How openness to change propelled Pure Romance to the next level
This month, SSN interviewed Chris Cicchinelli, president and CEO of Pure Romance, where he leads business development, operations, sales, and marketing. Cicchinelli started working at Pure Romance to help his mother, company founder Patty Brisben, grow the business. It is now the world’s largest in-home/virtual party company of its kind, with revenue over $250 million today.
By: David Bland
Location: Cincinnati, OH
SSN: You have a book coming out, The Secret Is You. What was your inspiration to write it? What was the most important thing you wanted to convey?
I’ve been wanting to write this thing for five years, probably even longer. I really wanted to be as straight as I can with people. I wanted people to understand that this is a true business. It is a $400 million business. I wanted to normalize it, and I wanted people to understand that what my mom started doing in 1983 is education. I didn’t want to do a book on theory. I think there’s a lot of people that do a lot of research that is theory-based, and those books are not for the average person. I asked myself, “What can I put in play? How do I work my business? What are the things I need to really be thinking about?” In this book, I talk about detaching from the outcome and committing to the process. I meet a lot of people when they first get in, and they talk about wanting a six-figure income or wanting to pay off debt. Well, that’s the outcome.
I tell people to put those things on their vision board, but I also want them to understand the processes and the daily grind that they’re going to need to do to get there. Because I didn’t get to where I’m at today by thinking, “Hey, I want to be a CEO of a large company.” I got to this point because I knew every step I had to take—every phone call, every 200 days a year on the road, every wakeless night—that’s how I got to where I am. The final reason I wrote this book was that I think there are so many women out there that doubt how freaking talented they really are. I think that they are pulled in so many different directions as a mom, as a significant other, as a business owner, as a daughter, as a friend. I wrote this book because I want them to really remember one thing: No matter all the people that are in your journey, you can’t love any of them well until you love yourself. That’s really where to dive down to. You have to protect the No. 1 asset. That’s why after traveling and hearing so many stories, I have a salesforce that is 100 percent female. I’m a minority every time I walk in the room.
SSN: It looks like your transition to virtual at the outset of the pandemic was very successful. How did you make that happen?
I think if COVID-19 had not happened, we would not be where we’re at today. We did a massive study with Deloitte. We were one of the very few companies that did not do digital selling. There was a lot of talk about it, but nobody here really knew how to do it. There wasn’t much training put around it. Everybody else around us in direct selling had been doing it for quite some time. Our leadership said, “No, we’ve got to be in person—it’s about getting people together, creating that small gathering. How are they going to shop for our products? Being an inventory-based party plan, our consultants have the inventory and should be able to sell to their customers so the customers can take products home the night of the party. We don’t want to be like everyone else.” However, the Deloitte study said, “Look, you have to move in this direction, because consultants can only get to their surrounding 15 different friends in their neighborhood or in their city, or maybe they go two hours out.”
Without the shutdown, it would have taken me five years to get leadership on board with this. It took five days for them to understand what Zoom was. When desperation sneaks in, you will find a solution to things. That pivot on March 23, 2020, which I call our monumental day, was the tipping point. Are we going to let the virus take down the business or are we going to let it propel the business? We really were able to see that moment for what it was. Nobody knew what Zoom was. Then, five days later, Zoom parties were happening. It was definitely game-changing for us as an organization. In April, we were up 100 percent, up 117 percent in May, up 123 percent in June. Consultants could do six or seven parties in a night. On a weekend, they could do eight gatherings. And they weren’t just doing it in their home of Chattanooga, they were doing it in Chattanooga AND they were doing it in Cleveland. It was really an eye-opener for us as an organization.
SSN: When the country opens back up, how will you integrate your new-found digital success into your original business plan?
We’ve had more new people join the business because they do want that gig economy type of money; they want to work when they want to work. We found that a lot of people don’t want to go in homes, and we had never marketed to those folks. We never added them because we were always worried about productivity—that was our biggest thing. When somebody got in the business, it was all about “how do we help them be more productive? What is the right number for productivity? Is it a particular amount per month, or is it that the person is just happy to be part of something?” The people that we’re starting to see join us might make $100 a month, or they might make $1,000 a month.
One of the things we never did was to consider that not everyone wants an entire business, and we were marketing this as a business. I think that for many people, when they hear “business” they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want a business.” Until they want one, right? Until they get in it and try it out. Then they’re like, “Oh.” It was the same with me. I wasn’t in love with this when I got into it. I was like, “All right, I’m going to help my mom out. I’m going to help her put a marketing plan together.”
Then, when I started seeing people’s lives change, or I saw that people were able to buy ballerina shoes for their kids, or able to buy basketball shoes, or get the extra math tutor that they needed for their child, I was like, “Wow, we are really doing some good work.” That’s when I fell in love with it.
How can somebody say that they have fallen in love with any business in the beginning? Or that they want to start something big? Before the pandemic, we never marketed to them—we were only asking the old questions: “Do you want to start a business? Do you want flexibility and freedom?” But I’ll tell you, I think, for more and more people, the answers to those questions are, “I want a little extra money. I want to be a part of the Uber and DoorDash lifestyle. I want to choose when I work.” And we never embraced that before. This really opened us up to the reality that we needed to change our verbiage.
After the pandemic, I don’t think that our consultants are going to go 100 percent back to parties. I think we’re going to have a blend now, where they’re utilizing their social selling, where they’re connected in their communities. I think there’s a group of people that will never do parties. That’s fine. They get to choose what they want. I think we just added one more channel for them to be able to operate in. I think we’ll be somewhere between 50/50 and 60/40. I think we’re going to stay in that digital world a lot more. I just see more and more people going in that direction with their organization.
SSN: How do you manage online sales with your field?
Ninety-five percent of everybody that hits the website is coming in through one of our consultants. We literally do not try to go direct as much now. You know and I know that there are direct consumers; especially with what our product category is, people want their privacy. If they choose to come directly through us, we serve that order to them to protect privacy. We don’t market for our consultants. We don’t do any re-targeting, we don’t do any of that for them. And a lot of our field has come back and said, “Hey, would you do this for us? Would you help our new people do it?” So, I do think that’s something that will be Pure Romance 2.0. We will help them because most consultants don’t have a follow-up program, and they don’t have a retargeting program. When a customer buys something from them, how do we make sure that we’re staying in front of them? And so, we are still in a learning phase.
I feel like since March of last year, all I’ve been doing is being a student. I feel like I’m back in school. Every day’s a learning experience. I feel like the rules of the game have been thrown out the door. We can build and create, and we can go back to those infancy stages when we were just building our business. That, to me, is the most fun thing. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about business.
SSN: You have put a lot of effort into the blog on your website. It is a substantial part of your presence online. What is your inspiration for this feature, and what keeps it going?
Empowerment, education, and entertainment. The things I think people need are to keep their minds sharp and to keep refreshing their education about where they are in their relationships and with their health. We don’t just want to sell a product. We want to also be able to bring a kind of Walt Disney experience to people. Do what you do so well that they want to see it again and again and tell their friends. The blog was a conceptual idea that we had because we want to make sure that we are giving more added value to our consumers. I live off a model of Lifetime Value (LTV) because I don’t want somebody being with me just for today; I want to walk with you for the rest of your journey. So, if I can give you more added value, if I can give you more resources to educate yourself and educate your friends, you’re going to live this better lifestyle.
Our blog is also a silent training piece that we could give to our field. The more they could educate themselves on things that are happening, world events, body image, how to increase sex drive—all those types of things—the more they would be able to talk to and educate their customers about these concepts. I have a firm belief that people don’t buy products; rather, people buy relationships. I think if I can add more value for you, you’re going to buy from me more frequently because you’re going to feel good about your purchase, and you’re going to feel like I’m going to be there forever. I’m also going to give you good information because I’m well educated on what I’m selling. That was why that blog was created. We hired professional people to help us write the blog. We found people that are experts in the space. We didn’t want to write it in-house. I called Indiana University because we have a great relationship with the Kinsey Institute there. We have a great relationship with the sexual health and wellness group there with Dr. Debby Herbenick. We said, “Debbie, who are some of the leaders in the field?” She pointed us in the right direction, and we pay these sexual health professionals to contribute to the blog.
SSN: In your book, you talk about getting out of your comfort zone. What do direct sellers and executives need to do in the next decade to get out of their comfort zone?
I think you’ve got to be willing to change. I think change is inevitable, and growth is an option. At times, I didn’t do as much changing as I needed to do. I got caught up in the same routine, the same Thursday night phone call, the same Saturday training. We do the same routine because we think that’s all there is. We have to use change as a kind of propellant. I’m on that more than I’m on anything else today. I’m open to listening to new ways of doing business. I’m willing to make those changes for us. I know that we’re at a crossroads in the industry, and I’m seeing this right now in my own salesforce.
Link to share this article: https://socialsellingnews.com/link/getting-real-with-pure-romance-president-ceo-chris-cicchinelli-1137/