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Any experiences using home parties for cust. dev. and sales?

I'm working with a friend who is about to start a line of products for seniors (bathroom, kitchen, exercise equipment). Nicely designed products that don't look like they belong in a hospital. He's does product sourcing for a living, so the whole manufacturing aspect is covered.

We were discussing whether home parties would be a good way of getting in touch with his customer group. I wanted to see if anyone here has any experiences with that? Bonus if the experience is with seniors.

Initially the aim of the events would be to learn about the customers and not selling, since the products wouldn't be manufactured yet. He'd potentially bring products from other companies and just sell them at cost. Or possibly pre-sell his own products. He has retail connections but is very interested in direct sales as the primary sales channel.

Has anyone here used home parties for customer development?
Any key points to consider if using it as a sales channel?

8 Replies

Joshua Westover
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Joshua Westover Entrepreneur • Advisor
Investor / Entrepreneur
Morten,


I have some insights and connections that would be very helpful for your friend. Please shoot me a message through the FounderDating messaging system with your contact info, and I will do what I can to help.


All the best,

JLW
Jeremy Lautman
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Jeremy Lautman Entrepreneur
Full Stack Software Engineer (Java/Angularjs) UPenn Grad student for summer internships
I don't have a clue if it'll work and I don't know anything about home parties. That said, this sounds like a really easy concept to test. Just try it and see what the responses look like. I realize that your product isn't ready yet for sale but you can always take pre-orders based on your prototypes. Failing that you can host a party to sell just about anything else to test whether the "party" format can be used to reach and influence this demographic. Test early. Fail fast.
Edward Sullivan
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Edward Sullivan Advisor
Founder and Executive Coach
I've done house parties for qualitative user testing of mobile apps. Many of them turned into users. The only thing I'd say about it is that since most people will arrive through a relationship of some sort, it's not really a random or representative sample of the general population. People tend to try to be "supportive" when really you just want them to be honest.
Rob Gropper
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Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
I've not used home parties as a sales model - we did something of a 'home party' for focus groups at my first startup (1999) that was very successful, but not an on-going sales model. I am personally intrigued by the Stella and Dot model - very successful. it would be interesting to see if you could implement a similar model with seniors. not sure if you are targeting female or male or both. My perception is that seniors tend to have free time, often need additional income and often have small, but dedicated social networks. One reason Stella and Dot works so well is that their customer base is social media savvy which i suspect would be a problem with seniors. worth some research.
Stephen McCurry
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Stephen McCurry Entrepreneur
Product Manager
Hi,

I worked for Stella & Dot which is party based Direct Sales Jewelry company based in San Bruno.

Consider the following:
- The 'party' experience. Like any branding effort what is the experience you want customers to have at the experience? S+D parties usually involved wine and canapes. There was a format to the event starting with a structured introduction to the event by the salesperson. Usually this was an opportunity for the salesperson to talk about the product and the Direct Sales opportunity. It was a soft sell with personal anecdotes and stylist jewelry. Overall the S+D party experience is a fun, stylist event.
- The product + assets. S+D spend time and money on display stands and other props, e.g. promotional cards, catalogues. The most successful events are the events with the highest number of jewelry samples on display. People buy what they see and touch even with catalogues and ipad app.
- Salesperson training. It is crucially important that Salespeople have a structure that works and say the right things.
- Number of attendees. Invite 40 people and 10 will show up. This is difficult to pull off and requires cooperation between the salesperson and host. Technology can be used for e invitations, reminders etc.
- Ordering process and follow-up. S+D launched an iPad app with swipe payment and this has been very successful. Previously, all orders were taken on paper and processed by the salesperson after the event.

My initial thoughts about your product is that it doesn't have the social element that would make a great party experience. I would consider home visits as the alternative.

Thanks.
Morten Lundsby Jensen
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Founder at UserChamp; Chief Experimentation Officer at Playpen Labs
Thank you Joshua, I've sent you a message.

Good point on the whether the group is representative. We should make sure it is representative of future groups, and is "recruited" the way it will be done in the future. So not just friends of grandparents. My friend Jacob may need to start playing bridge and just get testing with some pre-sales.

The idea would be to get close to the Stella and Dot model with a combination of direct online and at home sales.


Morten Lundsby Jensen
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Founder at UserChamp; Chief Experimentation Officer at Playpen Labs
Thank you Stephen, very helpful. You're right, it is an open question whether these products are something people would even want to gather around.
Alison Lewis
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Alison Lewis Entrepreneur • Advisor
CEO/Creative Director
Interesting discussion. I was thinking the same thing. Fashion does "Trunk Shows" that allow special customers to order in advance. However, in tech a lot of times there is only one product or one with a variation if it is early stage.

Questions/Comments that come to my mind are:

Are your products all pre-order?

Can someone get it now?

What communities would benefit? Sounds like a visit to some group retirement villages with active Seniors maybe a good start. I am sure the people that run them have some insight on the idea, get them to rally around you.
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