“Why don’t you host a Jewelry Party?” – a.k.a. parties from hell…

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"It's Tupperware Time"  Is anyone else out there bothered by these parties where you are invited to spend money in exchange for a some chips and salsa – all for the benefit of your host who may get (if she makes you buy enough stuff) some free jewelry, kitchen gadgets, purses with initials, etc? And,throughout the party there is some type of “consultant” whose job it is to bully, trick, cajole, or guilt you into purchasing some overly priced item — all in the name of friendship.

  • A Simple Concept

If you haven’t been involved in any party like this, I will explain the concept to you.  This is called a “home sales party” or a “direct sales party.”  There are numerous companies that provide such business opportunities.  To name a few there is Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, Thirty-One, Lia Sophia, and Silpada.  The concept is essentially the same for all of these companies with maybe a few gimmicks thrown in for flavor.  Wikipedia explains it well:

Representatives of the sales organization, almost invariably women, approach other women about hosting a social event in their homes during which a product will be demonstrated. In consideration, they will be given hostess gifts and a portion of the proceeds from the amount of goods sold. Frequently all in attendance will be given a token item of nominal value as an incentive to attend.At the event, the salesperson displays and demonstrates various products. She then takes orders from attendees. The salesperson is almost always paid solely a commission on sales. If the salesperson has recruited other sales people into the organization, then she also receives a commission based on her recruits’ sales.

The players in this party are: (A) The Salesperson a.k.a The Consultant– This person essentially runs the show.  She pushes her widgets (or whatever she is selling) and, at the same time, also tries to get other attendees to host a party.  (B) The Hostess — This person (your so-called friend) puts out the pizza bites and gets “free” gifts based on the number of her friends she can get to buy the widgets sold by A.  (C) The Guest(s) — These are essential to the success of both A & B.  The more guests there are, the more commission had by A and the more freebies given to B.  These unsuspecting sheep (C) who have come to enjoy the company of their friends or out of some duty to their friend (B), never had a chance in the wolf’s den (A).  To demonstrate this process – think back to the last time you went to purchase a car.  Remember that slick, slimy car salesman? Imagine him with a dress and some makeup on – and you have A – the consultant.

Laid on top of this is a pyramid scheme.  What? A pyramid scheme? Bet you thought those were illegal.  Not this time.  A (the consultant) is not only trying to get you to buy her widgets, but she also wants you to host your own widget party and get some free widgets while making profit off of your friends.  This is known as “booking a party.”

  • Booking a Party — You just fell into the trap.

There are several disturbing consequences from this process of “booking a party.”  I know what you are saying to yourself — “This would never happen to me! I am strong! I won’t book a party.”  This is where the pressure comes in.  The consultant says that your friend can’t get her free stuff without two of her dear friends booking a party.  This will seem harmless at the time.  “How bad can it be? I can buy a veggie tray and make up some punch and call it a party?”  Here’s the problem:  All of your friends are at your friends party.  So if you and another friend book a party, your same 5 friends now have to show up (and buy) at 2 more parties!  Not only that, this gives the consultant two more chances to try to get you into the pyramid scheme and start selling the junk yourself.  The consultant will get a commission off of all the junk you sell too.  (THE PYRAMID REVEALS ITSELF).

  • A Noble History? 

    In order to examine this phenomenon called the “home sales party,” we might want to look towards the history of this marketing genius.  Let’s face it, we all sometimes feel compelled to go to these parties – but why do women do this over and over.  Tupperware was the king of the direct marketing strategy. Tupperware has been around since the 1950s shortly after World War II.  During WWII, women began working in factories and doing the jobs that men normally did — but could not because they were at war.  Following the end of the war, the women were told to go back into the kitchen.  Having had a taste of “bringing home the bacon,” women needed an outlet to make their own money.  That’s where Tupperware comes in.  Tupperware allowed for the modern women to keep her focus on domestic duties –stay at home, take care of her kids, put the casserole in the oven, have dinner on the table — but also have the independence to earn an income without compromising her fresh-baked cornbread.  This is empowering women without the men missing their dinner.  What more could a lady ask for?  I think the feminists out there may take issue with this empowering women and might argue that this just further domesticates the act of taking care of the house.  But I say it is freedom – not only just getting out of the house (actual physical freedom) but also financial freedom.

Having not been alive in the 50s, I can’t speak to this with any certainty, but those early Tupperware parties were on many occasions lavish.  They were themed parties with costumes known as “jubilees.”  I can imagine that the food was also something to look forward to.  I must admit that I do enjoy a themed party – particularly if there is themed food!  It seems that the hostess had a much bigger investment in the parties and maybe even deserved the “free” stuff she got when her friends bought the stuff.  I can also imagine that this is where the idea developed that if you go to one of these parties you must by something.  It was kind of like a “hostess gift.”  You didn’t need to bring anything as a hostess gift because you were going to buy something there.  So now we still have this idea that etiquette requires us to buy something – no matter of whether you are budget conscious or have no interest in the product.

But let’s flash forward to now.  Ok – first no more themed jubilees with star-shaped cucumber sandwiches and cosmos.  Recently, I was invited to a Thirty-One party by a friend of a friend.  I felt compelled to go because my friend did not want to go alone – and she felt compelled because it was a co-worker and it might be awkward at work if she did not go.  So we arrive at the house, with me mainly in anticipation of the delicious finger foods I was about to partake in!  We are the only two suckers who show up and there is no food to be seen.  I figured that our hostess was just waiting for us to buy something and then she will show us the food.  So I make my required purchase (as etiquette demands) and buy something that I absolutely don’t need or like.  Now where is the food?  Our hostess then says, “Oh I forgot, I got some snacks.” Alright, now the party is getting good.  My mouth is watering — hope there will be cookies!  The hostess brings out a bag of chips and passes it to us.  She doesn’t even put the chips in a bowl! No dip? I almost asked if I could withdraw my order.

I actually cannot fault the consultants – at least not totally.  They are just doing a job and providing for their family.  I am all about empowering women.  And making a little money on the side is always good.  I hate to think of the confidence it takes to give the hard sell to a room full of ladies who you don’t know and are just there for the rotel dip. I have, however, been to a couple of parties where the consultant treated the whole party like some kind of classroom where we were the students and she was teaching us about selling jewelry.  At some point, I think she made me stand in the corner for talking.  But, now that I think about it, maybe the fault lies not so much with the consultant — as she is just doing her job and is doing it well based on the fact that I am wasting so much of my money on this junk — but the fault lies with my friends. The friends who invite me to these parties and then the friends who go on to book 2 more – just to further punish me.  They know me.  They know that I hate these kind of parties and can be guilted into buying something I don’t need or want. Yet they persist in inviting me to every party.  Beware friends, I will now decline to attend any parties where something is being sold.  No stinky candle parties, no weird sticky saying to put on your wall, no bra parties, no “fun” parties (if you know what I mean), and finally no botox parties.  I won’t.  I won’t. I won’t.

R.S.V.P. – Does anyone know what this means? Or do you just not care?

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 Let’s just imagine.  A neatly hand-addressed envelope arrives in your mailbox.  You peek at the return address to try to figure out who might have sent this little treasure to you.  With much anticipation, you open the delicate little envelope – carefully, you don’t want to tear it.  Inside is a beautifully prepared invitation with little gold stars and swirls inviting you to a party! At the bottom of the card the hostess has taken the time to inscribe the following: “R.S.V.P please.”

There are several options here. 1) You plan to go to the party, or 2) maybe you don’t know for sure if you are going or not at this point, or 3) you are definitely not going. Regardless of whether you are or are not going or don’t know one way or another — you do nothing at this point.  Days pass, weeks pass, and what do you do? Nothing.  You continue to ignore the hostess’s request to please reply. You don’t have the time to call or email the hostess and tell her to count you in or out. So nothing happens.

Let’s look at it from the other side.  I am planning a party for my wonderful friend who is getting married.  She has asked me to invite 30 of her closest friends.  I design a personalized invitation especially for my friend and order 30 invitations.  I hand-address each invitation with my “pretend calligraphy” as I call it.  It is a slow, pain staking process for me to carefully address each invitation – with many envelopes going straight into the trash.  I then go to the post office because, of course, I want the pretty stamps for my invitations.  I have not only spent money and time, but I want the party to be great for my friend.  So now, I begin planning my menu.  Shall I have fancy food or fun food or girly food?  Also, I am waiting for the phone calls or emails from the invited guests….the RSVPs.  Without this information, how will I know how much food to buy, how many seats I need, who is coming? Days pass, weeks pass, and what happens? Nothing. Nobody calls. Nobody emails.

I have been in this situation numerous times over the last several years. It really makes me angry. Most recently, I was the Maid of Honor in two weddings.  In both of these instances, I sent out my invitations to their bridal showers with the letters “R” “S” “V” “P” on each invitation. On both occasions, I sent out about 40 invitations – and with the exception of close family members and the brides – I got a total of 3 appropriate responses to my request for RSVP.  In the first bridal shower, I had the outcome of having about 35 attendees.  Thankfully, I have a bad habit of preparing way too much food – so there were no catastrophes.  But until the actual time of the shower, I had no clue how many people would be there.

The second bridal shower had the opposite outcome.  I sent out 40 invitations and only 8 people showed up – 4 of whom were my family members and my best friend. We had enough food for 40 people and 6 tables beautifully decorated.  We were in a giant room – because I was afraid my house was too small for the “giant” party! The worst part was not the wasted food or empty tables or wasted money or wasted effort (lots of it).  The worst part was the effect on the bride.  She knew all the effort we had put into the shower, and she was very embarrassed that none of her friends showed up. None of them even took the time to call. For lack of better words: How Rude!

I would like to think that maybe there is some confusion on the part of the first shower attendees – maybe they didn’t think you need to call if you are coming.  But the second shower no-shows? I have no excuse for them – except as my grandmother would say maybe they were “raised in a barn?”  I’m not sure what the answer is, but right now, I am going to take away the excuse: “I didn’t know.”

RSVP means “Répondez s’il vous plaît” – which is french for “please respond.”  Just to alleviate any confusion, if you wanted only people to call who can’t come you write “regrets only” on the invitation. An RSVP always requires an acceptance or regret.  And even when the invitation doesn’t include a reply request, it is really thoughtful of you to call and say whether or not you are coming. I want to make it clear — no one is obligated to accept an invitation or explain why they can’t come – but EVERYONE is obligated to respond promptly to an invitation and say whether or not they are coming. So if you get an invitation here is how to properly RSVP:

1. Respond in a timely fashion – within a few days or a week or so after the invitation arrives (depending on how long before the party the invitation arrived).

2. Reply in the manner indicated on the invitation.  That’s another pet peeve of mine.  Many people would just tell the bride that they were or were not coming to the bridal showers.  And the bride might or might not remember to tell me that her Aunt Janie couldn’t make it (not that a bride has a lot on her mind).  You need to reply in the manner that the invite requests.  If it has a little card to mail back; well, then mail it.  If it gives a phone number or email address – then call or email.

3. Keep the reply brief. Simple.  I know you might not know the person hosting the party – and she probably doesn’t know you.  There is no need to fret about having a conversation with a stranger. Just simply call, introduce yourself, and say whether you are coming or not. Simple.

4. Reply even if you “might” not be able to attend.  Sure, I understand that there are times when you are not sure about another commitment or have a sick child.  But why not call me and let me know that you are a maybe and will have to let me know later.

That’s all I ask.  Now you know what RSVP is – no more excuses. Enough said.