Peddling is the oldest known form of direct selling, but some of today’s biggest companies in the field are long established – German household appliances company Vorwerk (owner of food processor Thermomix) was founded in 1883, while the American cosmetics firm Avon was set up just three years later.
Tupperware parties did not begin until 1946, and the industry hit its boom time in the’60s, when beauty companies Amway, Mary Kay, Belcorp and Oriflame, all set up shop.
According to the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, the global industry is now worth nearly US$188 billion: the US has 20 per cent of the market with 51 registered direct selling companies. China has a fast-growing 19 per cent, Korea 9 per cent, Germany and Japan 8 per cent each and Brazil 5 per cent.
According to a spokesperson for the USA Direct Selling Association, the median annual income in America was $2,400 in 2011 – but some 89 per cent of sellers work part-time, most less than 10 hours a week.
Direct selling is still not big in the Mena region, with $1.3 billion in sales: Morocco is the biggest market.
China, according to Direct Selling News, is expected to eclipse the US by the end of next year. It has 78 licensed companies today, a figure that has almost doubled in just two years. Infinitus, Perfect, Tiens and New Era are the biggest names in the market. In 2014, the Chinese subsidiary of Nu Skin, an American direct selling business, brought 18,000 of its sellers to Dubai for a corporate event, the biggest of its kind.