(This post first appeared on www.entrepreneurmag.co.za)

Ironically, Honey Fashion Accessories was founded on the back of Gary Carlisle’s frustration. With 10 years’ experience in the jewellery industry, he’d grown tired of dealing with retailers rather than consumers. “Most of my aggravation was caused by the fact that, although we’d take great care to present our jewellery as a collection, retailers would stock our earrings but not the matching necklace and bracelet.

Worse still, if they did buy more than one item, they would dilute the power of the collection by scattering the pieces randomly rather than displaying them as a unit,” he says.

Carlisle had a hunch that he would be able to sell far more jewellery if he could present his collection to the consumers themselves. He was right: the first jewellery party, where a group of friends was invited to experience the range, was an instant success.

Carlisle established Honey on the strength of that party. He joined forces with Margot Bredenkamp, and the two have proved a formidable team: she takes care of merchandising and manages the sales team, while he keeps an eye on sales and marketing.

Eleven years later, Honey continues to spell sweet success. Says Carlisle: “When we first started the business, we didn’t have the money to produce a catalogue. After three years, we brought out our first 24-page booklet. Now, we produce one catalogue every six weeks, and they usually run into hundreds of pages.”

They are constructed around certain themes, ranging from handbags and sunglasses to classic wear and fashion jewellery. This ensures that sales consultants always have something new to show their clients.

Today, Honey still hosts regular client days where visitors can try on the jewellery, but as much as 80% of all sales are made through catalogues. It doesn’t mean that the importance of the sales consultant has diminished. In fact, Carlisle attributes Honey’s status as a household name to the company’s extensive network of consultants.

“This business has been built on the strength of relationships: those between the team leader and her consultants, and the consultants and their clients,” he says. It’s clearly a system that works: there are 9 500 sales consultants throughout the country, with a few located in Botswana and Namibia, and each has roughly 30 clients.

Almost 75% of them are active every month. Carlisle explains it’s up to the team leaders to recruit and screen their sales consultants. “What’s important for us is that everyone involved with this company is passionate – passionate about the product, about making a success of themselves and about being an entrepreneur,” he says.

Nor is it difficult to find people with the right level of enthusiasm. “We recruit constantly. It’s so easy: people invariably comment on the jewellery our team leaders wear. From there, they become interested in taking a brochure and showing their friends.”

If the offer of making good money while running their own business isn’t enough – some sales consultants report turnovers of over R1 million rand, they’re usually impressed by the fact that there are no joining costs.

And if consultants don’t make it past what Carlisle refers to as Challenge One – falling in love with the product, that money is immediately refunded. From there, consultants find their business to be largely self-funding.

Carlisle reveals that training and motivation are a major part of the Honey philosophy. Different training programmes are offered for both team leaders and sales consultants, who are trained directly by their leaders. This training is supported by regular meetings with the company’s executives.

“We try to make training fun because selling must be fun. It should be about encouraging a woman to try this necklace with these earrings or that bracelet, enjoying herself while she finds the perfect combination.”

Once the skills are in place, sales consultants are egged on by the promise of great incentives; for example, one group of consultants has recently been treated to a trip to Bali. Carlisle has no ambitions to make Honey the biggest or most successful company in South Africa.

Rather, his vision is to make women look and feel beautiful. Easy enough with Honey’s range of well-priced accessories, and a goal which is, in itself, the key to further success. “We want to target every South African woman who enjoys looking good, from the teenager who wants a trendy necklace to the 65-year-old looking for a classic pair of pearls,” he says.

With Honey’s products already in high demand, the question is one of growing sales networks to make the company’s range more accessible, rather than trying to increase brand awareness. “The company has already sustained 50% year-on-year growth, so the key to further expansion lies in increasing our network,” says Carlisle.

He adds that this growth is likely to follow an organic path; every time a sales consultant is promoted to team leader, she appoints more consultants who, in turn, introduce more clients to the Honey fold. “We have not yet reached even 30% of the women in South Africa, so the opportunities facing the company are unbelievable,” he concludes.

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