If you asked sophomore Luke Filipos about his average day at work last summer and this coming summer, his response would not make any reference to sitting in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Instead, Filipos, a psychology major, would tell you that he was involved with direct sales through Southwestern Company where he and his fellow employees went door-to-door selling educational books.
Southwestern Company, started in 1868, is just one of several direct sales companies in which the employees interact directly with the consumer, said Lester Crafton, the East Coast sales manager of the company.
The company also has a direct connection to the University of Richmond as 1941 graduate Dortch Oldham joined the company in 1935, then became president. Oldham used the money he earned to create the Oldham Scholarship.
Filipos became involved with Southwestern last summer in Texas where he and other Richmond students lived with host families while on the job. On a normal day of work, Filipos said he began by going to houses with families of younger children with stay-at-home mothers. He moved to families with older children in the afternoon and went to all homes in the evening, sometimes by appointment.
"I hang out with the families, tell them about the products and ask if they are interested," he said. "Sometimes they sign up, sometimes they don't. If it's a no, I move on."
Crafton said that although it didn't take sales experience to do well, direct sales was not for everyone, and it took a special kind of person to do well in the industry.
"Whoever is able to learn and stick with it seem to do the best," he said. "Students from Richmond seem to do that."
Crafton added that the biggest difference between direct sales and other jobs was that there was no real "boss."
"You are your boss," he said. "While there are definitely mentors, there are no bosses to fire employees. It's like a kind of freedom, but with a lot of responsibility."
Filipos said direct sales had been by far the hardest thing he had ever done, especially because he didn't like losing.
"It was hard when someone said no," he said. "I had to learn that the more I worried about how I wasn't doing well the worse I did. When I kept a positive attitude, I ended up doing much better."
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Crafton said Filipos had a rough first six weeks last summer but that he had been excited to see how well he could do.
"Luke had so much potential," he said. After Filipos "reframed what it meant to win" he had the best finish Crafton had ever seen.
Filipos made $9,000 last summer with an average of two to three customers per day. He said he planned to continue direct selling, at least through college.
Amy Robinson, vice president of communications and media relations for the Direct Selling Association, said in an e-mail that direct selling offered college students a fun and flexible way to earn money, and for some it could be a satisfying full-time career after graduation.
Students could choose from a wide range of products to sell, and direct sales allowed them to increase business skills related to marketing and sales in addition to time management.
Leslie Stevenson, director of the Career Development Center on campus, agreed with Crafton that direct sales was not for everyone.
"It is tough work," she said. "If someone is interested, I advise them to look at the industry carefully and talk to people who have done it."
Stevenson said she had definitely been a critic of direct sales about eight years ago, but since then had changed her opinions after learning a little more about direct sales and Southwestern Company specifically.
She added that her major concerns dealt with the aggressive recruiting of students.
Stevenson went to "Book School," Southwestern's training program in Tennessee where she learned about the techniques and training of the company. She said she had seen team spirit, bonding, excitement, momentum and very helpful sales training within the program.
"They changed me," she said.
Stevenson said she now appreciated what the companies had done with their recruitment style and wanted to be sure that it was a positive experience for students.
For the right person, she added, the skills learned from direct sales including confidence, flexibility and being able to pitch ideas were transferable to other industries.
"These are great attributes for a career," she said.
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