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Have a talent for sales? Becoming a direct-selling consultant could be your ticket to financial independence.

Sharon Howard recalls hanging out in the kitchen of a friend's home in Dayton, Ohio, about a year ago with 25 or so African American women she had just met, all eating, talking, and listening to music. As a consultant with Our Own Image, a direct-selling company of African American-inspired home and party products, Howard, 47, had just told the women about the company and its mission of empowering women and selling products targeted to African Americans. She sold about $800 worth of merchandise that night, earning 20% off the top, persuaded three other women to commit to becoming hostesses, and also made a lot of new friends. Howard joined the company after receiving an invitation in 2003 to attend a launch reception for the fledgling Our Own Image. "The products were fabulous and I realized I had the opportunity to be on the ground floor of a new company focused on people of color."

More African American women like Howard, who are looking for financial independence or just some extra dough, are attracted to direct selling. Some of what's driving the trend is the rise of direct-sell companies selling Afrocentric products, ranging from home decor items to cosmetics, says Amy Robinson, spokeswoman for the Direct Selling Association ( in Washington, D.C. Nearly 80% of direct-sales consultants are women, and about 6% are African American, according to the association.

Direct selling is the sale of a product or service from a representative or consultant to consumers via home-based parties, brochures, or one-on-one presentations. Consultants keep a percentage of what they sell and often earn a smaller cut of what consultants they recruit sell. Howard says she has earned as much as $3,500 a month in extra income with her Team Supreme group of consultants.

Our Own Image ( uses that model. The Ohio company was started by a mother and daughter team of lawyers. Gail Littlejohn and her daughter Erica Littlejohn Burnette used $30,000 of their own savings and a $1 million investment from The Antioch Co., a privately held firm in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to fuel the venture, which is now a division of Antioch. What motivated the two women to start the business was a desire to be entrepreneurs and their own shopping frustrations. "I used to take a brown crayon and paint the Santa Claus on cards. That is a shared African American experience for women 45 and older," says Littlejohn. Our Own Image has more than 600 consultants in 30 states, with sales of about $1 million in 2004 and a projection to hit nearly $2 million this year.

Firms like Atlanta-based Aularale Skin Care and Cosmetics (, and Warm Spirit Inc. ( in Exeter, New Hampshire, are also creating a buzz. Warm Spirit sells everything from aromatherapy products to herbal remedies. In August the firm announced a special offering for its consultants--a line of clothing by fashion designer Francis Hendy.

For the industry at large, the median gross income for consultants is about $200 a month for people putting in 10 hours or less, according to the Direct Selling Association. For those putting in at least 30 hours a week, the median net pay is about $25,000 a year.

To make it in the direct-selling business, Jane Deuber, president and co-founder of the Direct Selling Women's Alliance ( based in Kailua, Hawaii, says you'll need:

* A strong belief in the company and the product. Selling products in a home setting where you come face-to-face with customers requires a good amount of passion and motivation for the merchandise because there is little marketing of the items in mass markets.

* A willingness to learn and grow. There is potential to increase your income level quickly if you can study the intricacies of the direct-selling system and create a situation where you've got money coming in from a web of recruits you bring on board.

* A desire to serve others (customers, distributors, and the company). Direct sellers must juggle a wide range of needs as they navigate the direct-selling system, so that means being able to satisfy the customers you sell to, the representatives you recruit, and the company at large.

* Persistence. A big part of succeeding in the direct-selling business is consistently challenging yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone to do things you might not otherwise do, and being willing to share business opportunities and products with those you know.
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Author:Tahmincioglu, Eve
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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