By Paula Gorry, UK Business Development Manager, Stampin’ Up! UK

The Direct Selling Industry has certainly come a long way since the Tupperware parties synonymous with 1950s post-war Britain. According to the DSA (Direct Selling Association) in 2013 alone, there were over 4.8 million direct sales, netting over £2bn for the UK economy. Given this exponential growth it would be fascinating to see what the direct seller of early post-war Britain would make of today’s industry. Are there startling contrasts between the contemporary direct seller and the direct seller of the past, or are there certain aspects of the industry that have endured with time?

One thing’s for certain, the basic concept of direct selling has remained largely the same. The DSA summarises direct selling as “a method of marketing and retailing goods and services directly to the consumers, in their homes or in any other location away from permanent retail premises.” By selling goods outside a fixed retail environment, it offers complete flexibility for the seller. In essence, direct sellers are able to expand their business as much or as little as they want, helping them to balance their work with other commitments such as family life.

As a flexible business model, direct selling was particularly popular among mothers from early post-war Britain. It became an additional source of household income at a time when keeping the home was a full-time job. Fast-forward to today and the direct selling industry is branching out to a wider audience. The traditional direct selling demographic of stay-at-home mums now accounts for 29% of direct sellers, while men account for 24% of the sector. As well as providing an ideal way to work for mums, increasingly students and retired people are topping up their income by becoming direct sellers. There has also been a recent growth in multicultural direct sellers. The DSA surveyed its members and discovered 30% of direct sellers (120,000 people) in the UK are non-British.

With the industry now appealing to a wide cross-section of society, this has clearly impacted the range of products available to the modern direct seller. In 1950s post war Britain, Tupperware parties were the order of the day, with the aim of the hostess to sell as many of these innovative boxes as possible. While Tupperware is still in wide use today, the direct selling industry is now open to a range of products that can be showcased at parties including cosmetics, cleaning products, nutritional products, homewares and paper craft supplies to name a few. The breadth of choice means the contemporary direct seller will inevitably find a product they like.

Once a direct seller has selected their product, it is then a case of getting it out there by maximizing all available sales channels. Traditionally direct-selling was associated with the door-to-door sales approach. By no means a redundant technique, in a modern context it is important to consider this process as part of a broader mix of activity. In our experience, demonstrators particularly like to host product parties as they are a great way to meet new people.

Online platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook will also help you to share your product to a wider audience anytime, anywhere and video formats such as YouTube enable you to build your profile and interact with your audience.

We’ve always bought and sold things to each other and in this respect; the core aspect of direct selling has a long history. As direct selling continues to move into new and exciting territories, so too does the direct seller. Today’s industry is a vibrant and dynamic one that appeals to a broad audience; nevertheless certain aspects of the industry have retained a timeless quality. Direct selling is a business model that has always emphasised social interaction. Sales are typically conducted face to face with products demonstrated to an individual or a group. The key for today’s direct seller is being able to successfully strike a between classic face-to-face interaction and digital communication.