Sometimes, consumers need a little assistance when trying to resolve disputes with businesses, government agencies and other organizations. Call For Action (CFA) is an international, nonprofit network of consumer hotlines that connects people with the help they need to solve their problems.
In October, CFA held their Annual Conference in St. Louis, MO, where local office directors heard presentations on common consumer issues from companies like Google, AT&T and Visa. DSEF was a conference sponsor, and Director of Consumer Initiatives Regina Clay spoke to the group about the Foundation, the direct selling industry, DSA’s Code of Ethics and the differences between legitimate direct selling companies and illegal pyramid schemes.
“Your presentation was very informative and beneficial to our group—I received a lot of great feedback,” says Eduard Bartholme, CFA Executive Director. “Your willingness to share your expertise with our directors will help us to better assist consumers with problems.”
Call For Action partners with more than 25 local media outlets, and information collected by CFA on trends and new frauds affecting consumers is used by radio, newspaper and television partners to prepare news reports. CFA information is also provided to consumer protection agencies and regulators. More than 1,000 volunteer professionals donate over 300,000 hours a year to help consumers in need.
DSEF’s most recent Campus Event at Florida State University (FSU) showcased one company’s extraordinary commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Randi Farina, Vice President of Business Development of Living Fresh Collection, shared her company’s story with more than 500 FSU students on October 22.
“College students are aware of the competition in today’s job market,” Randi says. “I was honored to be able to use my passion for the direct selling industry to share with them an opportunity they might not have otherwise considered. Being able to interact directly with them was a wonderful experience.”
Living Fresh Founders Diana Dobin Kauppinen and Michael Dobin created a healthy line of luxury linens made from Tencel+Plus™ Lyocell (fibers from eucalyptus). “It was amazing to see so many students at FSU share in our mission of sustainability, which gives us confidence in the next generation of business owners and entrepreneurs who truly want to make a difference,” Randi says.
That message resonated with American Marketing Association FSU Chapter President Marliese DeMauro. “Living Fresh’s sustainability tactics and mission to give back to the world are both admirable and inspirational,” she says. “I think any one of our members would be proud to work for such a company.”
Dr. Lucas Hopkins, FSU Professor of Marketing, hosted the Foundation’s event for his undergraduate students in two different courses and the AMA student meeting. “My classes thoroughly enjoyed the speaker’s presentation as it was a perfect blend of information about direct selling, background on her company and the concepts we discuss in class,” he says. “Randi’s talk was very refreshing and enjoyed by all!”
DSEF’s campus programs help students better understand direct selling, a global channel of distribution with annual revenues of more than $180 billion world-wide. “Randi’s presentation brought up a unique side of the marketing world that is sometimes overlooked by college students,” says Marliese. “I learned how the industry of direct selling plays a large role in strengthening today’s economy. It also has the ability to empower those individuals working in the field.”
DSEF campus programs are designed to go beyond the one-day interactions between executives, professors and students and create layers of value and opportunity. For students, additional benefits include talking first-hand to business professionals in their field, internships and experiential learning opportunities. After each presentation, Randi generously shared her time with every student who approached her and invited them to take a tour of Living Fresh Collection in their new, green business place.
Since 1989, DSEF has partnered with dozens of universities across the country to bring senior executives to campuses and classrooms. Direct selling company executives speak to students about their companies, the industry and the important issues and challenges relevant to most businesses. For professors, DSEF provides access to leading industry executives as well as access to industry data that can drive academic research. “The support we received from DSEF is quite extraordinary!” says Hopkins. “I am looking forward to having DSEF and companies like Living Fresh visit my classes again.”
Strategic investment in academic partnerships can challenge and enrich academic thinking about the direct selling industry. That’s why the Direct Selling Education Foundation created the Executive Guide to Academic Engagement. The Guide provides direct selling company executives all the information they need to partner with the Foundation on academic initiatives and serves as an executive resource for company-to-university partnership development.
Academic engagement, whether through the Foundation or on your own, can benefit your company in a variety of ways. Mary Kay is among the many companies that have experienced success through academic partnerships. “Sharing your company’s business model and leadership principles can lead to case studies at top business schools, sections in college textbooks and company brand awareness and image enhancement in your community and among academics and civic influencers,” says Kerry Tassopoulos, Mary Kay Vice President of Public Affairs, Compliance and Risk Management and DSEF Board Member Education Committee Chairman.
When the Foundation partners with professors on academic research, sponsors direct selling education programs on college campuses or provides students with experiential learning opportunities, there is much to be gained. ““By demonstrating that direct selling companies have the same business challenges as their traditional market counterparts and are competitive on a level playing field, you’re advancing understanding of your business—and of the industry,” says DSEF Director of Academic Initiatives, Kimberly Harris Bliton. “Joining DSEF in its academic engagement efforts brings direct selling to life for future leaders of business, finance and government, and the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
To complement the Guide and support direct selling executives in building presentations for the classroom, DSEF developed additional Campus Program resources, which are available for download.
“Through DSEF academic engagement, you’re not only benefitting your company and the direct selling industry, you’re providing professors and students with valuable opportunities,” “says DSEF Executive Director Gary Huggins. “Together we are demythifying the direct selling model and winning hearts and minds,”
Marking its second year as DSEF’s marquee fundraiser, the 2015 Experience of a Lifetime Auction includes a new twist: a Silent Auction to complement the Live Auction held at the Awards Gala on June 2. The decision to include a Silent Auction component resulted from the success of last year’s event, which remains among the most memorable fundraisers in DSEF history—and allows the Foundation to expand its work on behalf of the industry.
“Enhancing the reputation of the direct selling channel begins with advancing understanding of our unique business model,” explains Gary Huggins, DSEF Executive Director. “Through research, events, partnerships and education programs, DSEF helps establish the direct selling industry’s legitimacy to key audiences—but none of our work would be possible without the financial support of our donors.”
Last year’s event can be described as nothing less than epic. Truman Hunt, President and CEO, Nu Skin Enterprises, and Orville Thompson, CEO, Scentsy Inc. went head-to-head in a bidding war for the chance to attend an Orlando Magic game in the Founder’s Suite—as the guest of Amway’s Chief Sales Officer John Parker and President Doug DeVos. When the bidding topped $50,000, John, who also serves as DSEF Board Chair, agreed to offer the package twice, raising $100,000 for the Foundation in a matter of minutes.
Thanks to his winning auction bid, Truman and a group of Nu Skin executives joined John Parker and Doug DeVos in Orlando for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic. “Our friends at Amway treated our Nu Skin executive team to a VIP experience,” he said. “We thoroughly enjoyed getting a glimpse of the NBA locker rooms, state-of the art work-out facilities and sitting in the VIP box in the arena, however, the best part of the day was interacting with the Amway team. We enjoyed sharing common experiences, valuable insights and celebrating our common vision of improving people’s lives and making a difference in the world.”
The fun, camaraderie and healthy competition that characterized 2014’s Experience of a Lifetime auction are only part of the reason that DSEF moved to expand the 2015 effort.
“The proceeds from last year’s auction funded vital DSEF programs that made a compelling, value-driven case for direct selling such as DSEF’s recent Multi-Industry Self-Regulation Panel, Campus Days programs, and National Consumer Protection Weekefforts,” says Gary. “Programs like these show consumer protection advocates, regulators, educators and students the good our industry does wherever you find us. I thank all who participated last year, and look forward to an equally strong showing next week in San Antonio.”
The enduring excitement from 2014’s auction continues to drive anticipation for this year’s event. In reflecting upon last year’s auction, Traci Lynn Burton, Founder and CEO of Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry, recalls how her adrenaline took over when she submit the winning $5,000 bid for a skydiving adventure with USANA’s CEO Dave Wentz.
“This was a life changing experience!” Traci says. “So glad I made the ‘jump’ and, yes, I will do it again!”
DSEF’s programs and partnerships would not be possible without the support and engagement of our contributors and volunteers. Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House and a DSEF Board Member, is a tireless advocate for the Foundation. We recently spoke to Connie about her—and her company’s—involvement with the Foundation.
How did you become involved with DSEF?
I’m a great believer in the power of direct selling. I don’t know of any other industry that’s so rich in the range of opportunities it provides for individuals. I became active with the Direct Selling Association as a Board Member, and learned more about how the Foundation’s work reaches beyond the obvious stakeholders into the public arena. That was exciting – the opportunity to open minds and eyes to what this industry can do as a vehicle to entrepreneurship, personal/professional empowerment and realizing the American dream – all through the Foundation’s outreach.
How do DSEF programs help Princess House, its salesforce, and the industry?
I can honestly say that there is not one DSA company that doesn’t benefit from the DSEF, and that includes Princess House! Direct selling is an equal-opportunity business that benefits people regardless of background, culture, age and education. That means people who join our industry may have varying levels of education and professional/life experience.
The outreach programs the DSEF supports and/or conducts in collaboration with educators, consumer advocacy administrators and public policy makers are all meant to provide free, open access to information and education to everyone to equalize some of those potential knowledge gaps. The DSEF serves as a source for potential direct sellers and/or customers to find facts about the industry.
The Foundation’s Direct Selling Entrepreneur Program provides college students the opportunity to experience, learn and discover what entrepreneurship through direct selling means. The plus is that the skills sets that can be acquired through the course curriculum are transferable to any and all facets of business or corporate endeavors.
What specific DSEF programs are you most excited about?
In addition to the programs I mention above—the grassroots, face-to-face opportunities that DSEF provides for us—as industry stewards—to meet, engage and interact with future, would-be direct sellers are incomparable.
Participating in the University of Georgia’s Thinc Program recently gave me just that opportunity to be in the presence of our potential next generation direct sellers and plant some seeds, make some (hopefully, positive) impressions and correct some misconceptions or unfounded assumptions about what we do in the world of direct selling.
You’re involved with DSEF in so many ways: You serve on the Board of Directors, the Executive and the Development Committee; you’ve participated in many DSEF programs, including speaking to students last month at the University of Georgia; your company is a DSEF contributor and you also contribute personally. Why do you think it’s important to support the Foundation?
Direct selling is a powerful industry, but it’s also a misunderstood industry. The role of a “good will ambassador” like DSEF is important in saying to people who are looking at our products and our business opportunities, “This is a real, credible business that deserves your consideration.”
The role DSEF plays in supporting and communicating the ethical standards of the industry is very important. Any industry’s credibility comes from its adherence to a rigorous, fully articulated code of ethics. The credibility of DSEF is also reflected by the level of participants/participation and each one of us can directly impact that credibility in an upward and positive fashion.
For more than 25 years, DSEF’s Campus Days at colleges and universities across the country have connected direct selling executives with students and educators to advance understanding of our industry.
The Foundation’s most recent Campus Event on March 27 provided a powerful venue to shine a light on direct selling—both as a channel of distribution and as an entrepreneurial and opportunity. Connie Tang, CEO, Princess House, and Britney Vickery, Founder and CEO, Initials, Inc., were featured presenters during the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Thinc Week—an annual campus-wide initiative designed to inspire entrepreneurship among students and faculty.
Connie Tang, CEO, Princess House
“Participating in the UGA Thinc event was an exhilarating experience to meet, see, hear and talk to tomorrow’s entrepreneurs,” Connie said. “The opportunity to share insights to what independent business ownership means in our direct selling world hopefully opened their eyes to how our industry can be a vehicle to achieving their goal of being in business for themselves, which they might not have otherwise considered.”
DSEF Board Member and UGA Professor Dr. Brenda Cude hosted the Foundation presentations as part of “Start Something…On Your Own,” an event for undergraduate students in five different courses at UGA as well as students from Athens Technical College.
Britney and Connie shared their “real world” experience with more than 400 students who will be among tomorrow’s entrepreneurial and business leaders. “The enthusiasm, encouragement and strong personalities of these powerful women are so inspiring!” one student said. “I have always had an interest in starting my own business but was afraid to try as I don’t feel ‘smart enough.’ After hearing these women, I am motivated and driven to ask for help and live my dream.”
Britney and Connie capped off their visit with a panel discussion attended by more than 130 students as well as UGA faculty and staff. Rich McCline, Senior Public Service Associate for UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, moderated the panel.
“It was a remarkable day!” Britney said. “Not only was I given the platform to talk about being an entrepreneur, but I was also able to show students how I harnessed my passion for entrepreneurship through a very unique business model. Many of the students knew someone who had sold products through direct sales, but they had no idea how large and far reaching our industry was.”
The event featured opening remarks from Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and panelists from several industries—including Direct Selling Association President Joe Mariano. “This public forum not only demonstrated our industry’s commitment to ethics, it embodied the Foundation’s mission to advance understanding of the direct selling business model and our industry’s leadership role in consumer protection,” said Gary Huggins, DSEF Executive Director.
Kicking off the discussion, Commissioner Olhausen described ingredients necessary to successfully protect consumers. “Consumer expectations for transparency and corporate responsibility continue to evolve, so too must the framework used to safeguard the public,” she said. “There are three elements that must be present to provide effective consumer protection: law enforcement, education and self-regulation. I like to think of it as a three-legged stool. If any of these factors is missing or not functioning effectively, the stool will at best be off-balance and at worst, topple over.”
Introducing the panelists, Dr. Beales noted there is no “one right way” for industries to self-regulate and Lee Peeler agreed. “Today’s discussion is an excellent opportunity to share best practices in three successful self-regulation models and how we might adjust our approaches to better meet the needs of consumers,” he said, adding that the hallmark of effective self-regulation include clear standards, transparency, accountability, industry support and adequate funding.
All three panelists stressed the importance of adapting to changing consumer needs and market atmospheres. “It is critical that we continue to perfect our Code of Ethics” Joe Mariano said. “Later this year, we will further strengthen these best-in-class consumer protections by introducing greater transparency around enforcement and enhancing protections against false earnings claims. We choose to lead by example so every direct selling company in the United States has an incentive to do better by its customers. That’s why today’s discussion is so important.”
Lynne Omlie shared anecdotes from DISCUS’s self-regulation efforts, noting that all complaints they receive are resolved within seven days of being logged. She touted the evolution the council’s code, saying, “Our Code is a living document that has evolved over time as social mores and technology change, reflecting our industry’s steadfast commitment to effective self-regulation in both traditional and emerging marketing platforms.”
Panelists: Lynne Omlie, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel; Joe Mariano, Direct Selling Association President; and C. Lee Peeler, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council CEO and Council of Better Business Bureaus Executive Vice President of National Advertising.
Thirty-nine people attended the event, including CBBB staff, consumer protection leaders, local county regulators and representatives from Amway, Herbalife and Mary Kay. Attendees received DSEF’s Consumer Protection Toolkit, created to support the FTC’s in their efforts to educate the public about fraud, deception and unfair business practices in the marketplace. The kit includes various resources from the FTC and other state and local consumer organizations, as well as materials highlighting the consumer protections measures afforded by DSA’s Code of Ethics.
As the panel discussion drew to a close, DSEF Executive Director Gary Huggins told attendees that the morning’s discussion marked the first of many such Foundation events as part of its work to advance understanding of direct selling and promote the industry’s commitment to ethics, consumer protection and self-regulation. “American consumers deserve the highest level of ethics from companies they do business with. A commitment to effective self-regulation by industry leaders is critical to safeguarding their rights,” he said. “We thank FTC for its tireless work on behalf of consumers and look forward to continuing to work with regulators and industry colleagues to ensure consumer protections remain a fundamental goal.”
FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen Kicks Off Conversation with DSEF on Consumer Protection in the 21st Century
Washington, D.C., April 7, 2015 – Today, the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) convenes an interactive roundtable discussion where industry leaders will focus on the latest consumer protection issues, including the important role of self-regulation.
The roundtable is moderated by George Washington University Professor Dr. Howard Beales, former director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen will provide opening remarks. The panel includes DSA’s Joseph Mariano, along with Lynne Omlie, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), and C. Lee Peeler, chief executive officer of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC).
“As expectations for consumer protection evolve, so does our Code of Ethics,” said president of the Direct Selling Association (DSA) Joseph N. Mariano. “Later this year, we will further strengthen these best-in-class consumer protections by introducing greater transparency around enforcement and enhancing protections against false earnings claims. We choose to lead by example so every direct selling company in the United States has an incentive to do better by its customers. That’s why today’s discussion is so important.”
As consumer expectations for corporate responsibility grow and change, consumer-facing industries must lead in promoting the highest ethical commitments from their members.
“For more than 80 years, the distilled spirits industry has had a voluntary advertising Code in place with the core principle of ensuring responsible advertising directed to adults,” said DISCUS’ Lynne Omlie.
“Our Code is a living document that has evolved over time as social mores and technology change, reflecting our industry’s steadfast commitment to effective self-regulation in both traditional and emerging marketing platforms.”
The industries agree that meeting the needs of the 21st century consumers is best achieved through self-regulation.
“Self-regulation allows us the flexibility to quickly be responsive to both consumers and the marketplace,” said ASRC’s Lee Peeler. “Today’s discussion is an excellent opportunity to share best practices in three successful self-regulation models and how we might adjust our approaches to better meet the needs of consumers.”
DSEF is hosting the event as a follow up to the FTC’s National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW).
“American consumers deserve the highest level of ethics from companies they do business with. A commitment to effective self-regulation by industry leaders is critical to safeguarding their rights,” said DSEF’s Gary Huggins. “We thank FTC for its tireless work on behalf of consumers and look forward to continuing to work with regulators and industry colleagues to ensure consumer protections remain a fundamental goal.”
The Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF), is a non-profit that advances understanding of direct selling and promotes the industry’s commitment to ethics, consumer protection and self-regulation. Nearly 17 million Americans are involved in direct selling in every state, Congressional district and community in the United States. In 2013, direct selling contributed more than $32 billion to the U.S. economy.
As consumer expectations for transparency and corporate responsibility continue to evolve, so too must the approaches industries use to safeguard the public. To highlight the critical role of self-regulatory initiatives and their benefit to consumers, DSEF is convening a multi-industry public discussion on consumer protection and self-regulation on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
The event will feature opening remarks by the Honorable Maureen K. Ohlhausen, a Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.
“This important public forum illustrates how different industries institute self-regulation frameworks that ensure a commitment to high ethical standards and consumer protection,” says Gary Huggins, DSEF Executive Director. “Direct Selling Association President Joe Mariano will represent the direct selling industry at the event and will discuss the Association’s proactive efforts to protect consumers through its Code of Ethics.”
Each year in March the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and its partner organizations commemorate National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), held this year March 1 -7, by offering a wide array of consumer education events and resources to educate the public and encourage people across the country to take full advantage of their consumer rights.
“The FTC is one of the direct selling industry’s most important regulatory constituents and, by supporting their efforts during NCPW, DSEF demonstrates our firm commitment to consumer education and protection, and individual economic empowerment,” said Gary Huggins, DSEF Executive Director.
This year, DSEF created an NCPW-themed Consumer Protection Toolkit that includes various materials from the FTC and other state and local consumer organizations on topics such as identity theft, job scams and shopping online. The kit also includes materials highlighting the consumer protections measures afforded by DSA’s Code of Ethics.
DSEF delivered the Toolkit to members of Congress and Commissioners and staff at the FTC, among other important constituents engaged in consumer protection issues.“It’s great to know that DSEF is using the FTC’s consumer education materials in such an effective way,” said Lisa Lake, FTC Consumer Education Specialist. “This is a great example of how the FTC’s resources can be adapted and used to support programmatic goals. I think those in the DSEF network are going to be equally impressed and will find the information— and how you packaged it – very helpful.”
In addition to the Consumer Toolkit, the Foundation hosted a NCPW-themed Twitter Chat on March 5, and was joined by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and Chicago-based ABC News consumer reporter Stephanie Zimmerman (@ABCNewstheFixer). During the one-hour chat, DSEF, CBBB, Stephanie and more than a dozen local BBBs shared information and answered questions about frauds and scams, shopping online and the FTC’s cooling-off rule.
The Foundation also promoted NCPW through its website and social media channels. DSEF created a web page that aggregated NCPW-related content most relevant to our audiences, and promoted the content through a Facebook contest held March 2-6. Each day of contest, DSEF posted a question related to DSA’s Code of Ethics to Facebook, and participants viewed one of the Foundations Ethics Vignettes in order to learn the answer. Five $50 gift cards were awarded to entrants chosen at random.