After nearly a year of tests designed to gauge consumer reaction and overall interest, Monroe, WI-based multititle mailer Swiss Colony in late February launched a separate direct selling arm known as Swiss Colony Occasions.
The new division is the company’s first foray into the home party arena. “We see this move as a natural extension of our food and gift catalogs,” says Swiss Colony president John Bauman. “While we do consider Occasions a single entity, we use the same product sourcing, the same shipping and fulfillment, and customer service as with other aspects of our business.” Swiss Colony began studying the home party opportunity about two years ago, and later launched test parties across the U.S., Bauman adds.
The company has so far hired just two new full-time people for Occasions, a senior vice president of sales and a director of sales. The home party business primarily uses independent salespeople, or what Bauman calls face-to-face consultants. “Typically, consultants arrange for a party hostess who invites family and friends to a party featuring products from Swiss Colony Occasions,” he says. “Working with the hostess, the consultant organizes the party and introduces the attendees to a new line of products.” Party hosts can receive both free and discounted products, and garner informal training on how to conduct parties and ultimately earn commissions like the face-to-face consultants, Bauman says, though he would not specify what Swiss Colony Occasions consultants currently earn from home party events.
Bauman adds that the consultant/hostess relationship functions as sort of training program – where the hostess can ultimately learn how to throw a party of her own. Currently, consultants are using a 24-page printed Occasions catalog that sells about 200 products – around half food products and half nonfood or gift items. For now, Bauman says that Swiss Colony is currently featuring some of its core favorites for home party offerings – assorted cheeses, candies, and pastries that you’d normally see in various Swiss Colony food and gift catalogs. But Bauman says that it will be critical to develop certain unique categories for direct selling down the road, with an emphasis on food and seasonal decorative items.