CINCINNATI -- Companies whose business model is to sell goods at parties in private residences, primarily products designed for women, have a long history.
First, there was Tupperware. Then along came Cincinnati-based Pure Romance. Now, there’s Damsel in Defense, which if nothing else, has a really catchy name.
The Idaho-based company, founded in 2011 by two women, sells self-defense goods for women through its website, damselindefense.net, but also through more than 10,000 independent sales reps it calls Damsel Pros.
As yet, there are only a few local Damsel Pros, and they include Angie Ryan of Burlington and Nikki Smith of Anderson Township.
Both have full-time jobs, Ryan as a controller for HEAT Combustion Solutions, and Smith as Clery Act specialist at the University of Cincinnati. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that get federal funding to share information about crime on campus and efforts to improve campus safety.
How did they get started?
After 20 years of accounting, Ryan wanted something different. She found Damsel while searching online for direct sales opportunities. When she saw that the company supports organizations that help women in domestic-abuse situations, she knew it was for her.
She started in January, and has hosted two parties since then. She expects business to pick up in a few months, when she finishes training her replacement as controller and starts selling full time.
Smith became a Damsel Pro in June 2014 after encountering a rep at a vendor event. She has a master’s degree in criminal justice, she said, and would probably be a police officer if she hadn’t hurt her knee.
“I’m pretty passionate about protecting people and giving other women a chance to protect themselves,” she said.
Are they making money?
Last month, Smith said, she sold about $2,600 worth of merchandise. She had “a couple of thousand” dollars in profit last year.
Because of her full-time job, she doesn’t have time to schedule many parties, so she does most of her selling from booths at events such as the Cincinnati Women’s Expo. She has done close to 200 such events.
She finds these events mainly by searching Facebook.
She also earns a percentage on the sales of people she’s recruited to become Damsel Pros, including women in Oxford, Hamilton and Louisville.
Some people sign up just to get the Damsel Pro starter kit, she said, which is $317 worth of products for $149. Then they never sell anything.
In her limited experience, Ryan has had a good response to the products she sells. “The products we offer are products we hope you never have to use,” she said.
What’s a party like?
The Damsel Pro displays some of her merchandise, but also tells her guests about local resources for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Ryan also likes to hand out a flyer that shows how to jump-start a car, which she says many women don’t know how to do.
She also likes to show her guests one of the best-selling products, the Get A Grip stun gun, which comes in a variety of colors.
“I let them hold it and test it out,” she said. “It gives you a sense of empowerment. There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s there to protect you.”
The parties also give women a chance to tell their stories about why they want to protect themselves, Smith said. “It’s nice to hear how people have survived through things.”
What’s been the biggest challenge?
For Smith, it’s having a party, because she gets nervous if she has to “captivate an audience for an hour.” She added, “I do great at vendor events, because it’s one-on-one.
Is selling difficult?
“I didn’t think I could do it,” Smith said, but added that she doesn’t consider it selling. “The product sells itself. You are just educating people on how to use it.”
“I get to socialize and meet a lot of great women,” Ryan said. “It’s a little more enjoyable than keying in numbers.”