Direct Sales Parties Lost Popularity Because of Internet Alternatives

The Demise of Home Decor Direct Sales Parties

Home Decor Direct Sales Parties No Longer Popular

If you’ve been doing home decor stuff over the last couple decades, you might remember a company called Home Interiors and Gifts, a direct sales company focused on craftsy stuff that women love. The former giant player in the home decor industry saw its growth peak in 2003, when it reached $615 million in sales on products that ranged from tea pots to decorations for holidays and special events. Over the years that followed 2003, direct sales and the party environment quickly weakened for companies like Home Interiors and Gifts. The next several years saw decreases in sales for Home Interiors and Gifts, which served as an index of the overall home decor party direct sales market. By 2007, their sales had dropped to less than half of their peak.  By 2008, the company declared bankruptcy. Home Interiors and most of its subsidiaries (its Canadian and Mexican affiliates along with one subsidiary, Dormistyle Inc., were excluded from the bankruptcy) were reeling, and the company would never recover.

So what happened to companies like Home Interior and Gifts and others who used the direct sales, home party format to promote their goods? The answer is pretty obvious. eBay happened. Amazon happened. Etsy happened. As these and other forums for selling products, especially hand made home decor products, became popular, the demand for direct sales parties quickly tapered off. It is common that home decor products (as with other MLM models) sold at direct sales parties are overpriced. When there were not abundant alternatives for finding that perfect centerpiece or that quaint rug available through direct sales channels, people were willing to overpay. However, as the general population became progressively accustomed to purchasing online, even niche products, it became harder for people to justify spending 30%,40%, even double the retail price at parties for products similar to ones they could find on one of the retail, auction, or niche shopping websites.

What About Retail Stores?

If the once-titanic home party market couldn’t survive the move to online purchasing habits, what about retail stores? Are they next?

Many retailers have had to adjust their strategies to compete with online offerings. However, brick-and-mortar retail have generally operated very different from home party networks. Prices at retailers have been kept competitive with other local retail stores. Home decor purchases made at home parties were often influenced by emotional impulses and peer pressure. Retail store purchases, although still generally more expensive than online purchases, are still often considered to be fair.

My wife has come direct sales home parties with a $50 pair of earrings, for example, that were probably worth half that much. Why? Because she felt empathy for the neighbor or friend who threw the party and invited her, and because she couldn’t eat the cheesecake and drink the hot chocolate served at the party and feel justified not purchasing something in return. There was a feeling of being “shamed” into spending more money than desired on products that at least filled some kind of jewelry or home decor need.

At some point in the early 2000’s, the balance of purchasing influence moved away from the void being filled by home parties and towards the easy, private, less-pressure environment involved with purchasing online.

Retail stores still have their advantages, including satisfying the impulse buy, need-it-now niche as well as fulfilling the demand for the local shopping “experience”. 

Hosting an Afternoon Tea Party

A couple of years ago, I decided that I needed to do something special for my daughter. She is the oldest of five, and the only girl in our family. I am not quite sure how she could ever get tired of her role as queen of the castle (the boys will do just about anything for her and listen to her more than their own parents), but somehow her unanswered pleas for a sister have left a void that I was hoping to soften with some girl time. After some thinking, I decided to host a mother/daughter tea party every spring. This event is now one of the highlights of each year. If you want to make some special memories with your daughter, I would highly recommend organizing your own tea party.

Here are some helps to get you on your way to hosting a successful tea party. I would recommend making a new plan with your daughter each year. You will be able to bond so much more with your daughter if you work together in the decision making and planning. First of all, you need to decide what kind of tea party you would like to have. There are a range of options from formal to casual and everything in between. The location of your party is a factor that will really influence this decision. For example, the first year, we hosted an indoor tea party. Guests did dress up some, but because we invited a large number of people and could not seat everyone at tables, the tea party was quite casual. The second year, we decided to host a garden tea party. For this one, we set up tables outdoors with place settings already arranged for the guests. This one was able to take on a more formal feel.

Tea parties are typically held in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. This idea dates back to the origins of afternoon tea in England. You may not know that afternoon tea began in England in 1840 when Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, complained of being hungry in the late afternoon. At the time, people traditionally did not eat dinner until quite late. She started having tea and snacks brought to her to tie her over until dinner, and then began inviting friends to join her. Soon it became common as fashionable society followed suit. So, if you want to be traditional, you should have your tea party somewhere around 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. But, let’s be honest, a social gathering is fun any time of day, so don’t feel handcuffed by these time constraints.

Consider if you want a theme for your tea party. This is where you can really get creative and have a lot of fun. Maybe you would like everyone to wear a fancy hat, or perhaps you hope to adopt a mad hatter style tea time from Alice in Wonderland. Before you think about invitations or decorations, you will want to settle on your theme so everything will coordinate nicely. The first year, we chose a cottage theme. The second year, we opted for a Victorian style tea party. You can find a list of theme ideas here.

Next, you need to send out invitations. Remember that guests will look for clues on what to expect at the tea party by the look and feel of your invitations. Wording is important, but the style of your invitations should also make a clear statement about the type of tea party you are hosting. You will want to send out invitations to arrive about two weeks before the event. Not too late for planning purposes, but not so early that the party is quickly forgotten. You can verbally tell your guests about the upcoming event before then if you choose, but that should not replace a formal invitation. Now days, it is completely appropriate to send out electronic invitations by email or to select groups using social media. In fact, using electronic invitations is a great way to save on the costs of your party.

You may decide that you want your guests to follow traditional tea party rules, or at least a few of them. It has been my experience that little girls love to feel like they are doing grownup things the “correct” way. They will probably want to know how they should hold their tea cup and which foods to eat first. These little details add to the magic of the experience. If you decide that you do want your guests to use proper tea party etiquette, consider sending a list of rules you plan to follow with your invitations. You can also post these at your tea party. There are varying versions of tea party rules all over the internet. These are the ones we decided to follow.

Setting up for your tea party should be very fun, and it doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Just remember that little details make a good party great. Of course, your decorations and set up will depend on your theme. Pinterest is a good place to look for ideas. This year, we decided that for our formal style tea party that we wanted everyone to have real tea sets. I made a trip to our local thrift store and picked up enough tea sets so everyone could eat and drink on real china. This was just a little detail that made a huge impact. The little girls had so much fun and felt very special to be trusted with fine china. And since the dishes were all from the thrift store, no one had to stress about breaking anything.

An important part of the tea party is of course food. If you are serving hot tea, you will need to make sure you have enough hot water for everyone at your tables when the party starts. This can take a bit of planning for a large group, so it may be better to reserve hot beverages for a small tea party. Not into hot tea? No worries, try another drink such as iced tea. My daughter requested ice cold lemonade. Tea parties are typically characterized by finger foods such as finger sandwiches, quiche, fruits and veggies, eclairs, and petit fours. Not every dish has to be a finger food. You could, for example, serve dainty dishes of mousse, but, think small portions for afternoon tea. You may choose to prepare and set out all the food for the party yourself. This is of course a great way to make sure everything is beautiful and just how you want it when the party starts. Both years we have held tea parties, we asked our guests to each bring a dish to share, and gave suggestions of what to bring. We found that is worked out great! Since we have had 30 to 40 guests at our tea parties, pot luck style food has worked best for us, and our guests seemed excited to pick out and bring a creative finger food to share. I think it adds to the anticipation and excitement when all the girls get to take part in the preparation.

So, what do you think? Have you hosted or attended a tea party before? What are your favorite ideas? We would love to heard about your tea party experiences.