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The Virtual Product Party

Something happened to me at work recently that I’ve never run across before, and I’m eager to get the opinions of others. I received an email from a co-worker, copied to every woman at our office (of about 25 people total). The email informed us that she had booked a “catalog party” from a multi-level marketing company (this particular one hawked all-natural food products). She attached a PDF of the catalog and told us that there would be a hard copy near the coffee machine, and also gave us a deadline as to when this “party” would close.

I’m not sure how I feel about this (I didn’t order, because I wasn’t interested). Traditionally, these have been real parties, held at a restaurant or someone’s home, with food and drinks and a chance to talk to the other partygoers, and this struck me a bit like those “virtual wedding/baby showers” or “mail showers,” where the “host” seeks to reap the rewards without extending any hospitality. At the same time, I’ve often heard these MLM parties decried as a gross distortion of hospitality for the profit of the hostess and consultant, so is my co-worker to be commended for keeping the transaction strictly business?

Interested to know everyone’s thoughts. Thank you for the excellent website — you have provided me years of entertainment and taught me many things! 0811-12

Why is your co-worker allowed to promote her business while on the work clock of another employer?   The only “strictly business” she should be engaging in is the business of doing her job and not distracting her fellow employers with her sideline business.

And you hit it on the nail, this is simply a means of reaping financial benefits without offering a smidgeon of hospitality.

{ 65 comments… add one }
  • AS September 6, 2012, 6:32 pm

    Aren’t you glad that this wasn’t a catalog of lingerie and sex toys like yesterday’s OP was forced to go? 😉

    You nailed it… it is nothing more than money grab. I am surprised the business allows co-worker to make other transactions when she should be working for the office.

  • Saucygirl September 6, 2012, 7:13 pm

    Raven – I’m actually more annoyed by people selling their kids girl scout cookies then I am by them selling their mlm stuff. While I understand that it isn’t safe to just send kids door to door to random homes the way my friends and I did, I still want some type of involvement from the kid. Come by the office, write a note, something to show that you are actually involved in the selling of your troops cookies. If you can’t be bothered to help sell them, I can’t be bothered to buy them from you. I’ll wait for the kid outside the grocery store, who is putting in time and effort – which to me, is a very valuable lesson girl scouts teach about personal responsibility and working hard to accomplish your goals, which you dont learn when your parents hit up their coworkers.

  • Lynne September 6, 2012, 8:00 pm

    @Margaret — I would MUCH prefer that they be called “sales events.” It would improve their image and status considerably in my eyes, and they would indeed be “fine and dandy” because, “I’m hosting a sales event” is straightforward and honest in the way that “I’m hosting a party” is intentionally misleading — not simply industry jargon.

  • OP September 6, 2012, 8:29 pm

    Hi all, thanks so much for your comments! As a long-time follower of this blog, I was really excited to see my submission posted, probably ridiculously so.

    I just wanted to clarify for the folks that had questions, this does not appear to be this woman’s “business” or sideline. You know how when you go to one of those things, they pressure all the guests into holding their own at some future date? She apparently said yes to it. I don’t believe it violated a work policy. The company I work for is very small, and the catalog was placed near the building’s hub. It could not have possibly escaped notice of our president, and our HR director, being female, was copied on the original email, and yet the catalog was permitted to remain.

    I didn’t really take offense to it (though I do wonder why fielding these invites seems to be solely a woman’s purview). I just thought it raised some interesting etiquette questions. I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts!

  • Angel September 7, 2012, 7:15 am

    I have done this at work, but with my kids’ PTA fundraisers and Girl Scout cookies. The PTA fundraisers are usually for wrapping paper and candles, sometimes my co-workers buy. Girl Scout cookies sell themselves LOL.

    I think calling it a party is where the woman went wrong. Why not call it what it is–take a look at my catalog and if you’re interested in buying, talk to me. I don’t like sales parties at all but I think this type at least doesn’t have pressure applied to it. When I’m eating someone’s food at their house I am more obligated to buy.

  • Angel September 7, 2012, 7:18 am

    I wanted to make comment about the Girl Scout cookies. Part of the experience is having the moms get involved and sell too. My daughter did 2 different cookie booths last year–her shifts were 3 hours each and I think she definitely did her part. If my co-workers ask to buy I’m not going to tell them no just because my daughter can’t be at my work to sell them. I am an adult girl scout member so I do my part as well 🙂

  • Kristi September 7, 2012, 9:55 am

    I fail to see how this is an etiquette issue…more and more lately it seems like stories are posted just to vent or complain about something they don’t like, versus an actual example of poor etiquette.

    We have all seen catalog parties, this is just the next incanation for our advancing technology. It’s not a violation of etiquette to present the information and then let people decide whether or not they would like to purchase something. Whether it be Girlscout cookies, Tupperware or whatever, as long as there is no pressure to purchase, what does it hurt? And to those of you who would actually go to the extent of removing the product information, informing management, etc. do you REALLY have nothing better to do? It seems people are dreaming up reasons to be offended these days!

  • Justin September 7, 2012, 10:04 am

    The rule where I work is that non-profit fundraisers can be placed out for people to buy but for profit activities are not accepted. I get my girl scout cookies from a coworkers daughter and each year I get a hand written thank you note for my purchase from the daughter. I’d say even though Mom is helping a good lesson is being taught.

    After reading the OPs comments I overreacted in my assumption it was MLM. As can be gleaned from my earlier story my experiences with MLM involved coworkers have been extremely negative and have colored my perceptions.

  • JGM1764 September 7, 2012, 11:05 am

    Oh here’s a doozy. I used to work retail and had a manager who was, let’s say, not the nicest person in the world. There was apparently a rule about not soliciting coworkers for your own sales or fundraisers, which is fine for a business to have such a rule, but no one knew about it. It was not company policy, hence it was not in the employee handbook. It was the manager’s policy, but not a word was spoken of it until someone brought in an order form for her kid’s fundraiser and left it in the back room. Big mistake– not that she had any way of knowing that. Rather than simply handing her the form back and informing my coworker that fundraisers were not allowed, Mean Manager hit the roof. She stormed out onto the sales floor clutching the form, marched up to my coworker and started screaming in her face, and she did this right in front of customers!!! Then she ripped up the form and threw it at her! The customers were agog and my coworker was in tears. The customers actually asked for corporate contact information to complain, and said they were going to make a point to tell corporate that the saleswoman who had been helping them had been very polite and helpful. I left the company shortly after that incident, but am happy to report that sometime later I stopped into the shop to say hello to my nice former coworkers, and Mean Manager had since been fired, one of the nice assistant managers is now the store manager, and the coworker who took the abuse in that incident is now the assistant manager.

  • Margaret September 7, 2012, 12:39 pm

    In my town, there is a small business (two employees) in a little office. One lady sells Avon. Her half of the office is at least half a display of her products. I always find it kind of odd, but I figure the owners must know and not mind. It’s not like you could miss it. I sometimes think maybe they let her do it to make up for paying her minimum wage (my assumption). She is always pleasant, prompt and helpful when dealing with official office business, so I guess there’s no harm.

  • Tracy September 7, 2012, 2:31 pm

    “Catalog party” is the universally used and accepted term for this type of event in my area – calling it a “sales event” would simply cause confusion. I quite like them. There’s absolutely no pressure, and you have the opportunity to buy things you can only get through MLMs. They are very popular among my coworkers (assuming all the rules regarding computer use are followed, of course).

  • WinkAndSmile September 7, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Sometimes, I really like those products, and am interested when a new catalog is available, and I can place orders. I think, however, the best way to do it is to actually socialize with the co-workers, say during lunch and break time, and during the course of the socialization, mention that you sell Avon, or whatever, on the side, and if they’re interested, you’ll be happy to put them on your contact list. Then, whenever there is a new catalog, you can contact the interested parties, directly.

    Or, if you are the “host” of the party, rather than the vendor, you can mention to your friends that you are planning such a party sometime in the future (don’t give out dates or information), and ask them if they are interested in the products. If they are, put them on the contact list, and contact them ONLY if they’ve already expressed an interest. That way, when you are ready to arrange your party, either as a social event or just a catalog “party,” then everyone involved knows what is up, and won’t take offense, and they can get the products they want.

    Trust me – a bit of real socialization and just putting the information out there that you are involved in the product, either as a vendor or as a host, will be sufficient. Office gossip is such that the word will get around and anyone who is actually interested will likely contact you.

    Finally, you can leave a single catalog in the break room, with your name, number, and address on it, so that anyone who sees it and wants to purchase can contact you, even if they have not yet met you. But be sure to check with your boss, first, if this is OK with company policy.

    Always check on the company policy about solicitation. Some companies don’t care, and others do. If your company DOES care, be sure to do all your contacting about catalogs and parties to the people’s homes, via regular mail. If the company doesn’t care, then feel free to use your lunch break to deliver the catalogs and order forms, or invitations to an actual event. Deliver them by hand, so you are not using company mail, and resources, and you can’t get dinged for using company email, either. Never, under any circumstances, send an email from work about this. If email is necessary, send it from your personal email address, preferably to your customers’ personal emails, as well.

    I don’t have any problem with these “parties” as such, so long as everyone knows what it’s all about, and they’re actually interested in the products. Moreover, one should socialize with the “guests” at these “parties” on a real basis, having lunch or dinner together, inviting them to an actual party where no sales take place, and other activities, so that when you throw a sales party, people don’t think you’re only interested in their wallets, because you’ve already shown them that you are interested in the people, for real.

    On those rare occasions I do such a party, I provide catalogs in advance, so that people can see if there is anything worth their while. If they see something interesting and want to know more, then it’s worth coming, just as it would be worthwhile going to the mall to buy something they desired. If there is nothing in the catalog to interest them, then they know in advance, and don’t waste their time by attending a sales pitch. Also, I do provide good food and some fun activities, as well as small gifts, for those who attend. But everyone knows, in advance, that it’s a sales pitch, and what is being demonstrated. And I don’t invite people I haven’t socialized with before, just for the pleasure of their company.

    Surprise sales parties, where people expect socialization and are then bombarded with sales pitches, instead, are heinous.

  • Ergala September 8, 2012, 8:46 am

    I am a consultant for a direct sales company….however we are not a pyramid scheme…it’s all commissioned based. I earn 25% in what I sell. However, I can tell you that the most popular form of “party” I book is a basket party. I put testers (wickless candles. I have small testers of all the scents), a warmer and some other products the company sells into a basket or tote. With it goes a binder with FAQs, order forms and fliers. They also get several catalogs. They typically have the basket/tote for 2 weeks and at the end of their “party” I process all the orders. Most bring it to work and have it at their desk and people come check it out. And they have friends come over to their house. This way they are just perusing on their own. People much prefer this over me standing in their living room giving a demonstration.

    However my own personal little guilty pleasure is going to parties! I love it! The socialization, samples, testing out products…I love it!

    To the poster who said they would do a virtual order for the virtual party….I find that quite rude. I had one hostess who had someone say they wanted to order X Y Z from her. I can’t process the order until I have the money. The person never paid up and it made her lose hostess benefits. I find it rude to say you are going to order something and go through all the motions to do so, then not follow through. You don’t want to order, don’t. But saying you are going to purchase with the full intention of NOT actually completing the order is the same as lying in my book.

  • Kimberly September 14, 2012, 1:26 pm

    I, for one, prefer “book” parties! Anyone here ever sit for 2 hours listening to tupperware burp? Or listen to the ingredients in a beauty product and what the sellers husband said about her hands after she used the product? About 30 minutes in I’m ready to slit my wrists!!!! And the cake and coffee doesn’t help one bit!!! If I want to purchase the product, I prefer to look at a catalog and order!

  • barbarian September 22, 2012, 5:03 am

    I worked as a temp in a high level dept of a well known national corporation. Women who never spoke a word to me during my entire assignment still relentlessly captured my work e-mail and everyone else’s to sell candles, makeup, cooking stuff, etc.\

    I treated them all like junk mail.

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