Far from becoming obsolete, however, it turns out that the number of these smallest of small businesses is actually growing.
â€œThe ability to connect with someone really is invaluable when it comes to a shopping experience, and thatâ€™s not going to change,â€ said Amy Robinson, senior vice president of the Direct Selling Association.
The recession and slow recovery have also contributed. Tough economic times and job losses leave more people looking for ways to make extra money. In 2009, there were 16.1 million direct sales reps in America, up 6.6 percent over the prior year. Sales were down 4.3 percent, but that was better than the overall drop in retail sales.
Diana Aliberti understands why. She started selling Mary Kay nearly 13 years ago as a way to make some extra money on the side.
Within a year she had quit her job to pursue makeup sales full time.
She hasnâ€™t had a car payment in years. She has sold enough and recruited enough people to earn a car supplied by Mary Kay. Also, sheâ€™s earned much of the jewelry she wears and at least a few of the purses she carries. This is in addition to the money she makes.
â€œIâ€™m much more fulfilled out on my own and building my own future as opposed to making someone else rich,â€ Aliberti said.
Logo from Mary Kay