Direct Sales Worker

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Direct Sales Worker

Education and Training On-the-job training

Salary Average—$12.92 per hour

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Direct sales workers work for manufacturers of consumer goods. Through these sales workers, companies sell directly to consumers rather than to retail stores. At one time almost all direct sales workers went from door to door selling their goods. They arrived without phoning beforehand. Most of them worked throughout the day, calling on homemakers and selling everything from cleaning agents to household appliances and encyclopedias. Most of these sales workers were men. Now most direct sales workers are women.

Because most women and men of the twenty-first century work outside the home during the day, modern door-to-door sales workers do much of their work in the evenings and on weekends. They often call ahead to make appointments or have other people called canvassers make appointments for them. Door-to-door sales workers are assigned areas by their companies; they are not permitted to work outside these areas.

Many companies are adopting the party-plan method of direct selling. These companies set up temporary booths in shopping malls, display some of their products, and try to persuade people to host parties for their sales workers. A host or hostess invites friends and acquaintances to an evening party that begins with a presentation by the direct sales worker. The sales worker then takes orders from the guests. The evening ends with refreshments and socializing. The host or hostess pays for the refreshments but receives free products (depending on the volume of sales during the evening) for throwing the party. Party-plan sales workers are not confined to one area. They may give presentations wherever they can find individuals to host parties for them. Crystal, china, flatware, cosmetics, and luggage are often sold this way.

Sales workers who engage in direct selling in the workplace are permanent employees of other companies who are permitted to sell products at work. They act as direct sales workers during the lunch hour and just before or after the regular working day, selling only to their colleagues. Employers often allow these sales workers to set up a small booth in the lunchroom or employee lounge where they can display new items, offer samples, and distribute catalogs and order forms. These sales workers rarely give demonstrations or presentations.

The types of goods displayed are often personal care items, cosmetics, fragrances, or jewelry. The sales workers distribute order forms, which are completed and returned to their desks with the necessary payments. Items usually arrive in a truck that makes a scheduled delivery once each week.

Direct sales workers must be friendly, eager to give good service, and able to explain the advantages of their products to potential customers. Some must give demonstrations; cosmetics sales workers, for instance, often show customers how to apply makeup. Direct sales workers work alone and need plenty of initiative, good organizational skills, and proficiency in handling cash, checks, and credit card payments.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers prefer to hire applicants with a high school education. A neat appearance, a pleasant and enthusiastic personality, and a willingness to work hard are the most important requirements for the position. Direct sales workers must have neat handwriting and be able to speak clearly. Self-confidence and poise are assets in direct sales jobs.

Most companies give their sales workers some initial training. During this period the sales workers become familiar with the products and learn selling techniques. Many companies send beginners out with an experienced worker at first. Party-plan sales workers typically watch their managers run several parties before going out on their own. Managers may attend their sales workers' first parties and then offer feedback and advice on sales techniques.

Getting the Job

To find jobs in direct sales candidates should choose a product that really interests them and then approach the manufacturer either by phone or via the Internet. Interested individuals can also obtain the names and addresses of many direct sales companies from the Direct Selling Association. Some direct sales jobs are listed in newspaper want ads and with career sites on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Depending on the product there are plenty of opportunities to earn a substantial first or second income through direct selling. Those who are successful can enlist others to work for them. They can become field representatives or managers in their direct selling companies or move into positions in retailing, merchandising, or marketing. A college degree is helpful, but not essential to become an executive. Very successful demonstrators may go into business for themselves or work for cable television marketing programs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, door-to-door salespeople and other direct sales workers held 239,000 jobs in 2004. Employment of direct sales workers was expected to decline between 2004 and 2014. The Internet and at-home shopping channels now allow manufacturers to reach potential buyers directly. As a result the need for direct salespeople is dwindling. Jobs are still available, however, as there is a high turnover rate in this field.

Working Conditions

Direct sales workers are not closely supervised. They work on their own under contract to a company. Those who sell to individual families usually have to work long hours in the evenings and on weekends. In rural areas where houses are spread far apart, direct sales workers may have to drive long distances. Only the self-motivated are successful.

Where to Go for More Information

Direct Selling Association
1667 K St. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 347-8866

Earnings and Benefits

Nearly all direct sales workers work under contract and are paid on a straight commission basis. The size of the commission varies with the amount and type of items sold. The commission on necessary items is much lower than that on luxury items. Commissions commonly range from 10 to 40 percent but are often higher on expensive items. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, door-to-door salespeople and other direct sales workers earned an average hourly wage of $12.92 in 2004. Full-time direct sales workers must supply their own benefits such as health insurance.