Direct sales (like Avon, Mary Kay) offer recession-proof jobs

ByABC News
May 13, 2009, 11:21 PM

— -- Not long ago, Craig Lapp made his living driving a truck that helped carve Southern California's soil into new developments. But then housing sales slumped, and in November 2007 Lapp's construction company let him go.

While he searched for another job, Lapp began working alongside his wife, Lynne, in a business based in their Temecula home, selling nutritional supplements made by the direct-sales company Isagenix. Nearly two years later and with no construction job in sight, Lapp says a one-time sideline has become the couple's bread and butter.

"It's paying our mortgage, our car payments putting food on the table," says Lapp, 55, who adds that he and his wife are earning a six-figure income. "It was our 'Plan B' that turned into our 'Plan A.' "

Direct-sales businesses that rely on home-based representatives to peddle their wares are seeing their sales forces rapidly expand as the nation's unemployment rate soars to nearly 9% and those who lost jobs and nest eggs look for new ways to make money.

"We're recession-resistant in the sense that more people come to us during economic hard times for supplemental income or replacement of a lost job," says Neil Offen, president of the Direct Selling Association, the trade group that represents the largest U.S. direct sales companies.

While 2008 industry figures aren't yet available, "Anecdotally we're hearing that recruitment is up and unfortunately as the unemployment rate rises to 10% or higher, we'll be picking up more people who need an income-earning opportunity."

"Right now, our direct-selling opportunity is really the No. 1 product that we have to sell," says Geralyn Breig, president of Avon North America.

With that in mind, Avon this year launched its most ambitious recruitment campaign and saw its U.S. sales force grow to more than 680,000 through March, its largest ever, Breig says.

The same month, cosmetics company Mary Kay began airing its first TV ad for new representatives. In its first three days, visitors seeking information about becoming "beauty consultants" at spiked 108%.

Silpada Designs, a Lenexa, Kan.-based company specializing in sterling silver jewelry, says its sales force in the U.S. and Canada was up 11.8% on May 1 from a year earlier. And Chandler, Ariz.-based Isagenix says its sales force was up 30% in March from a year before.