Image credit: Thierry DAUWE
Originally, a banker, Paul Jarvis moved into direct sales in 1995 when a client asked him to support the launch of a direct sales company in Russia. In 2006, Paul decided to pursue an interest in the development sector in East Africa, and in 2012, he participated in the launch of the company Organo Gold, a business selling coffee by direct sales into Europe, which he started in over 20 regional markets. Since 2016, as COO of the Juice Plus+ Company, Paul has been leading its EMEA strategy to historical growth.
So you’ve been in direct selling now for some time and you’ve recently now taken the position of chair of Seldia, the European Direct Selling Association. Tell us a little bit of your origin story. How did you first get exposed to the direct selling business model?
Paul Jarvis: I was an accountant a bank at the very beginning of my career. Through a banking connection, I was invited to work with an amazing Russian gentleman on a project that involved bringing direct sales into Russia. That’s a project that he asked me to support him with and I was new to it. As you could imagine back in the mid to late nineties in Russia direct selling was a new concept. I absolutely enjoyed all the new things we were doing in that location and we had an amazing success during that period.
So even during the former Soviet Union, they were already bringing direct selling models into Russia?
Paul Jarvis: Yes, it was in 1995 that we started working there. I think there had been a few other companies who had entered the Russian market, but we were one of the first. We had great connections and it just exploded overnight. We brought in fantastic nutritional supplement products made by an amazing French producer. And yes, it was the right time. People in Russia were looking for ways to generate additional income. They were all feeling entrepreneurial. It was a great 1995, 1996, 1997 right through to August 1998 was fantastic. And then of course in August 1998 we had the Russian Ruble crash. Prior to the crash was the amazing time to watch the Russian Federation experiment and develop the concept of direct sales which even today it still loves.
That sounds like quite an adventure and so here you are, decades later, still in the industry. What is it that keeps you here? Why do you love direct selling?
Paul Jarvis: As I mentioned I was an accountant so what I was doing in direct sales was an unusual change. But once worked in this business I have found the ability to inspire people to help people achieve more than they could have done to be amazing. People from different background in life have the potential to be successful. And that’s one of the key things about direct sales. No matter where you come from, it’s down to you.
As the chairman of Seldia you’re charged for the next two years of guiding the organization. What’s on the top of the agenda?
Paul Jarvis: Seldia has been doing an amazing job with the European Parliament and European regulators in making them aware of the potential it is giving to people and women. There are three principals that need to happen.
(1) The modernization and harmonization of the direct sales associations within Europe. We have been working on this for 30 years and most of the direct sale associations (“DSA”) have operated under different formats, different legislation, different working conditions. I think most European and global businesses want to see a harmonization and know how they would be treated in Direct Sales Associations in each market.
(2) working with the European Commissions and other European bodies to give them a clearer understanding of direct sales in the digital era. Understanding that direct selling is no longer just face to face meetings but also now is done through digital meetings, through social media and other platforms. Right now, we’re involved with the regulators in Italy on defining it. And once that’s been defined, I hope to be able to work with others to harmonize and have a specific standard across the whole of Europe about how we should be working from a digital perspective and a regulatory perspective.
(3) For the next few years, we want to promote the industry to a younger generation. We want to introduce direct sales as an opportunity, as something you can do apart from your regular job to make money and to live the life the way that you want to.
How are you creating an experience for a customer distinct from that of a seller?
Paul Jarvis: We have our own customer experience team here which focuses on the customer journey. We also have a lot of statistics that show us the average acquisition rate per distributor. Customer acquisition is something that we have no issue with at all. The only thing that comes with massive customer acquisition is the problem of retention. How does a distributor who acquires thousand new customers maintain the levels of contact with everyone?
Well, number one, we do that through our quality of service. When the customer receives the products from us, they receive an exceptional service level from the company. Additionally, we’ve just launched some amazing social media-based tools that link into all the social media apps and allows our leaders, our franchises, our distributors to effectively manage all messaging systems. This app offer is different depending on the demographics of the customers. We have high levels of attraction into our business and we have now developed tools to support the field in retention. We’ve also given them corporate tools for the corporate content to enable our leaders and the field to communicate more regularly in a more structured way with their customers. So, it’s a partnership really. We’re doing this together to ensure that it is a distributor initiative supported by corporate tools.
We’re also in an interesting time now where there is a greater quantity of these gig opportunities than ever before. We have to work a little harder differentiating direct selling from it yet at the same time aren’t actually the original gig economy?
Paul Jarvis: That’s right. It’s true we could call ourselves the original gig economy. That’s very true. We need to rebrand ourselves, so the younger people know that we have always been here. We have always been that alternative that you’d be looking for. One of the benefits of the direct sales industry is that you are able to be so much more independent. For example, in the case of Uber or Amazon, you were inside the brand. To be most successful in direct sales, you need to have your own brand and your own community. It is a key differentiator. Of course, it’s very easy to slip into direct sales company and work within the confines and structures of the company. But at Juice Plus+ we call ourselves an entrepreneur factory. For people who want to go to the next step they can. And those are the real entrepreneurs.
Can you tell us a little bit more about where do you think companies should be focusing their efforts on to be more digitally relevant?
Paul Jarvis: We have to be incredibly flexible when working online. But at the same time ensuring that we stay within the confines of generally accepted rules of conduct. It’s difficult to give any specific details of how it should look because different companies operate in different ways.
But, the priorities are to have the right tools, services, and technology to be flexible. Create a platform that gives you the flexibility to be able to deal with whatever comes up. So, flexibility is the key factor to stay on top of this. And of course, attention to detail, proximity to the field. You need to understand exactly what they do when they change and the way they operate. Understanding why they’re doing that. These are the things I think are absolutely vital for companies to do.
You are talking about attention to detail and proximity to the field. Are you using any kind of analytics to measure the activities, impact, and efficiency of your field?
Paul Jarvis: We are using tools that allow us to trace leads when distributors have leads, to know when they’re speaking to people, to see how quickly it takes to get an order. We can watch the entire process. We have developed whole new sets of eyes with the tools that we have, and it enables us to help our distributors speed up processes or slow down processes to ensure that the right steps have been taken to ensure maximum attention to detail. Then, the gathered data enables us to develop more tools to support the field. Remember the company’s role is to support the field to be the best that they can possibly be. So, all this information, all this data allow us to develop the tools to be better and better. That’s what we want.
Do you see any value in potentially engaging with gig economy companies like Airbnb and Uber? Do you see direct selling companies collaborating with gig companies in the future?
Paul Jarvis: I recently talked about the future of the industry with my team at Seldia. The Juice Plus+ and other companies who are also involved in working online need to be more aligned with some of the work that’s being done by these e-commerce businesses. We have a lot of similarities like some of the issues they’re facing. You may recall in Belgium, the chairman of the European e-commerce association was on the same stage as the chair of the World Federation Direct Sales (WFDSA). As you can imagine with eBay and Airbnb, there are minor levels of direct sales in their business models. They have referral fees, referral programs. This is the first step a single-level direct sales model. So, there are many similarities with our model. I certainly believe in the future together with them, we should be looking at how we can develop and strengthen the voice of e-commerce when we’re speaking to legislative bodies.
To hear the entire podcast, press on the button play, next to the logo. Want to read more? Check out Nu Skin’s Ryan Napierski on Megatrends disrupting Direct Selling Industry
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