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Making Sales 'Round the Sofa : 'Home shopping' has a new meaning as more people combine business with pleasure to hawk merchandise from living rooms.

August 05, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times

The invitation may be simple, printed on a flyer or postcard. Come on over for tea, coffee cake, even wine and cheese. And shop for jewelry, or baskets, or photo albums, even earthquake supplies.

It's the new home-shopping network, combining the pleasure of gathering with friends and neighbors with the fun of seeing new things and buying them. Home-based entrepreneurial salespeople, often tied to nationally based firms, are putting on social-shopping soirees in homes, offering the host or hostess a cut of the total sales or special gifts.

Some salespeople have left careers to create a more flexible, family-friendly lifestyle. Debbie Nunez of Agoura worked in a brokerage firm. But now, with 3- and 5-year-olds at home, she and her mother, Judy Johnson, sell gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry through Karin's Kreations, a West Hills firm.

Kim Shaw of West Hills left a teaching career to become a sales agent for Creative Memories, based in St. Cloud, Minn. She does about eight parties a month, during which she teaches how to safely and creatively mount family photos, and sells the acid-free colored paper, paper cutters and templates. "I love it. I've never enjoyed anything so much," said Shaw, who has four children, ages 3 to 11.

Shaw said selling is easier when it is done in a party at someone's home. "Most people feel more comfortable working with friends and in a small group situation," she said. She also said the growing popularity of home-shopping parties is a sign that people are searching for a sense of community. "There's a camaraderie--I see it as a community-building trend."

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Others combine the sales career with another day job. Brenda Bunch, a registered nurse at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, works out of her home in Valencia to schedule basket parties. The baskets, hand-made by Longaberger in Ohio, come in all sizes and shapes, and cost between $20 and $90 each. While Bunch says she enjoys nursing, she finds selling exciting, and she loves the merchandise.

Mike Essrig owns Westlake Village-based Earthquake Services & Products and has been organizing earthquake parties for two years. He said advertising was not effective in reaching residential communities, and discovered that people buy more in a group setting than they do one-on-one. Since the Northridge quake, he's been booking three times as many parties.

Essrig's quake parties start with a little casual socializing, followed by a half-hour talk about what to do when a quake occurs. Then he shows a videotape of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake--for shock value--and reviews the products available, from two-person backpacks with first aid supplies, ponchos, food and other equipment for $69.95, to a five-person family supply kit for $169. The hosting family gets 10% of what is sold that evening, he said.

The Longaberger basket parties also feature a short video, highlighting the product's craftsmanship and the ways baskets can be used to entertain and decorate, said Kathleen Gentile, also a nurse at Northridge Hospital who does home parties.

Gentile said an average party entails about four hours of work, but nets a $250 profit.

She, too, finds that the allure of the parties is the socializing. "Part of the intrigue is doing something social," she said. "It's a way to meet other people."

Because many of their friends have young children, Johnson and Nunez set up their parties as an open house. The parents just bring along the kids as they schmooze and shop.

Johnson and Nunez said that their initial investment was less than $1,000, and that they have been putting their profits back into inventory.

"We've always thought of having our own business we could do out of our homes, and we really like jewelry," Johnson said. "We've sold things right off our backs."

Where to Shop

What: Creative Memories classes in photograph mounting.

Call: Kim Shaw, (818) 703-7943.

What: Earthquake Services & Products.

Call: Mike Essrig, (818) 889-5220.

What: Karin's Kreations Jewelry.

Call: Judy Johnson, (818) 991-5313.

What: Longaberger Baskets.

Call: Brenda Bunch, (805) 298-9566, or Kathleen Gentile, (805) 492-7021.

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