Remember Tupperware parties in the '70s? In the '80s we had Mary Kay Cosmetics parties. The '90s version is kitchen parties, a gathering of female friends and neighbors to eat, socialize and buy kitchen utensils and accessories in amounts you would never dream of purchasing in a retail store.
Now women are finding new ways to earn a living and still devote time to raising children. But is the business of soliciting from family and friends the right thing to do? Having a career and being your own boss is admirable, but sometimes business and friendships don't mix.
A friend called to invite me to a kitchen party she was hosting, and I eagerly accepted, looking forward to the opportunity to visit. But what went on at the party left me cold.
The kitchen sales consultant kicked off the party by explaining the benefits of her job. She can create her own schedule to allow a nice balance between raising a family and working. At the same time, she can acquire and develop sales skills.
She then launched into product demonstrations. I learned that using these products can transform the way you cook. You can use a food chopper instead of the traditional knife to dice all of your vegetables. A clay baking stone will evenly cook anything from pizza to cookies.
Of course, if you buy a stone, you'll need a stone stand (sold separately), and you should note that washing will ruin it, and it is likely to break, but if you save all the pieces, you can get a free replacement.
You can buy egg slicers and dicers, tongs to remove bread from the toaster, apple peelers, soap dispensers that turn liquid soap into suds to make it last longer, and on and on.
But I didn't need these accessories -- any of them. When I chop vegetables or eggs, an inexpensive knife works just fine. My baking sheet seems to cook my cookies evenly enough. I peel my apples with a paring knife. And when my soap runs out, I buy more.
So I was faced with a dilemma -- to buy or not to buy. Politeness told me that I should purchase something. After all, buying would give the host free merchandise and help the sales consultant earn a living and still be a stay-at-home mom.
I noticed the two women to my left, apparently convinced their kitchen was incomplete, furiously checking off multiple boxes to place their order. I glanced at the order cards of the women to my right who were whipping out their credit cards. Everybody was spending money. I felt pressured. Reluctantly, I filled out my order and handed over my check.
In retrospect, I feel conned. These home party direct sales companies make their profits by directing their sales force to exploit family and friends. For those of you unconvinced, consider how you would feel if your accountant friend called and asked to do your taxes . . . for a small fee. What if your sister-in-law, who is in telecommunications, asked you to switch your long-distance service?
Or what if your neighbor, a financial adviser, asked you to buy a mutual fund so she could increase her commission this month? What if your old college roommate-turned insurance broker, asked you to buy an insurance policy? Are home parties that target sales to family and friends any different?
Get-togethers are fun, but party guests shouldn't feel obligated to purchase. So what should you do if you are invited to a bring-your-own-checkbook party? Here are some tips:
1. Buy only what you need. Resist the urge to buy impulsively. If you have been planning to buy it anyway and the price is right, fine.
2. Just say no. If you know you can't resist the pressure to buy, politely decline the invitation, but then issue an invitation to get together for coffee or lunch at a later date.
3. Leave your wallet at home. Avoid sales pressure by leaving your money and checkbook at home. Ask the sales consultant for her card and tell her you will call after you have a chance to comparison shop.
4. Exercise mind over matter. No matter how much or how little you spend, dismiss guilty feelings and don't concern yourself with other guests' purchases.
Finally, have fun. Enjoy yourself. That's what parties are for.