Surviving Selling Things Parties: Avon Ladies, Mary Kay Girls, and Me

English: Screenshot taken from the video link ...

Over the past month, I have been invited to four Selling Things Parties. For the uninitiated, during these gatherings, a woman of child-bearing age will present wares, provide complimentary food and drink, and then collect orders for these goods. But don’t be fooled! The goal is not to buy things, but to “get together, have a glass of wine, and look at some great (shoes/makeup/spinach artichoke dip).”[1] What follows is a confusing and – dare I say – convoluted exchange, with the wares being shipped to the seller, who then distributes them, and I think that nobody writes a check until the goods are delivered, but how should I know?[2] All I’m sure of is, somebody probably has to pay for these things, and there is a catalog, and there are snacks.

​Until I was 16 or so, I thought that these parties only existed in works of fiction set in the Mid-West. This is because you are either from a selling things family, or you are not. I absolutely am not. This is probably because the ladies in my family are stunted in our abilities to exclaim over retail items. At wedding and baby showers, we are the ones making compliments that are so painfully specific that they sound like insults: “that is the reddest onesie I’ve seen yet today!”; “Look at that, Marguerite! All of the plates from your china pattern are round!”; “You WILL have a baby, Greta, and he will sit upright in this blue foam chair!”.

​I also think that you are supposed to buy the samples upfront if you’re throwing a Selling Things Party. I don’t like spending money without a guarantee of a return, so I’d have to sell things I already own. I do not know a roomful of ladies who would like to buy my old law school textbooks, but if anyone wants to read about the state of international human rights law through 2009, shoot me a line! [Spoiler alert: TREATIES!]. I also worry that I would spend so much on hors d’euvers that I wouldn’t break even, or worse, that other people would eat all of the good ones if I bought too little. These are very real concerns.

​This is not to say that I think I’m better than ladies who throw Selling Things Parties. If anything, they possess a degree of initiative and a collection of appetizer recipes that I admire.[3] An all-American, homespun capitalism is in these peddlers’ blood, like red hair and a surprisingly low white blood cell count are in mine. These gals were probably raised playing in the other room while their mothers and aunts served fondue and sold Tupperware, whereas I was raised making my own snacks and buying things in stores.

​So, if you are invited to a Selling Things Party, don’t fret. You don’t have to buy anything.[4] If you like shopping, socializing, and Buffalo Wing Dip, you might want to give it a try. But don’t expect to throw a successful Selling Things Party yourself if you weren’t raised with it: like landed gentry and psychics, Selling Things Party Ladies are born, not made. Or rather, they are made, but that is because they are carefully formed in their early years, like bonsai trees and Romanian gymnasts.

1. TM: Every Facebook invite to every selling things party, ever. BACK TO POST
2. I wonder if, in the selling things party context, submitting the order form constitutes the offer, and sending the good is acceptance? For a fascinating study of offer and acceptance in the catalog/advertising context, ​ see Leonard v. PepsiCo Inc, 88 F.Supp.2d 116 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).BACK TO POST
3. Really, these parties are usually okay. My lovely sister-in-law sells Avon, and her relatives throw Selling Things Parties, too. There is always good food, interesting products, and a refreshing lack of retail mark-up. I’m far too lazy and inhospitable to become an Avon lady myself, but I love having a source for really good and cheap cosmetics and gifts! OK, done. BACK TO POST
4. But actually, you do. BACK TO POST

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