Doug DeVos remembers attending his first Direct Selling Association meeting at the tender age of 14 with his dad, Amway Co-founder Rich DeVos.
Perhaps that’s why the Amway president seems at home leading the global direct selling industry’s premier industry group, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA). And why DeVos has a clear vision for the WFDSA’s priorities during his tenure, as he recently shared with StartUp.
Q: A lot has changed in the industry since the WFDSA was founded in 1978. What is the organization’s role today?
DeVos: The WFDSA’s role is important, because it’s a connector for our industry globally. It brings together global companies, their global CEOs and management teams, and allows us to look across borders and see what’s happening with the industry from a global perspective.
It’s also a place for our member national Direct Selling Associations (DSAs) to share best practices, and for some of our newer DSAs to get guidance from regional associations and more experienced national DSAs to help them better support member companies and implement the code of ethics in their own markets.
Bringing our industry together and telling our story as a global industry are, in my mind, the critical roles.
Q: What do you see as the WFDSA’s priorities?
DeVos: Our priorities are pretty straightforward.
One, we’ve got to be together. As an industry, we have to be unified, to make sure we’re working together, with a common understanding of the challenges that we’re all facing and the opportunities that the market is presenting.
Two, we have to understand the global regulatory environment. Regulators in every market are looking at the others, so we have to help them better understand the definitions of legitimate direct selling. The clearer and more concise their legislation defining our industry, the more likely we are to have a level playing field where all honest direct selling participants have the opportunity to succeed in their goals.
And the third thing, I think, is making sure that the standards by which we operate as an industry are the highest that they can be…that we are protecting consumers, we are focused on product and service quality, and that as member companies we are doing the good things we say we are doing.
"Putting customers at the center of all we do for this industry is what has enabled direct selling to thrive and grow, and I want to do all I can to make sure we’re doing things right now to ensure the future is strong for generations to come."
Putting customers at the center of all we do for this industry is what has enabled direct selling to thrive and grow, and I want to do all I can to make sure we’re doing things right now to ensure the future is strong for generations to come.
Q: How do you see Amway Business Owners benefitting from your leadership of WFDSA in these areas?
DeVos: WFDSA is about creating the right environment for our industry and then allowing the member companies to operate within that, so that their distributors can thrive in their businesses. That benefits all direct selling participants.
WFDSA is leading efforts to get all of us to articulate consistently to the marketplace, in terms they can relate to, who we are as an industry and what we’re about. We need to work together as an industry to make sure the marketplace – regulators and consumers – understands clearly the aspects of direct selling, so that consumers can make intelligent choices about buying from direct sellers and considering whether to join an opportunity.
And finally, we’re working to help regulators to create an even playing field to enhance competition for everyone who wants to participate in direct selling.
Q: There are some individual markets where the regulatory environment is really challenging. What’s the global message to regulators from the WFDSA?
DeVos: Regulation is critical, and it’s important to distinguish fraud from legitimate direct selling. So our message to regulators is, we want you to distinguish between the two as much as you want to do that.
We have a perspective to offer on how regulators can do that in a way that increases the ability for legitimate direct selling competitors to offer more and better opportunities to people – whether that’s product opportunities to consumers, or business opportunities to prospects. We have the ability to connect them with best practices around the world for legislation that has been effective in adding to competitiveness in the direct selling marketplace – legislation that is designed with the consumer at the center, from a product quality standpoint and an income opportunity perspective.
What does that look like? It means standards like 100% satisfaction guarantees on business registration fees and product purchases; no minimum product order requirements; and written contracts between the companies and the business owners defining the relationship and providing clear rules of conduct. These are what comprise effective legislation that enables a healthy direct selling marketplace.
Q: A lot of direct selling companies offer consumer protection measures that are really unmatched. How important do you think it is for people to understand the consumer protections that are put around getting into direct selling?
DeVos: We need to put consumer protection at the front of what we do when we interact with the marketplace.
With all the quality that’s built into our products, the guarantees behind our products, the ease of entering a direct selling company from a business opportunity perspective, the business support that is given, the expectations that are laid out, and the route that someone has where if they don’t like it they can exit without being hurt – those are the things we have to find ways to articulate so that people in the marketplace understand.
"It’s critically important that our member companies and national DSAs talk to the marketplace about our industry in a way that reflects consumers’ experience."
It’s critically important that our member companies and national DSAs talk to the marketplace about our industry in a way that reflects consumers’ experience.
We can correct people who talk badly about us, and that’s right to do; we can be upset by unfair attacks. But what we all really need to do is look at ourselves as an industry and say, “What are we going to do by our actions that is going to demonstrate that our industry globally is at the standards where consumers can trust us?” That just takes time – we have to consistently do that over time if we want it to change.
Q: How do you answer those who challenge whether direct selling can remain vibrant given its long history?
DeVos: I tell them that with so many new opportunities, terrific products and technology tools, direct selling is just as relevant and vibrant today as it has ever been.
You know, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. We see it all the time. People are looking for income opportunities – the economy in the traditional sense is having a tough time creating enough jobs and earning opportunities for those who need them. With the flexibility and other advantages that direct selling offers – and the strong product categories you see in our industry – many of them are finding direct selling a good fit for their needs.
Q: What’s next in your efforts for the WFDSA?
DeVos: The connections that are represented by the WFDSA have really given us global perspective on our industry. I want to see us really understand how to maximize that global perspective, not only for our global companies but also for the very newest, the start-ups, the newcomers with a unique product or idea who are just getting going in a single market. It would be great if we can create the right framework and the environment to foster that.
"I think with the size and scope and strength we have now, we’re really fully realizing the role that direct sellers have in the marketplace."
The kind of new energy that brings to our industry, I think that’s something that is fun to watch. There’s always been somebody new coming into the industry, someone is always bringing in new energy. I think with the size and scope and strength we have now, we’re really fully realizing the role that direct sellers have in the marketplace. I want to see more of us stepping up to that role and saying, we want to fill that role well.