The direct-selling industry has an image problem. At best, this business model — the marketing and selling of products directly to consumers, away from a retail location — conjures up door-to-door salespeople dependent on middle-aged women nagging friends for the names of their friends. At worst, its association with the term "multilevel marketing" has become synonymous with pyramid schemes, fair or not. For doubters, it's worth noting that Berkshire Hathaway placed its own stamp of approval on the direct-sales industry; the multinational holding company has owned Pampered Chef since 2003.
Today a new version of this industry is booming, appealing to a younger generation of entrepreneurs who can tap into social media rather than knock on front doors. According to the Direct Selling Association, more than 18 million Americans make a living or supplement their income with direct sales, adding $34 billion to the economy in 2014.
"It's a model that allows young people with less capital and maybe with even less experience to get into an entrepreneurial experience," said Joseph Mariano, president of the DSA, who said 2015 growth numbers should show an uptick of about 3 percent to 5 percent. "Our model is flexible enough for young people to engage in these sales actions however they like."
Mariano notes that roughly 75 percent of sellers within the industry are women, down from about 90 percent a few decades ago, but more men and married couples are joining the ranks and finding a better work/life balance than the corporate world provided.
Here are the stories of seven stars in the direct-selling industry, many pulling in six-figure incomes and on their way to $1 million in annual sales.
— By Maggie Overfelt, special to CNBC.com
Posted 23 May 2016