Oh crap! I completely forgot my green bag.
Our brand new bungalow was modest, but it had a lovely kitchen. The perimeter was lined with ceiling-high espresso colored cabinets and the stainless steel Kenmore Elite appliances added a fun industrial splash to the modern decor. We had a large island in the middle and last spring we upgraded the chocolate flecked laminate to a beautiful white and charcoal granite. Two large apothecary jars filled with fake limes and lemons sat center on the island and next to them, my bag. I had it there front and center on purpose so that I wouldn’t forget it.
I stood with my back to them in Maria’s kitchen. My kitchen was thirty minutes away. I felt their eyes on me. They had been chatting loudly—a little obnoxiously—and suddenly it stopped. I turned, smiled and told them I had a few more things to put together before we got started. One of them—Bella, I think—eyed me as she sipped her Paralyzer. She wasn’t buying it but kept quiet. The rest were happy to get back to chatting about recent gossip—some guy who owned an oil business in town was caught cheating on his wife and she had recently kicked him out. It backfired on her because he was happy to go and immediately moved in with the woman he was seeing. He served his wife a few days later with the divorce papers. She was actually supposed to be here but was in such a state she cancelled. They talked about it with a sense of joy. Like one couple’s fail asserted their squeaky clean spot in society.
I surveyed my situation. My inventory was there boxed up in reused boxes from the company, my kit with all of my demo products sat on the counter, but the large green bag that had the door prizes, games, sales tickets, referral papers, money, raffle tickets, pens and my date book wasn’t here. I cursed myself silently. This was not the party to screw up and these were not the women I wanted seeing me struggle.
Three years ago I signed my agreement to become a Jolie Rose consultant. It was a three, two, one decision but one I was confident to make. I liked the products and I wanted something extra in my life. I was raising a little boy, bored and my husband was always gone. Most people didn’t know me as anything other than “Dan’s wife.” That’s it. My mom had even come to visit and told the local banker she was visiting her daughter Tracee and he had looked blankly at her until she said, Dan’s wife? And the banker had smiled and said, oh yea, her.
To the horror of many—especially my mother—I started my Jolie Rose business and went all in with it. I ordered one of the highest inventory levels, set up a bonafide office in our brand new home and made plans to get from zero to hero as quickly as possible. Most of my family laughed behind my back but smiled to my face. Friends did about the same. I had no contacts and no sales starting out so as far as I was concerned, there was nowhere to go but up.
Up in direct selling is a tough climb. Lots of people won’t tell you that. They smile and pretend it’s easy peasy lemon squeezy and promise the money will fall into your lap. It won’t. It takes a lot of work, tenacity, guts, tears, fire, smarts. I have to say, those that succeed in direct sales should be at the top of corporate head-hunters’ list of prospects. You’ve got a group of people who don’t have a safety net if they fail—no cozy insurance cushion or guaranteed weekly checks, or 401K or paid lunches or free gadgets at their fingertips or reimbursements or holiday pay or sick days or all those other things miserable corporate people take for granted. I’d been on both ends and let me tell you when it comes to security, they have it made in the shade.
The direct selling business requires obnoxious organization, business savvy, people skills, compassion, humbleness, perseverance, discipline, strategy and an accountability to yourself. No one tells you to do anything—you tell yourself. That’s why so many people can’t do it—people in general are much better at being accountable to others than holding themselves accountable.
Before I had signed my agreement I read and read on all the people spewing their misery and hatred for network marketing into the world-wide web. They blamed the structure and the companies. I found this shocking—and lame. That’s like blaming the bus that goes barreling into the crowd of pedestrians instead of the driver. But again, people don’t like taking accountability for themselves. It’s much easier to blame the bus. It’s a tough industry and it takes a certain person to be able to max it out. But if you can max it out—and I believed I could—it meant freedom, opportunity and fun I was desperately craving.
I believed I had all the qualities to become successful with the business but I just needed the right people to say yes to me—to let me into their homes to share my products. It took a couple of years and humble beginnings, but I got there.
I spent half a year at a different trade show in different cities across the southeast corner of my state to get new contacts. I’d wake up early, pack up my car and drive to the venue of the week. I’d haul all of my boxes in, try to get at least ten names per show and then haul all my boxes back to my car and drive anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. My Saturdays were spent standing in heels smiling at the people who would walk past. Most wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. I could never figure that out. It’s a trade show, what did you expect of it other than a bunch of direct sellers desperate to get a few names.
I remember one “party” turned out to be a mom and her four kids under the age of three in a desolate town in a four-story brick home that reminded me of the asylum for the criminally insane back in my hometown. Her husband was creeping around somewhere chopping wood out back. I was banking on getting murdered that night. I didn’t. I also didn’t sell a single product.
Another night I went to a group of young women about forty minutes away who I thought would be a great group for my business. They were stylish, fun and if they loved a makeup product, they’d tell all their friends. I was in a trailer park doling out moisturizer into my little trays that were sitting on speaker boxes—they didn’t have a table—when the cops busted the party thinking I was a drug dealer. Imagine the look on that officer’s face when me, Suzy homemaker, answers the door in my Jolie Rose beauty coat, black skirt and pantyhose. I asked if he wanted to come in for a makeover. He was mortified. I kind of wanted to die too.
One time I had a group of women that I was positive would blow my business wide open. They were all sharp women around my age and well connected with the community through al of their kids’ athletic activities. It was a large party and I had referrals and dollar signs in my eyes. If I was a few years older, I would’ve known better. My boy was still so young. These women had multiple kids over the age of three and were out for the first time together in months. They got hammered and I don’t think I ended up showing a single product. I sat in the corner and ended up waiting on them and helping clean up. That night I almost burned my Jolie Rose bag when I arrived home.
I had an incredible woman lined up to be on my team a few months into my business. I had to drive an hour and a half to meet with her but it was worth it. She was asking all the right questions and reached out to me to get together. We had the coffee date planned for over a week and I had just confirmed with her that morning—she told me she was so excited to chat. As I pulled into the city after my ninety minute drive, she texted me cancelling. She never responded to me again after that text. I literally turned around and drove home.
It’s not an easy gig. I had plenty more situations like that but for all the rain, there were the rainbows. The no’s they threw at me made it possible for the yes’s and for the nights that I kept Dan up talking for hours because I was so lit about my business. It grew and slowly my reputation did too—not as the crazy lady in direct sales—but as the woman who was actually doing something with it. They saw consultants in my unit having fun and genuinely making money. They saw me posting my success stories to Facebook—how can you ignore five diamond rings in less than four years? They saw me on a top company trip to Italy. They heard the figures I was bring in—five thousand, ten, fifteen thousand a month. Then they saw the silver Range Rover with Jolie Rose written on the back. A one-of-a-kind built just for me. That’s when the doors started to open—doors like Maria Benston’s.
They always talk about my business as a pyramid scheme, but the real pyramid scheme is the social climb. Maria was at the top of the pyramid looking down on us all through her falsely lashed brown eyes. She came from money and married money—someone told me that was strategic and not love. They owned half the businesses in town and her husband had dealings with a gas company out in Calgary. They had two sets of twin girls who were already as pretty as their mama. She wore only Alo leggings, carried any assortment of Louis Vuitton bags—but always Louie—drove a custom pale blue Lincoln Navigator. Her left bicep must’ve been significantly larger than her right from lifting her hand with that rock so beautifully dangling from her ring finger. I don’t know how she managed to wear sweaters without tearing holes in them—not that she would care, she could just buy more.
She had agreed to a party after we ran into them one night. Dan and I had snuck away for a rare date night to Barcelona Steakhouse. Dan was up and coming and certainly holding his own in his business dealings. People knew of him and what he had done the last few years and it felt a little like people were watching us—he with his business booming and me—this crazy direct sales woman—who was actually quite successful. We were unintentionally moving up the pyramid. Dan chatted with Logan for a bit and we ended up having dinner together. Maria was drilling me with questions and trying to constantly assert her position as my superior. I smiled and let her think whatever she wanted—I wasn’t interested in playing in Maria’s circle. But this is what happened often to me. I was one person during my business—hungry for success and always climbing and looking for my next best move—but I was another person when I took off the beauty coat. I wasn’t interested in social climbing or people who thought they were a big deal. I had no desire to cater to stupid social circles or pretend I gave a rip about Maria’s brand new Lincoln. I was likely coming off rather aloof to her until she mentioned my lipstick.
“Stunning. What is that?” She asked stirring her cosmo with a blood red nail.
I put down my wine and made a calculated decision. Play it off and get out of this now or lay it on and see what could come of it for my business.
“Jolie Rose in Juiciest Peach. It’s brand new and won’t hit the market for another few months, but I could get one for you.” I smiled at her as I sipped my wine.
Just like that she was a customer. She bought up product after product over the next few months and after spending well over a grand on my makeup, I convinced her to try my skincare along with some of her closest friends.
“I don’t want this to be like a typical party, Tracee. I’m trusting you not to be one of those Jolie Rose ladies I love to make fun of.”
I had to always count to ten in my head to calm myself after these condescending conversations. They took place more than I’d like to admit. Some days I wanted tell her she was acting like a brat. That I knew Logan was in trouble with the government—my husband had told me and very few people knew—or tell her the foundation she insisted on buying from me despite my warnings it was too dark made her look like she fell asleep in a tanning bed. I really didn’t like her. Instead, I smiled and assured her it would be flawless like her makeup.
The day of her party arrived. I had gone to great lengths and pains to make it perfect. I personally made sure my outfit and makeup were on point—these women would already have a preconceived notion of me as a “Jolie Rose rep” and I wanted to quash that—not just for me, but for my team members so that maybe it would be a little bit easier on them than it had been for me. I packed my best door prizes, made sure I brought new bottles of my favorite products to share, grabbed my favorite bottle of wine and individual thank you notes for each of the women attending. I put a lot of love into every party I did, but this was the last group of women I had yet to welcome into my customer base. I needed it to go well. One right connection could set you up for life but one wrong move could leave your date book empty.
“Tracee, can we please get started? I have a sitter home with my children and I can’t be out all night.”
I forgot the name of the woman saying this, Jessica, maybe? I turned to see her staring at me with her head tilted and an annoyed look on her face. I noted her foundation was wrong and she was coming off a bit orange, but my foundation samples were also in my bag, at home. Not like she’d listen to me. It must be a thing in this group to wear foundation in the wrong shade.
There was silence as the five woman looked at me. I was behind the island and they were on barstools on the other side about a foot higher, looking down on me. I turned to where my bag wasn’t, took a deep breath, adjusted the tie on my beauty coat, said a silent prayer, turned around smiling and said the only thing I could think of to say to the wolves staring at their prey.