In celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to honor the female icons of Network Marketing. I want to thank Beth Douglass Silcox and Barbara Seale of Direct Selling News, for this great report.
These amazing women blazed the trail and pointed the way for those wonder females who make network marketing their home today. Though we don’t have space to record all of the hard-working and dedicated women who have widened the path we now walk, these are some of the most notable icons of our industry.
Mrs. P.F.E. Albee (1836-1914)
The very first “Avon Lady,” Mrs. Persis Albee began selling perfumes for David McConnell in 1886.
The Historical Society of Chesire County, N.H., relates this story about Albee on their website (www.hsccnh.org):
“With her good business sense, the 50-year-old Persis welcomed the chance to sell perfume as a second career, earning income with which to raise her two children during a time when there were few employment options. The face-to-face direct selling approach relied on Persis’ social skills and her reputation in the community, in addition to the quality and desirability of the products she promoted. Her stature in Winchester added respectability to her door-to-door sales approach. She could gain entry to her neighbors’ households more easily and for longer periods of time than out-of-town peddlers. Attired as she was in her elegant clothing and with her friendly manner, Persis was a welcome sight. She was not considered a nuisance, but as a ‘friendly neighbor come to call.’ It was in this way that Persis pioneered the company’s now famous direct selling.”
Mary Kay Ash (1918-2001)
Mary Kay Ash had written that in 1963, when a man she had trained was promoted above her and paid twice her salary, she quit her job and planned to write a book about the injustice of it all. The notes, however, became the foundation for her legendary beauty and cosmetics company. Ash’s salesforce was made up of women—an uncommon situation in the 1960s—as she laid the groundwork for hundreds of companies to build upon. Recognition programs, ranging from sparkling tiaras to the famous pink Cadillacs, and compensation plans that included commissions for building teams of salespeople have become core parts of most direct selling companies operating today.
In 1980, Doris Christopher decided to start a business from her Chicago home selling high-quality and time-saving kitchen tools. She knew she wanted to utilize the direct-to-consumer model, so that her consultants could demonstrate the tools with real food and share tips through an in-home party that included the guests eating the end results of the demonstration. The company flourished so much that in 2003, investor Warren Buffet asked Christopher to meet with him and made her an offer to buy her company, saying in a press release, “Doris Christopher has created from scratch an absolutely wonderful business. We are delighted to add The Pampered Chef to the family.”
Mary Crowley (1915-1987)
By 1957, Mary Crowley had experienced some of the difficulties that push individuals to achieve greater heights, including becoming a single parent of two small children in the 1930s and putting herself through night school. She discovered her talent for sales and briefly joined her friend Mary Kay Ash at Stanley Home Products. But when she began selling home accessories for a small company called World Gift, Crowley had discovered her place to shine, growing to have 500 salespeople underneath her. When the owner put a limit on the amount of commission the women sales staff could earn, Crowley knew it was time to quit and start her own home décor company that would never limit a woman’s potential in that way. Home Interiors & Gifts became a direct selling powerhouse and by the early 1990s had surpassed $850 million in sales.
Jan Day (1920-1997)
1956 bore witness to the founding of yet another legendary company JAFRA, by Jan Day and her husband, Frank. The company name is a combination of their first names. Jan Day had represented Stanley Home Products as did her successful contemporaries Mary Kay Ash and Mary Crowley, where each had experienced success and seen the power of in-home selling. Remaining committed to the empowerment of women to become successful small business owners, Day started JAFRA from her Malibu, Calif. home with skincare products based on a natural substance produced by bees called Royal Jelly. Gillette bought the successful company in 1973; Vorwerk acquired it in 2004.
Joan Horner and her husband, Andy, spent 17 years working alongside their friend Mary Crowley encouraging the salesforce at Home Interiors & Gifts and working with regional groups. Though near retirement age themselves in 1985, the Horners decided to start their own direct selling company for four very specific reasons: to support women who wanted to stay home to raise children, to provide encouragement and extra income for single moms, to provide a way for those in full-time ministry to meet their financial needs, and to give financial support to the many various ministries they believed in. They had seen the power of equipping women to own and run their own businesses and decided that jewelry, as a high-selling gift item, would be their product choice. Premier Designs has fulfilled the Horner’s mission for over 26 years and is still run by the family.
Cheryl Lightle and Rhonda Anderson
In 1987 Rhonda Anderson was a stay-at-home mom who made creative albums for her family out of the photos most people store in boxes under their beds. She gave a talk in her community on the processes she used and took 40 orders for the brand of album she used. When she discovered the company was no longer going to produce the albums, she called after hours again and again until then Marketing Vice President Cheryl Lightle finally picked up the phone. Intrigued that someone would want such a large order, Lightle started discussing a number of possibilities with Anderson, and they developed the vision for a new business. This phone call started what became the largest scrapbook company in the world, Creative Memories.
Brownie Wise (1913-1992)
Another dynamic woman whose first experience in direct selling was at Stanley Home Products, Brownie Wise was responsible for steering Tupperware into the home-party arena by convincing the company founder, Earl Tupper, that it was the best place for understanding the functions of the containers’ plastic seal. She was appointed Vice President of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951 and led the salesforce with her remarkable marketing intuition, especially concerning women and social selling in the home. Wise also pioneered the extravagant rewards and recognition system now common among direct selling companies, giving top sellers at Tupperware such items as speedboats and exotic trips. Her intuition about what marketing styles and recognition systems appealed to women led her to become the first woman featured on the cover of Business Week magazine in 1954.