With a committed trade association, direct selling is a viable and attractive choice for many people
Direct selling is one of the key industries in the UK. Over 400,000 people work within direct selling and it is the UK’s largest provider of part-time earning opportunities. Yet still many people do not fully understand the industry and the opportunities that may be available for them within the sector.
Direct selling is an alternative channel of retail, where goods are sold direct to customers away from a fixed location, usually in the customer’s own home. There are a wide variety of direct selling companies in the UK, selling cosmetics and books to home ware and food from the likes of Avon, Kleeneze, Mary Kay, The Pampered Chef and Herbalife.
Direct selling is not new. However, recently the sector has begun to change as new types of people are recognising the earning opportunities direct selling can bring, and the industry evolves in response to how people want to buy and sell. One organisation helping to steer this change is the Direct Selling Association, the trade body responsible for the industry as a whole.
Paul Southworth, who has been involved in the direct selling industry for over 30 years, was recently announced as the DSA’s new director general. Bringing with him a wealth of experience, including a 12-year stint as CEO of Avon’s UK operation, Southworth is leading the DSA as the industry evolves.
One key way direct selling is changing is through high levels of recruitment in new sectors of society. Direct selling has long been seen as a flexible earning option for many, but the recent economic climate and high unemployment figures have seen new groups of people embrace alternative options.
Southworth says: “We’ve seen that students and young people have been particularly badly hit by the tough times we’ve all been through. Direct selling has emerged as a viable option for many graduates keen to get their first foot on the career ladder. What’s fantastic about this is that many of these people are bringing new skills to the industry across IT and social media, and the industry is benefiting from their energy, enthusiasm and drive to succeed.
“At the other end of the spectrum, the over-50s have emerged as a new group who are embracing the opportunities that come via direct selling. Our member companies are seeing that this demographic still want to work part-time to aid their financial security, or prefer to work for themselves with minimal outlay. These people are also proving themselves to be fantastic direct sellers, who bring with them a wealth of professional and personal skills integral to the industry.”
As new types of direct sellers are entering the market, Southworth highlights the benefits of the industry to everyone: “Direct selling is, and will always be, a real earning opportunity option for many people who want a flexible, independent career. It works so well for many people because it allows them to fit work with other commitments like education or family.
“It is easy and cheap to get started in direct selling. The initial outlay is typically around £100 - and never more than £200 in the first seven days - providing a very affordable way to start you own business.”
Alongside the changing face of the industry, its mouthpiece the DSA is also undergoing a period of change, with a major focus on increasing the value for its members - 59 per cent of the direct selling industry in the UK. The DSA’s role is to drive the industry forward, protect its members and continue to develop the reputation of the industry.
Much work has been done around improving standards. All member companies sign up to the DSA’s Code of Conduct, a set of guidelines and rules to ensure the integrity of the industry is upheld, which has accreditation from the Office of Fair Trading
“What this means,” says Southworth, “is that if a direct selling company is a member of the DSA, potential independent contractors and customers can be safe in the knowledge that it is a reputable company and committed to its staff, distributors and clients.
“We’re also investing heavily in a new website, and this is a central part of our strategy as it will provide information for members and potential distributors and customers. We’re seeing online activity become increasingly crucial for our member companies and, likewise, as the trade body for the industry we too understand that a stronger digital presence is key to success.”
Educational programmes are also being developed, along with CEO forums to help direct selling businesses share knowledge and best practice. Explains Southwell: “The industry has always been well known for the collaborative nature of its members. Direct selling businesses are incredibly generous with their experiences, and sharing this knowledge has helped numerous businesses and direct sellers to learn and grow.
“Helping our members and their people to succeed is also central to our remit, so we are working on a number of projects to ensure the continued success of direct selling. For example, we are encouraging the government not to pass overly restrictive legislation in the form of the revised Consumer Rights Directive, which would force direct selling companies to provide printed information about their products when other retailers would have no such burden.”
Southwell adds: “Working to protect the interests of our members and supporting direct selling takes many forms and we are committed to doing all we can to ensure the continued success of the industry.”
For more information visit www.dsa.org.uk