After putting herself through college and earning two degrees, Phyllis Luther thought she had done what she needed to create some great career opportunities.

“I thought all the doors would open up and things would be amazing.”

Instead, Phyllis found she was working 45 hours a week as a research analyst—and hating every minute of it. Worse, she realized that in the tiny blue-collar, low-income town of Homer City, Pennsylvania, where she lived (pop. 1300), there were no better job opportunities.

“I was a lousy employee,” says Phyllis, able to laugh about it now. “I would wake up every day and say, ‘Okayyyy…what reason can we think of today that we can’t go to work?’ Weekends were playing catch-up, trying to cook meals ahead of time. I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is what life is.’ ”

When Phyllis became pregnant, she and her husband Ron decided she would work up until she was nine months pregnant, then quit to become a stay-at-home mom.

“I found caring for a baby very doable,” says Phyllis, “and pretty soon I had all sorts of time on my hands. I redid every room in the house. After about fours months I’d done everything—and I was bored. I would look at the kitchen floor and say, ‘I should really mop this…but, eh, it’ll still be here tomorrow.’ ”

She had gone from having no free time, to having nothing but! She needed something to do—but in Homer City, Pennsylvania, what was there?

 

It All Started with a Party

One night a girlfriend invited Phyllis to a home party for her direct selling business.

“I knew nothing at all about it,” recalls Phyllis, “and I went with a pretty bad attitude: If I have to buy a lip stick to be nice, I will….

Phyllis didn’t buy a thing at the party, but she did find a product that intrigued her.

“They had an amazing product for your skin, which they offered as a premium for doing a home party. I quickly scheduled a party at my home, purely so I could get that product.”

The area where Phyllis lived was so rural, the consultant had to drive an hour and a half to get there. As they were cleaning up after the party, the woman started talking about her baby, who was then just six months old—the same age as Phyllis’s son, Christopher.

“I asked her, ‘How do you do this, with a baby?’ She told me, ‘It’s great! I can be home all day long, a few nights a week I go out for sanity, I come home and I’m a better mother for it. And have my own money!’

“That’s what did it. If she had said, ‘You can win trips and make tons of money,’ it wouldn’t have reached me. But with a few words, she had painted a lifestyle I completely related to. She hit my hot button.”

After thinking it over for a week, Phyllis decided to give it a go. A few days later, she put on her first party with her next door neighbor.

“A normal party lasts for about two hours; this one took about 45 minutes! I held up a jar and said, ‘Put this on, isn’t it nice?’ Then held up another: ‘This is good, put it on.’ I had absolutely no idea what to do.

Total sales were $211, netting Phyllis a profit of over $100—and two out of the three guests booked parties of their own.

“I came running across the yard to my husband and shouted, ‘I made a hundred dollars!’ Then panic set in—now I had to actually figure out how this thing works!”

 

“If I Can Do It, Anyone Can Do It”

As Phyllis recounts her story, it’s almost hard to keep track of all the strikes that seemed to be against her succeeding in her new business.

For one thing, she hardly knew anyone in her town.

“I was born in New Mexico, lived in Michigan and many other locations around the country. When I started my business, I knew I had to book parties—but I knew literally five women in my area, and had no family to rely on.”

For another, she had no background whatsoever in sales or business, and no upline or support team in the area to show her the ropes.

“I’d never sold anything in my life. There was no training. I pretty much had to learn how it worked on my own. I never went to a meeting until I was teaching one!”

For yet another, she had a six-month-old child.

“Oh, and here’s one more,” she adds. “After giving birth to Christopher, when I was home and bored, I gained 85 pounds. Here I was in a business of skin care and cosmetics, where you’re supposed to look good—and I’m five foot two and weigh 236 pounds.”

She carried the extra weight for another eight or nine years, until she finally decided to do something about it and I lost about 100 pounds.

“But when I was starting out, I sure didn’t look the part. I wouldn’t have sponsored me! You hear people say, ‘If I can do it, anybody can do it.’ In my case, it’s really true!”

So with all those strikes against her, what was it that worked? Phyllis has an answer, in one word.

“Determination.”

She focused on using her parties to get more bookings, because she didn’t know anyone else; her parties were her only resource. Also, while the company had an extensive product line, Phyllis decided to hone in on a single product—that skin care product that had originally caught her interest.

“I knew that what got me to schedule that first party was this particular product, so without knowing anything else, I decided to focus on that.”

And focus she did. She held her first party in October, 1979; by New Years, Phyllis knew that this business was exactly what she wanted.

“It perfectly met my needs. I wanted to stay home with Christopher, but I had to do something, and there were no opportunities where we lived for part-time work. This was my salvation.”

Now, Phyllis could be with her son all day long, and in the evenings, she could dress up and go out to do a party while her husband Ron stayed home with Christopher.

“And I soon found I loved the social part of it. I loved going out and doing those parties!”

That January, she drove about two hours to attend her first event.

“At the meeting, they talked about some trip to California you could earn. I decided I wanted to win the trip—so I started sponsoring people. Not for exactly the right reasons!—but it got me going, growing my business.” She pauses for a moment, then adds, “And I did earn that trip!”

 

A Thousand People Later

In the years since then, Phyllis has recruited well over 1000 people and grown an enormous organization—pretty much all right in her area.

Even today, after more than 25 years since giving that first party at her neighbor’s home, Phyllis derives 98 percent of her business from holding parties locally, and from the bookings that come from those parties.

“Here’s the beauty of that,” she explains: “anyone can do that. Not everyone can go up to strangers and start a conversation that leads to the business. Besides, I think that’s the hard way to do it. If you are at my party tonight, you see what I do with your own eyes. You already understand the products, because you’re using them. You’re seeing the job description right in front you.

“It’s easy to sponsor this way. At the end of the party, I can say, ‘You know, John, you ought to think about doing something like this.’ But if I meet you in a restaurant and say, ‘You know, you have a great personality, John, you really ought to think about doing something like what I do…’—then I have to explain what my business is, show you the product line, teach you how you do a party…there’s so much to explain before you even really know what I’m talking about.

Phyllis acknowledges that there are many different ways to build a business, but she sticks with what has worked for her.

“You can do trade shows, lead generation, sourcing, talking to waitresses in restaurants—but I hardly ever do any of that. I’ll use approaches like that once in a while, to show another consultant the different ways that can work. I have sponsored people at trade shows. But the vast majority of my business comes from teaching the parties.

“To me, that’s the most important aspect of the business, because you’re always getting people who will bring you more people. You can earn immediate income, build bookings for the future, and train consultants by observing—and far less phone follow-through. In 25 years, I’ve never found another way that is faster or easier.”

 

Growing a Legacy

The week we spoke with Phyllis, her company had a camera crew filming at her home. They were shooting a “lifestyle” segment on Phyllis and her family for a company DVD they’re preparing to unveil in the Bahamas this August.

At one point in the filming, the crew interviewed Phyllis’s son Christopher, who at age 26 is now an investment planner and financial planner. Phyllis was stunned to hear him describe his experiences being raised in a party-plan household.

“It was amazing, because I normally never hear him talk about this. He said that my business taught him work ethic, taught him about dealing with the public, about dealing with disappointments, about how to deal with outrageous highs and incredible lows and continue no matter what. He said that in his own work, he applies the things he learned watching me.

“For many kids, what mom and dad do at work is a mystery, because they never see it happening. But Christopher watched the whole thing unfold, right before his eyes. That’s one of the beauties of this kind of business. He knows.”

 

 

Changing Times

In the quarter-century she’s been holding and teaching parties, we ask, what has changed?

“Women today are busier; they don’t have the time to play around. The majority of consultants I sponsor today are already working a job and aren’t making ends meet. They need immediate money. There’s an enormous amount of credit card debt, and a lot more single mothers needing to support their household.”

In just the last several years, says Phyllis, the words she uses to describe the business have changed.

“I used to say, ‘Come get all these great products at cost, play around with it and see what you do with it.’ Now my recruiting presentation is more like this: ‘If you want to ease credit card debt, if you want to have financial security in the future, you need to look at this.’”

Phyllis also encourages her people not to lose their focus on the direct sales aspect of the business.

“That’s the easiest, fastest way to build your business. And even after your business grows, it’s important not to let managing others eclipse your own personal business.

She points out that people often start out strong, but then get absorbed in training others and let their own personal businesses start to fall off.
“Don’t slip into management mode, where you’re showing how to do it, but not actually doing it. Keep working your own business—because that’s where you continually find the new people.”

Phyllis offers this rule of thumb: Focus as much as 50 percent of your time on recruiting and training other people—but make sure you put at least 50 percent of your time and energy into building your personal business.