in

508: Relationship Sales

Have you ever (or would you ever) sell for a “home party” or “relationship marketing” product?


Full episode script

Though it wasn’t a brand-new idea in the 1950s, the whole idea of people directly selling a product to their friends and family via home parties really took off with Tupperware. Quoting from the Smithsonian Institute’s article about Tupperware:

Although she didn’t create the home party sales model, Brownie Wise pioneered it for Tupperware and used it to transform the company’s reputation. Wise was so successful in selling Tupperware to women in their own homes that Earl Tupper couldn’t help but notice. His company had been struggling to sell its plastic containers off shelves in department stores, so in 1951, he made Wise a vice president of the newly formed Tupperware Home Parties Inc. and put her in charge of developing a large-scale Hostess party plan for the company. Lorna Boyd, speaking in 2004 about her mother, Sylvia Boyd, a Tupperware dealer in the 1960s, remarked: “Tupperware . . . took those moms out of the kitchen where they were ‘supposed to be’ and let them enter the workforce, and let them have something outside the home.”

However, that doesn’t mean that this sales model is without challenges. As BBC News Magazine put it in 2011, quote:

But Wise also personified the precarious position of female executives in the era. In 1958 she was dismissed from her post, despite being the single biggest driving force in the company’s success, apparently because the puritanical Tupper disapproved of her flamboyant lifestyle. Susan Vincent, professor of anthropology at Canada’s St Francis Xavier University, says that rather than breaking down barriers, Tupperware perpetuated gender stereotypes. “It always assumed a close association between women and the domestic sphere,” she says. “Plus, the exploitation of social networks is ultimately quite destructive. It relies on family and friends – not for social support, but it commercialises them.”

Today, there are hundreds if not thousands of companies that promise you can sell products to your friends and family to make money while working from home. Now, those sales happen as often via online “parties” as they do via in-person parties. And a very very strong debate rages about if these direct-sales companies are actually multi-level marketing pyramid schemes or not. Some say that they are, since they require financial input that may or may not be paid back by your friends and family — and others say that selling to your friends and family is the best way to make a few extra bucks.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.