Direct selling may never totally shed the image of Tupperware and restless housewives that make it seem stuck in the 1960s. But the loosely affiliated networks of independent salespeople pitching to friends and acquaintances make up a formidable industry. Timothy J. Brown, president of Jamie Oliver at Home North America, is a longtime champion of direct selling and believes its heyday is now. After leaving Taunton direct-sales firm Princess House in 2006, Brown was looking for his next project when he fell under the spell of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose commercial empire has only begun to reach across the Atlantic.
A year ago in May, Brown launched his company to sell Oliver’s line of cookware in America through direct sales.
PBN: Does direct selling have a reputation problem?
BROWN: There is a mixed impression and I have dealt with that for 20 years and been an ambassador for a great industry. Now there are 16 million Americans who earn some or all their income through direct selling. Why I love it is anyone can have their own business. The reputation depends on how much people know our industry. Any venture is a lot of work. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy to enter or hard to enter. So people have to know that and have a passion for what they do. But those that do can come in and if they have purpose and passion and a great product, they can fall in love with it. You need a great product but there is also a greater meaning behind it, either entrepreneurship, or in our case, we are focused on helping people learn and educate each other about food and how it affects our bodies.
PBN: Is this industry growing right now?
BROWN: Yes. Last year it grew 4 percent or 5 percent. During … the great correction there were some stagnant years, however never any big falling back. I think partly that’s because people develop personally while doing it in a way I have never seen in any other business model.