By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
After working as an attorney, retail store manager and stay-at-home mom, Susan Brice is trying her hand at a new job: entrepreneur.
In March, she became one of the first people in Michigan to sign up to sell India Hicks products — a direct-marketing line of fragrances, handbags, accessories, jewelry and home goods named after its designer — and hopes, over the next two years, to turn her business into a $50,000-a-year enterprise by selling items at parties and recruiting others to do the same.
“I’ve always had a dream of opening my own store,” Brice, 49, said.
Direct sales, she said, gives her a way to start her own business without much risk: She didn’t have to invest a lot of money to get started. She can operate out of her Huntington Woods home. And she still can keep her days free to spend time with her three sons and volunteer at their schools.
“Historically, there is a bit of a negative connotation to direct sales and multi-level marketing,” Brice said. “But, in the last few years it has become so mainstream. There are many direct sale companies, and many of them are targeted to women. I don’t feel like there are as many negative connotations as there were, but they’re still out there.”
Here’s the conversation, edited for clarity and brevity:
QUESTION: How did you find out about this business?
ANSWER: I bought a bunch of magazines while on vacation and I saw an article about India Hicks. I was familiar with India because she’s British, and I lived in England for most of the ’80’s. Her family is well known in England. They’re part of the British aristocracy. She was in Princess Diana and Price Charles’ wedding. In the last 15-20 years she’s had different retail ventures with other companies. At the end of the article, it mentioned she was launching this direct sales business. A lot of my friends are reps for direct sale companies, and I go to parties where they’re selling. I knew I’d love her product, and the direct sales model can be lucrative. I decided to contact the company — and then, I decided to sign up.
Q: What was your motivation for trying it?
A: I was looking for another source of income for our family. I felt like this might be a good opportunity because it’s a new company and I was getting in so early. But anybody can sign up at any point and do well with it. I like the direct sale model. It’s very social. When you are working, you typically are representing your product at a party. You are with your friends, or with a new group of women you’ve never met. It thought it would be a fun vehicle to get out and work and have a good time doing it. Also, the flexibility was key. I know I want to be be home with my kids. It’s on you’re own terms, you can do it when you want to do it.
Q: How much can you earn?
A: You make 20% commission on the products you sell. If you sell $1,000 at a party, you walk away with a $200 commission check. You can get an extra 5% commission if your total sales reach a certain level. If you sign people on to also sell products, you get a percentage of their sales. My original goal was to build a team and become a national director for the company. But, Michigan is a little slow. It’s taking longer to do that. I’m working on growing the brand name. I would say within two years — I didn’t set a goal with in my first year — I’d like to see myself make $50,000 a year.
Q: How much have you made so far?
A: Well, I’d say I’m probably breaking even.
Q: Is there a down side to this model?
A: It’s not an easy gig. You are constantly having to get the product out there. But, if you are enjoying what you are doing, it’s not necessarily work.
Q: Do you have advice for other moms — entrepreneurs?
A: Don’t doubt yourself. Since I’ve been trying to recruit people, some say, “That’s so perfect for you, but I can’t do it.” But, you don’t have to be a sales person to do this job. To me, it’s about interacting with people, enjoying each others company. I’m doing it for a business, but I also am doing it because I enjoy being with people.
Q: Do you think you’d like to open your own store some day?
A: I do. That’s still a goal of mine. I see doing it once the kids are out of the house. Maybe, 10 years down the road.
Family: Husband, Trey; three sons, Rider, 13; Hayden, 12; Nate, 10
Education: University of Durham, England; bachelor’s degree; Vermont Law School, law degree
Experience: Attorney at the Department of the Interior, small law firms; managed Crabtree & Evelyn stores
Hobbies: Exercise, triathlons, cooking, reading, needlepoint
Meeting: India Hicks is set to give a free talk about her experience as a model, designer and entrepreneur at 5 p.m., Sept. 26 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. To register, go to: http://events.indiahicks.com.