Lia Sophia Announces Plans To Close
On Thursday, I received a letter from Lia Sophia (direct sellers of women’s quality costume jewelry), informing me that:
“Due to the challenges of our business model, we sadly and reluctantly decided to cease operations…”
At first, their declaration to close shop gave me pause; after all, they have been in business for over 40 years and thousands of women across the country proudly wear Lia Sophia necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.
But, after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized their decision really didn’t surprise me at all.
Tupperware Pioneers Direct Selling
Back in 1946, when Tupperware first pioneered direct selling, it was heralded as a novel way to reach women with a personalized brand message. An independent sales rep asked interested women to invite family, friends and neighbors to their homes. Amidst a backdrop of food, wine and conversation, the rep passionately connected with the women, telling them stories about her products, sharing tips among friends and answering their questions one-on-one. The women loved hearing the stories behind the products and enjoyed seeing which products their friends chose to buy.
It was a three-way deal that benefited all.
- The sales rep earned commission on the products sold.
- The hostess earned free products based on the total dollar sales of her party and the number of parties her friends booked.
- Her friends had a valid excuse to get together for an evening of fun, food and wine, plus they could buy new products, play games, win prices and take advantage of special deals.
This was word-of-mouth marketing at its best.
Direct Selling Explodes
As women warmed to the idea of buying products in the comfort of a home setting, the business model exploded. Joining Tupperware were a multitude of new products, ranging from makeup (Avon and Mary Kay) to food (Herbalife) to cookware (The Pampered Chef) to fragrances (Scentsy) to baskets (Longaberger) and everything in between. Invites to home parties doubled, tripled, quadrupled … especially if you were popular in your social circles.
Women Look For A Plausible Out
With the rapid influx of party invites showing up in their mailboxes, women increasingly began to think of home parties as annoying. Websites and blog posts exploded with advice on how to sidestep these parties, with titles like, “How to say no to a home party held by friends selling stuff“ and “Best way to decline ANOTHER party????“ Women started inventing really creative excuses for why they were unavailable the night of the party, just so she wouldn’t hurt her friend’s feelings.
The tide had turned.
Life Is Just Too Busy
Added to the increased home party competition, life had just become exceedingly busier.
- There were kids to taxi from basketball to school plays to Boy Scouts.
- There was dinner to quickly put together between activities.
- There was homework to help with, sometimes late in the evening.
- There was the stress associated with balancing a family and a job.
Net net, there weren’t many minutes left to get together with the girls … and when those precious times did come around, the last thing anyone wanted to do was look at plastic bowls or yet another scented candle.
Amidst all this chaos, women found the best way to avoid buying products she didn’t need or want was to stay home.
Smartphones Grab Our Attention
Then, technology came knocking.
Women became obsessed with connecting with their friends through electronic means, rather than in person. When they did connect face-to-face, they were so busy snapping selfies and answering messages that their time together just wasn’t the same.
Multitasking had become the new reality.
The Wall Street Journal wrote an article a few years back titled, “Just look me in the eye, already,“ in which the writer laments the loss of eye contact within our society. Today, everyone has their faces buried in their smartphones. Many have lost the fine art of actually connecting with each other.
Just imagine a 1980’s Lia Sophia or Tupperware party in today’s world. Do you think it’s possible that a roomful of women would actually talk to and engage with each other for the duration of a two-hour party rather than <GASP!> reading their Facebook messages and texting their friends?
The Face of Retail Changes
But, people are still buying products and services. So, how are they buying and what do they view as engaging?
Today’s shopping is different in so many ways.
- Items can be easily purchased through one click on Amazon.
- Etsy customizes products to match a person’s home or personality.
- Brands are inviting consumer participation.
- Consumers are using social media to compliment and criticize.
Today’s Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999 – are seeking a totally different shopping experience, largely driven by technology and their ability to get anything they want without stepping foot outside their homes. They embrace novelty, self-expression and personalized experiences that invite them to participate in the brand and then provide the means to share their experiences with their friends via Instagram or Snapchat.
Here are a few examples of how shopping has evolved.
Adore Me takes lingerie shopping to a new level. By joining their monthly club, women of all shapes and sizes have access to over 500 styles of lingerie and swimwear delivered right to their doors. A quiz at the beginning of the relationship helps the company determine the types of lingerie a buyer will feel most comfortable in. Members are rewarded with free lingerie after their sixth purchase and never pay shipping fees.
Monthly subscriptions can also be secured with sampling companies like Ipsy who arrange partnerships with beauty companies like Smashbox, Urban Decay and Nicole by OPI. Stylists at Ipsy hand select exciting new products for its members to try each month. The products are sent to members in a collectible bag, at savings up to 70% off retail. Members can also watch tutorials on new products and win free items.
Pushing the experiential limits of body care products is Frank, a coffee-based body scrub that targets skin conditions. Language used throughout the website is deliberately edgy – “get naked. get dirty. get rough. get clean.” Their blog shares ‘dirty talk’ with its readers, offering suggestions on how to use their products.
Capitalizing on the fresh and local trend are companies like Door To Door Organics which deliver seasonal food from local farmers right to your doorstep. Not going to be at home? No problem. Just leave a cooler. Fresh. Healthy. Local.
The Growler Station takes the authenticity of the beer you drink to a whole new level. Back in the late 1800s, men carried fresh beer from the local pub back to their homes in a small, galvanized pail. Today, patrons fill half-gallon glass bottles with freshly brewed craft beer themselves and take it home, effectively extending the pub experience to the sanctity of their own homes.
Are Any Home Parties Doing Well?
When it comes to home parties, one direct seller seems to be riding out the storm – sex toy parties. Although the concept has been around since the 1970s, its popularity didn’t really take off until a few decades later.
Direct sellers, like Pure Romance, take a previously frowned upon topic and encourage women to get comfortable with their sexuality. Purely based on having fun, over the top and just a little bit naughty, these parties take talk of sex to an experiential level. It’s a modern day slumber party where girls can uninhibitedly talk about their needs in the bedroom without blushing or feeling shy.
These slumber parties may not be anything like those we saw back in 1978 on the movie, Grease, but perhaps that’s what makes them so special.
The Death of Direct Selling
Lia Sophia’s decision to close up shop may be a sign of things to come.
Or perhaps the in-home party just needs to be livened up a bit, similar to what companies like Pure Romance, Passion Parties and Intimate Expressions have created … an experiential event that invites social media chatter.
Only time will tell.