“Direct sales evolving to ‘hi-touch, hi-tech’ approach”
Providence Business News, June, 2014
Interview by Patrick Anderson, PBN Staff Writer
Direct selling may never totally shed the image of Tupperware and restless housewives that make it seem stuck in the 1960s. But the loosely affiliated networks of independent salespeople pitching to friends and acquaintances make up a formidable industry. Timothy J. Brown, president of Jamie Oliver at Home North America, is a longtime champion of direct selling and believes its heyday is now. After leaving Taunton direct-sales firm Princess House in 2006, Brown was looking for his next project when he fell under the spell of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose commercial empire has only begun to reach across the Atlantic.
A year ago in May, Brown launched his company to sell Oliver’s line of cookware in America through direct sales.
PBN: Does direct selling have a reputation problem?
BROWN: There is a mixed impression and I have dealt with that for 20 years and been an ambassador for a great industry. Now there are 16 million Americans who earn some or all their income through direct selling. Why I love it is anyone can have their own business. The reputation depends on how much people know our industry. Any venture is a lot of work. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy to enter or hard to enter. So people have to know that and have a passion for what they do. But those that do can come in and if they have purpose and passion and a great product, they can fall in love with it. You need a great product but there is also a greater meaning behind it, either entrepreneurship, or in our case, we are focused on helping people learn and educate each other about food and how it affects our bodies.
PBN: Is this industry growing right now?
BROWN: Yes. Last year it grew 4 percent or 5 percent. During … the great correction there were some stagnant years, however never any big falling back. I think partly that’s because people develop personally while doing it in a way I have never seen in any other business model.
PBN: And the model, for those who don’t know, is you provide the platform and distribution for people to sell products, which they get a commission for. Where do you get the products?
BROWN: In our company we have the JME collection line, which is Jamie’s personal product line for the kitchen which he developed. We have exclusive rights to the brand, the JME product line, the Jamie Oliver at Home name in the U.S. along with the distribution method of direct selling. That is our exclusive partnership with Jamie Oliver. People not only sell our products but they develop in an amazing way. They are not required to purchase inventory and sell it. We have a warehouse here in Pawtucket where we brought the product in from the U.K. and we ship directly to the customers. … We set up their website. We set up all the tools they need online … and report to them how it is going.
PBN: Have these businesses and the techniques they use to sell evolved from Tupperware parties back in the day?
BROWN: We are the 2014 version of the 1950s Tupperware party. Tupperware, along with Princess House and Mary Kay were true pioneers in the direct-selling world, of selling to consumers in a party atmosphere. What we can do in today’s modern world is we come in and lead with the message about how we have to educate one another about food, where it comes from and how it affects our bodies. There are a lot of people who don’t understand that the food system has become poisoned with a lot of things from sugar to pesticide and it is affecting our health. … We bring Jamie to each party in a DVD where he brings messages along with recipes and some tips about how they can make food better in an easy and simple manner. … We call ourselves hi-touch and hi-tech. Hi-touch because it is very personal, but high-tech because everything is done online.
PBN: Is the business growing regionally or are you recruiting nationally?
BROWN: We are in 24 states, so it is national. We have the biggest presence in New England and California. California is coming on strong because direct selling does very well there.
PBN: How do you find sellers?
BROWN: It is really a one-on-one business with people talking to other people. Whenever Jamie mentions something about us, we get some interest there. Jamie’s social media presence is huge. … But really it happens at the individual parties.
PBN: Who do you see as your primary competition? Is it retailers who sell other houseware products, or is it from other activities and entertainments that compete for people’s time and attention?
BROWN: Both. Our biggest competition is for time in the living room. People are so busy today and there are so many companies in our industry who do parties in home. If you like food or cosmetics and jewelry – which party are you going to do? … The products that are doing well are ones that are unique and you wouldn’t find in other places.
Link to full Providence Business News article