August 15, 2011
All Aboard for the Silver Rush
800 pyjama-clad women from across Canada bask in the estrogen-soaked success of Silpada jewellery at its national sales convention
A long line of hootin’ and hollerin’ women in pink fuzzy slippers and the full gamut of PJ-getups wait their turn to jump on an oversized polka-dotted bed to frolic for the cameras with “Bonnie and Teresa.”
Here at the Silpada national sales convention, held this past weekend at the Sheraton Centre hotel in Toronto, Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh are tock stars to the 800 women who have flown in from across the country to bask in their estrogen inspiration.
Thursday night was the Sterling Club pyjama party, where the top 100 national reps – women who have each sold more than $45,000 worth of the company’s sterling silver baubles in the last year – have been invited to boogie, gossip, schmooze and congratulate each others’ success and receive their bonus trips to Aruba or Cabo. Over the top of the dance-party tunes (“Tonight’s Gonna be a Good Night,” by the Black Eyed-Peas is on perma-rotation it seems) the soft feminine clatter of links and bangles traces every enthusiastic gesture.
Tracey NacNaughton is a recently retired elementary school teacher from Edmonton. Her pert blonde bob is fixed with a plastic tiara.
Yes, it does sound a bit like the breathless, rah-rah text of a late-night infomercial, but instead of Tom Vu draped in bikini-clad women on a yacht, these entrepreneurs are draped in heaps of silver jewellery.
MacNaughton’s teammate, another top-seller and recruiter from Edmonton, Ingrid Bredt, spent 20 years working in child welfare.
“It was rewarding, yes. But now I have no stress. And I have an awful lot of fun. In a very short time, I’ve created a life for myself I never imagined.”
Easy part-time money from your own home is an eternal dream. It would seem, for these top-producers, to be a reality.
Silpada is a home-party sales operation with a unique niche: nothing but sterling silver jewellery, all handcrafted. The retail pricing starts at around $14 for charm pieces and tops out at $369 for a chunky filigree cuff. It is based in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan., called Lenexa, which is also home to a software valley and Applebee’s restaurant chain. Co-founders Bonnie and Teresa, who are now in their mid-50s, but are always described as “stay-at-home moms” and “best friends” in the company lore when they cooked up their home-shopping concept in 1997 – there are now 33,000 reps in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
Silpada, with some $230 million (U.S.) in sales, ramped up for the big-leagues last year when it was purchased by Avon for some $650 million. The door-t-door cosmetics behemoth, with $10 billion in annual sales and some 6.2 million reps worldwide, sees a big future in the jewellery game (a $100 billion mass opportunity,” was the quote from Avon CEO Chuck Cramb).
But for now, the 800 Canadian Silpada reps are a close-knit gang. The main ballrooms downstairs at the Sheraton have been transformed into a candy-coloured wonderland: giant game pieces from Monopoly and Sorry! are arrayed throughout the reception areas. The main convention rooms, set up like an oversized summer camp, are where the next season’s line will debut.
“At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning,” says Michaela Pearce, who works in public relations from the head office in Lenexa and possesses a soft blue-grass accent, “all 800 of them will be lined up, ready to run in and be the first to see next season’s designs.”
An estrogen surge towards trays of bright, shiny things? There could be worse jobs.
“It’s true,” adds Bredt. “We can’t hardly sleep.”
The line, which ranges from hammered tribal-style pieces to sophisticated filigree, has been spotted on celebrities from Jennifer Love Hewitt to Rachael Ray.
“It is all .925 silver,” says Pearce, referring to the magic number 92.5 per cent pure (copper is added to round out the metallurgy and make the pieces stable and solid, but 925 is hypoallergenic.
“Each piece is handcrafted,” says Pearce, “and has been touched, on average, by at least six and sometimes as many as eight craftsmen,” from all around the world.
The company is counting on consumers wary of, or disappointed by, online shopping, where you can’t touch or try on a piece.
“We have websites, each individual rep can create her own site, with our help, and the commission and the shipping goes through them,” says Pearce.
Indeed, thought the contact buzz the reps get at a weekend conference such as this is what MacNaughton calls “irreplaceable,” (the U.S. version, with some 4,400 reps preceded the Canadian get-together, the U.K. convention follows next week) the Internet allows potential or fledging reps to experience the phenomenon with the brand’s own YouTube channel, featuring rousing sermons from Bonnie and Teresa available 24/7.
“I’m living the dream,” says Laurie Tokola of Caledonia.
Tokola has been the country’s No. 1 rep for three years running.
“I had two sons, close in age, to send through university. In two-and-a-half years now, I’m debt free and college is paid off. Hey, I never even wore jewellery before this. Bit I saw the business plan and knew it would work.”
Silpada offers a 30 per cent commission on sales, and the “hostess” of the party gets 30 per cent of the sales herself in the form of free jewellery.
“Direct sales is the only field with unlimited potential,” she says.
A bubbly blonde in a pink boa has fashioned the slogan “Silpada Rocks” on the backside of her negligee.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Is this your job?’“ says Celeste Chaytors of Stony Plain, Alta. “I was a stay-at-home mom too, just like Bonnie and Teresa. And now I’m here, rocking out.”