Direct and in-home selling that bypasses retailers has grown from the province of Tupperware parties and the Avon lady into a multibillion dollar industry.

The channel has become an enticing retail alternative because of unmet consumer desires for service and personal attention, convenience and a sense of community, combined with a business climate challenged by consolidation, higher costs and a changing workforce.

Personal care items top the varied product range, which includes clothing, jewelry and accessories. Any product that lends itself to demonstration, a sense of pampering or fun with friends, is likely to work in home settings, from scented candles to sensual body lotions.

Bill Blass, Jockey International, The Body Shop and Aerosoles are among the big players in fashion, personal care and footwear that have direct sales divisions. Others are considering doing the same. For example, Soma by Chico’s, which focuses on lingerie for Baby Boomers, has had success with in-store parties hosted by customers and may expand the program to in-home events.

Selling products directly through independent sales reps, often through in-home parties, can be an effective addition to a brand’s multichannel arsenal, while typically netting smaller numbers than retail stores and catalogues. Cheaper and less risky than opening stores, direct and home selling often create fierce consumer loyalty in a grassroots alternative to traditional advertising.