Business Today

Male surge in female bastion

Hit by pay cuts and job losses, more and more men are queuing up to join the direct selling industry. What’s the big draw?

Dhiman Chattopadhyay | Print Edition: May 17, 2009

But for a quick decision that he took in November 2008, 36-year-old Subhas Gohain would be in the same boat as many of his former colleagues, who were rendered jobless when the BPO they worked for shut its Guwahati office a month later. “I quit after a pay cut in November and decided to try my luck at direct selling,” says Gohain, who joined his wife Shagun as a consultant for Oriflame—selling shampoos, deodorants and creams.

Gaining mass

The direct selling industry is clocking a 30% growth.

  • Current size of direct selling market in India Rs 3,500 crore
  • Biggest players: Amway, Oriflame, Avon, Tupperware and Modicare
  • Over a million Indians associated with the top direct selling brands
  • Nearly 68 per cent consultants are women and 32 per cent are men

Source: Indian Direct Selling Association’s annual report 2008

Today, Gohain trains new agents at Oriflame and his family’s income has jumped 40 per cent to over Rs 1.2 lakh a month. The extra money is welcome but, more importantly, as he says: “I don’t have to worry about a bad boss, a downturn or office hours. I work on my own time and terms now.”

Welcome to the world of direct selling (DS), for which the economic slowdown is proving to be a boon. Along with a robust growth rate of about 30 per cent, the industry is also witnessing a new trend—more men than ever are signing up to sell personalcare, healthcare and household products in an industry where women make up 68 per cent of the workforce.

“We have seen a 40 per cent growth in new distributors over the past couple of quarters and surprisingly, about 60 per cent of them are men—many have joined their spouses in their business, while others are keen to become entrepreneurs. It has changed our distributor profile significantly. At present, about 65 per cent of our distributors are couples and a further 15 per cent are single men,” says William Pinckney, MD & CEO, Amway India, which has over 4,50,000 distributors spread across India.


P.N. Jha (55),
Consultant, Oriflame, Kolkata
When I quit my job as Deputy General Manager at a PSU to become a direct seller, my colleagues thought I had gone mad. I drew a salary of about Rs 55,000 then. Today, between me and my wife Kamini, we bring home nearly Rs 3 lakh every month. Recently, Oriflame gave us a Rs 12-lakh cash reward. This job gives us the independence that none other would. Because we also train new entrants, we get to attend Oriflame’s conferences abroad. This year, we have been to Mauritius and South Africa”
Agrees Ajay Rao, Director, Sales, Avon Beauty Products India, which has over 1 lakh consultants: “The fourth quarter of 2008-09 has seen a 65 per cent jump in new entrants compared to a year ago and a 44 per cent increase quarter-on-quarter. A sizeable chunk of the new distributors is men.”

So, why are so many men joining a profession where some firms (like Tupperware) do not even allow them in, while others are dominated by women? And how is it that the direct selling industry is growing at over 30 per cent at a time when most other sectors are seeing low to flat growth? The answer to the second question is perhaps simpler: Most of the world’s leading direct selling brands stock nutrition and wellness products, cosmetics, personalcare and homecare products that cater to household needs and are relatively recession-proof. “Everyone needs to shampoo their hair and use soap, perfumes, lunch boxes or cream.

You can’t stop wearing lipstick in a downturn, can you?” says Asha Gupta, MD of Tupperware India. But what has got the men interested? The general belief in the industry is that when the downturn led to pay cuts and job losses, many men, seeing their wives or sisters in the direct selling business remain unaffected by the slowdown, came to view it as a lucrative business opportunity for themselves as well.“The number of men joining up has gone up since we started projecting our work as a business opportunity rather than as a sales and marketing job. Today, almost 95 per cent of our male consultants have quit their jobs to take this up full-time. The downturn has definitely helped our cause,” says Fredrik Widell, Managing Director, Oriflame India, which has more than 1 lakh consultants at present. Adds Rao: “With the downturn claiming thousands of jobs, many people are looking at direct marketing as an alternative. The spurt in the numbers is being witnessed all across, particularly in the metros such as Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.”


Nirmal Verma (53),
Distributor, Amway, Delhi
When my wife Veena, an MBA, quit as the HR Head of a leading healthcare firm to work from home as an Amway distributor in 2006, I simply encouraged her. But after I attended a few of their meetings, I saw the business opportunity. I continue to hold my job as a Chief Engineer at CSIR, but help my wife in what has now become a family business. We work around three hours a day. Our monthly income from direct selling is about to touch the six-figure mark. And the best part: the slowdown hasn’t affected us at all”

The new trend is reflected in the growth of companies. For instance, Amway’s business grew from Rs 838 crore in 2007 to Rs 1,128 crore in 2008. The direct selling industry itself grew from Rs 2,700 crore to around Rs 3,500 crore in the same period (the exact figures were not available at the time of going to press). However, direct selling is not a piece of cake. Of course, many consultants/distributors have indeed quadrupled their incomes in three to four years and earned several times more than what they did when they held a regular job.

The attrition rate and the number of failures are fairly high in this industry. “A lot of people drop out after 3-6 months when they realise this job is not for them,” says Widell.

Adds Pinckney: “Only those with grit and gumption succeed, or those who realise that being a part of the direct selling industry has the capacity to financially insulate them, before the next economic hiccup.

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