try and convince a SAHM that they should be doing all of that because it's such a great "mom" job just doesn't cut it with me. I teach piano lessons in my home, and that is enough "work" for this SAHM. I made a conscious decision to stay home with my kids, and I don't teach piano in order to make money or earn free products. If I really wanted to make money, I'd enter the workforce.
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 10/06/2006 06:14:00 PM  



  • I'm the schmoe who shows up, eats, chats and leaves without buying anything. Never felt guilty. Never will...
    posted by Anonymous tracy m at 10/06/2006 09:19:00 PM  



  • Too frequently people are reluctant to admit that they are merely seeking a business relationship with the people they invite to these parties. Especially because most of the people they end up inviting are people from their wards and neighborhoods- people we are supposed to be friends with.

    We find it a poor reflection on ourselves that we're reaching out to these people as clients before we've tried to reach out to them as friends. So we try to disguise the business deal as a 'between friends' transaction, which normally ends up with lots of guilt and hurt feelings on both ends. The only thing I find shady about Mary Kay, or Pampered Chef or whatever, is that the business model is nearly dependant on the business-disguised-as-friendship transactions.

    (This is not to say that friendships cannot coexist with business relationships, but it requires a level of up-front honesty that would not be required of one relationship on it's own.)
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 10/06/2006 09:49:00 PM  



  • Should I feel badly about myself that I've never been invited to one of these parties?

    I did have one woman I know hand me a catalog and try to sell me on her (extremely expensive, mail-order) cosmetics line. I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I probably should have just been up front with her and said so, but I didn't. And it changed our relationship. I don't feel comfortable contacting her now because I'm afraid she's going to "follow-up" or try to "resolve my concerns."

    Which made me think about attempting to share religion with people? Do the people we try to share the gospel with feel this same kind of pressure, exploitation of friendship, and discomfort? Perhaps not. The similarity just occurred to me . . .
    posted by Blogger sunny at 10/07/2006 05:29:00 AM  



  • I'm with Katie. I usually go to a party that I like the products, and try to spend under $50.00. I have to admit, I did spend more than that on Tupperware, and even threw my own party, and haven't regretted it at all. I love some of the Tupperware stuff you can not get anywhere else. And Tupperware knows they have to compete with Rubbermaid at Target, so some of their stuff really is quite awesome.

    But if it's other stuff, like make-up, or something like that, I usually just give myself a small budget, stick to it, and then I relax and have a good time.
    posted by Blogger Heather O. at 10/07/2006 08:12:00 AM  



  • Lulu,

    I can understand your frustration with these kinds of parties - especially given the number you seem to be invited to. If these kinds of parties were eclipsing all other social gatherings in my group of friends, it would be troubling as well.

    "I do not think everyone sitting in the living room of a Home-Sales party is enjoying themselves."

    But, I do think you also have to accept that not everyone sitting at the home sales party feels like their friendship is being exploited either. There are people who actually like the products and or/enjoy the gathering of people and feel like their friends would never want them to buy out of pressure. And there are many saleswomen who start selling their product because they really believe in it (not just to make a quick buck).

    On the other hand, I also get annoyed if part of their sales pitch talks about how much money they make, or how they are trying to win their family a trip to Disneyland. Not a big selling point to me.

    But I would never invalidate homesales as a profession for a woman. For some women, it is what they are really good at and love doing-although I hope they do weigh the potential risks to friendships especially if the business model is followed to a T.

    All the women I know who are involved in home sales handle it all quite well and make their money from non-friends - in a more "business party" environment. They are very successful at it and I have never felt pressured.

    I think what I am trying to say is that there are two completely valid sides to this and while I don't completely agree with everything you are saying, I can understand where you are coming from.

    If you feel exploited, and can't feel good about just going to eat the food and enjoy the company, you should definitely decline going to these types of parties. I am sure your friends would want you to do the same thing. And then start planning your own non-sales get togethers to continue to build friendships.

    Sunny,

    Don't feel bad. I have only been invited to 2 parties in my whole life. And you must have been already moved when I had my PC party!

    And I think your point about the similarities of sharing the gospel is great. I know that some people do feel exploited as well when a mormon friend decides to "share the gospel" and friendship dynamics can change. I think kind honesty in both situations would go a long way in saving and even building the friendship.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 10/07/2006 08:40:00 AM  



  • When I lived in Manhattan a friend of mine made jewelry. Awesome jewelry. She had a trunk show 2-3 times a year where we all squoze (is that a word?) into her tiny apartment and ate cheesecake and bought or didn't buy her jewelry.
    Then I moved to Utah. Another friend of mine makes jewelry. Awesome jewelry. She was trying to figure out a good way to sell it and I told her to do a trunk show. She immediately made a face, says that her neighborhood/ward has "parties" at LEAST twice a month, sometimes more. She said she didn't want to burden people with another party to go to where they would feel pressured to "support" friends.
    In my ward we are the youngest (and poorest) and there aren't a lot of parties. In another good friends ward where most everyone is the same age and similar financial positions, there are parties every week...sometimes twice a week. It gets overwhelming. If one person is buying a lot at a PC party, they get invited to 10 other parties and are expected to drop the same kind of cash on other products. Is there a certain demographic that gets too party happy? There are definitely two situations being talked about...
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 10/07/2006 08:45:00 PM  



  • I totally agree with this post! When friendship is prostituted for business ends, it ruins both the friendship and the business. Instead, we can work at *real* businesses, for less time, and actually earn real income, instead of pretend income that only comes from commissions and has to have a lot of entertaining costs subtracted. And please don't come to me pretending you're a friend, and really just want me to buy some overpriced product! (Nieces are different, of course. Whatever nieces are selling, put me down for three.)

    What I would like to see is a lot more room in corporate America for part time jobs that moms could fill. And a way for such jobs to have real impact on the life of the company. As it is, you almost always only get marginal things, stuff that isn't the bread and butter of the company, and that isn't part of its core business.

    Tutor.com is a great idea, I think. I think it has the ability to replace schools altogether. What other fields could something like tutor.com work in? I would love to work at home online as an engineer or architect or doctor, and set my own hours.
    posted by Anonymous Tatiana at 10/08/2006 03:02:00 AM  



  • Start your OWN company! Work for yourself - it has worked for me!
    posted by Blogger chloe at 10/08/2006 10:44:00 AM  



  • I really think one of the failings of women is that we cannot be more supportive of one another. Some women may gain confidence by participating in a structured sales program and be able to seek different opportunities later. Most people understand if you want the friendship and NOT the product (if they don't then you don't need them as a friend). I have to admit I have only been to a few but it took me awhile to figure out what PC was, so I guess I am far from feeling abused.
    posted by Blogger trimama at 10/08/2006 02:50:00 PM  



  • I'm late on this one...had family in town over the weekend...but I HAD to comment. I also didn't read all of the comments, so I hope I don't step on anyone's toes.

    A month or two ago, one of the sister missionaries in our ward got up and made an announcement - one of their investigators sold PC and wanted the sisters to host a party with members of the ward. The missionaries thought it would be a great opportunity for this investigator to get to know members of the ward, so we were told that some of us might get invitations in the mail and that they were looking for a home to host the party. Needless to say, a member of the Relief Society presidency later called these sisters and told them that this was not appropriate. PC lady meets nice girls (missionaries) who are friendly and exploits them to sell kitchen products. I don't think she's still an investigator.

    I think that mutli-level marketing endeavors are so popular among Mormon women for the same reason that I think scrapbooking is so popular among Mormon women. MLM jobs don't require women to leave their families for the most part. They aren't real 'jobs' and thus these women don't feel as though they are working and going against the prophet's counsel. It's 'safe' work, perhaps it makes these women feel some small amount of fulfillment because they are doing something for themselves in a culture that tells them to give give give? True, they do have to exploit their friends, but maybe they don't view it that way. FWIW, I think scrapbooking is popular because it's 'family history' and 'for the kids' - a woman can justify spending money and time on it as a personal activity because it's not completely for herself. Perhaps by justifying MLM as 'for the family,' women feel even more like it's a worthy way to spend their time.

    TftCarrie, I agree that there are paralells between multi-level marketing and preaching the gospel. A lot of the same ideals are taught to missionaries (commitment pattern- at least the way it was set up before the change) as to people who sell MLM products. Make friends-build a relationship of trust or BTR for you former missioanries- then move in for the kill. My husband has worked at many conferences and incentive trips for MLM companies as a videographer and he says that some of the conventions are frightening in their similarities to missionary meetings. Another reason MLM appeals to Mormons, perhaps? (MLM products such as pest control and alarm systems work the same way as Mary Kay or PC, but target a male demo.)

    I was invited to at least 5 MLM parties within a year when I lived in Utah; two years in Georgia and I've been invited to exactly zero.

    I hope you don't mind the long comment, being concise was never one of my strong points.
    posted by Blogger VirtualM at 10/10/2006 03:42:00 PM  



  • Virtual M:

    That was an excellent comment and captured so many of my thoughts about Mormon women and Multi-level marketing. It appears to boom out in Salt Lake and surrounding areas. Your comparion between MLM and sharing the Gospel should give us all something to think about. We really need to be led by the spirit when sharing the Gospel and not follow a formulaic MLM approach. We should be friends with people of other faiths or no faith because we truly care about them and love them. I have had numerous experiences when the Spirit has whispered when it was time to say something. Because we have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we are different than every other faith in the world. If we are following a formulaic approach and are simply pushing something on our "customers" the Spirit won't be able to bear witness of the truth of what we are saying to our friends. In that case, we would be no different than my many Born-Again Christian friends who are constantly trying to save me or gently remind me that I am going to "Hell" because I am Mormon.

    On a different note, I was wondering if anyone could comment on this. I do not mean to overly stereotype but a lot of the Mormon women I meet from Utah are frugal when it comes to purchases. I know sweet women who drive 45 minutes to get to a Super Wal-Mart or an Aldi so they can save a few bucks on groceries. We also all know that MLM products are over-priced due to the high commission built into the sales price. Isn't it amazing that women who are so, let's just say it--cheap--are willing to ask their other Mormon friends to buy these over-priced, lower-quality items just so they can make a buck?

    My long-winded thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Lulu
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 10/11/2006 10:19:00 AM  



  • I'm late to the party, but I couldn't agree more with this article. I have hosted two parties in my entire life and felt badly about asking anyone to come, I even told them, "You don't have to buy anything!"

    The worst part is the one-on-one pressure after the activities to join the sales force. I want to say, "No, I'm not interested because I find this entire exercise a waste of my intellectual potential." Yes, I work full time now, and yes, I think I would die from the brain stem up if I had to sell these products to people.

    I never feel guilty about going, eating the food, and not buying anything I don't want or need. There is a risk to any invitation that the yield will not reach the output, and I'm fine with being the lowering denominator.
    posted by Blogger Azúcar at 10/19/2006 10:17:00 AM  



  • I absolutely cannot stand home sales "parties"! I feel used by the host who often gets lots of free products based on the amount of products sold that night, and I can't stand being guilted into making expensive purchases because I was "entertained" that night. If you'd like to socialize, please host a real party or gathering with no strings attached.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 5/30/2007 11:23:00 AM  



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