From adversity to strength: Direct selling is a retail force to be reckoned with

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From adversity to strength: Direct selling is a retail force to be reckoned with
When front doors were closed to an industry that prides itself on relationships, members went digital.
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The past year has undoubtedly seen small businesses rise through adversity or brace for survival.

As CEO of the Direct Selling Australia (DSA), 77% of our members are small to medium business, so I have been at the coalface of change.

DSA is the peak industry association for direct selling in Australian retail and has been for 54 years in Australia. We represent and support over 60 organisations that manufacture and distribute goods and services sold directly to consumers.

The past year has taught us many lessons, the most poignant has been the lesson of strength and resilience from inspirational business leaders and start-ups within the DSA.

Their ability to pivot from traditional business models to innovative businesses, literally overnight. They certainly are a force to be reckoned with.

With 7 in 10 of the independent direct selling businesses run by females, 2020 saw direct selling emerge from the past COVID year stronger than ever, generating $1.38 billion in retail sales across consumer products and services. Overall, the direct selling industry grew in 2020 and is estimated to have generated $1.87 billion AUD in retail sales.

In addition to the contribution of sales, independent salespeople grew 15% in 2020 and the industry attracted over 90,000 more salespeople than in 2019. Full time business builders grew too in 2020 from 10% in 2019 to 17% in 2020. Proving that Australians were looking for new income sources.

Companies within the DSA reported sales growth of between 5% to 30+% and Nutrimetics and Lorraine Lee reporting a 30% sales increase during COVID.

Business transformed from traditional business models and in person experiences to digital-first businesses transacting with consumers virtually. The top three performing sectors included Wellness, Cosmetics and Household Goods

When COVID hit in March, it really was a now or never moment and I knew that the direct selling channel had changed forever.  With entrepreneurship at the core of our members’ skills, the pandemic was the tipping point for us to embrace this spirit and fast-track the long-term viability and sustainability of the channel. 

Leading the association, we rallied together with members, the Board and CEOs of each company to share ideas on how their businesses could pivot.

When front doors were closed to an industry that prides itself on relationships, members took to providing digital assets and social media training for their entrepreneurs, enabling them to run their business while staying safe inside their own homes.

One of our members, Lorraine Lea, shared that COVID has presented them with an opportunity to evolve and refine their online platforms including online events. In fact, most of DSA’s membership have used Zoom and Facebook to deliver health and wellness education and products such as virtual home styling, fashion and, even, a virtual bra fitting.

Another DSA member seeing unprecedented growth, Kyani, moved their traditionally face-to-face experience entirely online through virtual meetings, conferences and digital events. Despite many of the challenges generated during COVID-19 including manufacturing issues, shipping delays and importing issues, Kyani’s response to the situation saw them through the worst of it.

Proudly, as I reflect on the past year and where the future of the direct selling channel lies, it has never been better placed to adapt to the changing needs of the entrepreneur looking to supplement income and start a business with support and training at a low cost.

Gillian Stapleton is CEO of Direct Selling Australia.

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