The Life Cycle of a Direct Selling Company

May 17, 2022
By Chuck Thompson, Chief Consultant Engagement Officer, Scentsy

We sometimes learn more about our company and ourselves when the business is in decline and during those pivotal, humbling moments as we work toward the next ascent.

My journey in direct selling started in 2006 when Scentsy Co-CEO Orville Thompson asked me to join the company to focus on building the accounting department. Being part of those early years meant taking on several roles that included working directly with our field. Over time, I moved from my role as CFO to Chief Culture Officer and now as Chief Consultant Engagement Officer. I have been privileged to be part of the senior management team through the highs, lows, and everything in between.

As Orville discussed at a 2020 DSA presentation, all direct selling companies go through predictable stages of development and maturity: launch, tip, hypergrowth, dip, and then—for companies lucky and tenacious enough—renewal. While every company experiences these stages differently, we can learn valuable lessons during every phase of the business cycle.

While I was not yet with Scentsy during its launch, I was here for the tip, the period between launch and hypergrowth. It was exciting to watch so many people falling in love with our product and sharing and expressing what we came to call “Scentsy Spirit”—the embodiment of our culture.

In our business, culture is everything. In the book As a Man Thinketh, British philosopher James Allen observed that we do not attract what we want, we attract what we are. The cultural pillars of Scentsy—established by Co-CEOs Heidi and Orville Thompson when Scentsy launched in 2004— continue to reflect who they are, not just what they aspired to be. As the years passed and Scentsy grew through the launch, tip, and hypergrowth phases, we attracted employees and consultants who aligned with our culture.

The key elements of our culture include the core values of Simplicity, Authenticity, and Generosity. Our mission statement is, “To bring value to the world by providing an industry-leading, family-friendly business opportunity.” Our motto is, “Contribute more than you take.” Collectively, this means we aim for simplicity in all that we do, we accept people as they are, and we contribute to others more than we take from them.

So, what does this have to do with the life cycle of a direct selling company?

In business, there is really no such thing as maintaining. We are either in a state of growth or a state of decline. One thing we have learned over the years is that growing or declining as a business is not always reflected in the numbers. In fact, often what the world sees is the result of an organization growing or declining. It’s the fruit of our labor manifested in our results.

Scentsy is one of the fortunate direct selling companies that hit hypergrowth relatively quickly. From our launch in July 2004 through 2006, when I started, the company experienced amazing growth, going from $0 to around $2 million in the first eighteen months. By the end of 2006, about 500 consultants with a combined revenue of a little more than $2 million had joined the company.

Even at that early stage, Orville had put together what turned out to be an extremely simple, yet reliable forecasting model based on only a few key data points. Over time, we found it could predict our future sales and field growth, as well as pending declines, with surprising accuracy. We could see changes coming far enough in advance to adjust the plans in a proactive way. We learned to trust data, and this allowed us to stay profitable and financially strong as the inevitable ups and downs happened. The model also helped us manage growth and smooth out those dips when they occurred.

I remember one night in the spring of 2007 when Orville and I were going over the long-term projections that the model had revealed. Scentsy was in the early stages of hypergrowth. We were preparing to expand into larger facilities while planning for our longer-term needs. At the time, we projected our data model out through 2012. Those data projections helped guide us into what type of facility we would need to support our long-term growth. We did not want to be moving in reaction to growth, we wanted to be preparing for it in advance.

I had forgotten about that 2007 conversation until 2012 when Orville reminded me of it and those early projections. Back in 2007, when we had a little more than 1,000 Consultants and were embarking on what would be a $13 million year, we had boldly projected $600 million in sales for 2012. We missed that five-year-old projection by only about 10 percent and ended what was to be our best sales year for a few years to come at about $560 million.

And yet, 2012 was not the best year for our company’s culture and our connection to the field. In fact, it was a dangerous time. We were flying high in continued hypergrowth. DSA spotlighted us frequently at its events, and we won awards. And while many of those accolades were deserved, we were beginning to think we could do no wrong. We were sowing the seeds of a deepening decline even as we were continuing to see sales growth. Our model served us well—we could see a decline coming. But our own hubris, based on continued success and praise, had convinced us that we could reverse that potential outcome and avoid declines altogether. We took our eyes off what really made us successful: our dedication to simplicity and our mission to support our consultants as they grow their businesses.

Predictably, our dip came in 2013. During that time, the entire executive team was very busy presenting ideas for what our individual departments could do to return to growth. We were in meeting after meeting, drawing on the whiteboards and sharing our department visions and plans for the coming year, each of us knowing we had the answer. But we were still missing something.

Fortunately, we are led by two of the most amazing people. In the middle of one of those meetings, Heidi stopped us all and asked this piercing question, “What does any of this have to do with consultants and our culture? What grades do we give ourselves on doing what is most important?” It was like having ice dumped on our heads, waking us all up. In the space of several hours together, we completely changed everything we had planned. We rededicated ourselves to our culture and our core purpose, supporting our consultants—even if we had lost sight of it for a season.

Humbled by our dip, and with Heidi’s guidance and advocacy for our culture and our field, we realized that if we did not return to a focus on our culture—the very thing that made consultants want to stay, grow their teams, and become ambassadors and stewards of Scentsy—the declines would be permanent.

In retrospect, our dip was one of the greatest blessings that could have happened to us as an executive team and as a company. The seeds of decline are most often planted at a time of abundance. Those inevitable dips are important focal points that either destroy or make a great organization. To this day, we remind ourselves of our prior difficulties to help us stay true to who we are as a company.

We strive never to forget the lessons learned in that first dip. Especially as our company, along with many others in our industry, doubled in size from 2019 to 2021. After such incredible hypergrowth, and with a continued focus on our culture, I know we can weather the next dip and continue bringing value to the world and to our most important assets: Scentsy Consultants.
  • May 2022
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