Business View Magazine interviews Chris Cicchinelli, President and CEO of Pure Romance, as part of our focus on best practices of American businesses.
Pure Romance is the nation’s largest and fastest-growing, woman-to-woman, direct seller of relationship-enhancement and intimacy products, including: sex toys; bath, beauty and cosmetic products; creams, lubricants, and massage oils; lingerie; bedroom accessories; and gifts and jewelry. Key to the company’s business model are its in-home, Pure Romance parties in which its trained and certified sales consultants offer millions of women “education, entertainment, and empowerment,” according to company President and CEO, Chris Cicchinelli.
“People buy people, people buy stories,” Cicchinelli declares. “You can buy produce at any grocery store; the difference is our people can show you how to make a great meal out of it.” Currently, Pure Romance has over 23,000 active consultants across the U.S., Puerto Rico, South Africa, Australia, and Canada, who sell products to their friends, and Cicchinelli asserts that anyone who wants to become a Pure Romance consultant needs to know how to tell a story.
“It is a sales business and you have to understand, if you’re going to be in this business, you’re not just an order taker,” he states. “You’re not going to take somebody’s order and then the corporate office is going to ship it to them and then you’re going to get a check. You pre-buy your inventory before you go to the show. You do a one hour presentation and from that point, you do one to two hours in a private shopping room; you’re one-on-one with your customer so that you create the experience for them that they’re looking for in their relationship. And then once you create that, your job is to give them that product so that they can take it home that night.”
When it comes to telling a good story, Cicchinelli has quite a good one to tell, himself. It’s all about how he and his mother, Patty Brisben, Pure Romance’s Founder and Chairwoman, came to create the family-owned business in the first place:
“My mom got into this industry 1983,” Cicchinelli begins. “She saw an ad about women who had the type of business that would go into homes and educate people about their bodies, educate them about relationships, and also sell relationship enhancement products. We lived in a suburb of Cincinnati, called Milford, Ohio. She decided that she was going to be a representative for that company that she saw on the Phil Donahue Show.
“Fast forward to 1993, and that’s kind of when the whole thing really started. My mom was in the top five in that company for a long period of time, but it went out of business that year; they had mismanaged some of the money and inventory, and Patty decided that she was going to go off on her own. She was reluctant to do it, because she never had any background in running a business. But she took her last $5,000, and that’s when she opened up the doors of what was called Pure Romance.
“She grew the business from 1993 till 2000. She went from having 55 people to 300 people under her, doing about a million dollars in revenue. The thing that she figured out was that there were a lot of people who were having communication gaps in their relationships; she saw the divorce rate creeping above 50 percent. People were looking at how they could keep their relationship creative and fun, but she also understood that there were a lot of women who were looking to make some part-time money.
“By this time, I had graduated high school and left for college, and I’m working down in Atlanta, Georgia for a publicly traded company in the floor covering industry. I started in merchandising and worked my way into marketing. I moved up in the company pretty rapidly, and in 2000, my mom comes to me and says, ‘I think I have something here and I’d love for you to come back and work with me. You understand marketing and I want to scale this thing and get more people this opportunity.’ I finally said that I would do it; I came back to Cincinnati, reluctantly. I knew nothing about the direct sales industry; all I knew was from a book I picked up in the library: The Mary Kay Way.
“I had no idea of what I was going to do and one day, I was sitting in my car and heard an ad come on the radio. It said, ‘Come to the Holiday Inn on Route 42, and you can be the next Guess Jeans model. The photographer of the stars in is town for one day, and one day only, and for $99 you can see your way to Hollywood!’ And I thought, ‘Would anybody really pay $99 to go for a chance to be the next Guess Jeans model?’ I’m on the highway, I turn my car around, and I pull into the Holiday Inn, and it is packed!
“The next day, I sat down in my mom’s office and said, ‘Here’s the drill: “Come meet Patty Brisben, and take your first steps to making your dreams come true. Own and operate your own Pure Romance business, today. Come meet Patty Brisben at the Westport Plaza Sheraton at 7 o’clock and bring the girls for a live, Pure Romance party. Can’t wait to see you.” Mom said, ‘That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. Why would anyone want to meet me?’ I said, ‘Mom, the way you make people feel comfortable about the subject matter, about the business, how articulate you are – people need to know you just like they need to know Mary Kay. You are the person they need to know when they think about relationship enhancement. You need to be the voice that women need to hear.
“So, we end up going to St. Louis. We had $33,000 in our bank account and I spent $30,000 on radio and media, and parties that we were having in St. Louis. We were there for two days only. The first day we were at the Westport Plaza, the second day we were at the Marriott, downtown, near old Busch Stadium. First day: nobody came. I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be really, really bad.’ The next day, we set up at 9AM and by 2 o’clock, nobody’s there. At 2 o’clock, the first person comes; 3 o’clock, another person, and by 7 o’clock, we had ten people who were looking at this business. My mom does a light party and it all goes off without a hitch. And that day, was the day it all came together.
“At the time, we were recruiting two people a month. That day, we brought on two people from St. Louis. We were so excited. We had a great dinner. We were driving back to Cincinnati and that night, I realized this was not a great business model; it cost $15,000 per person to join. There’s no way we can do it. The next day, the phone calls in the office were abnormally high and I didn’t know why. I finally picked up the phone and said, ‘Thanks so much for calling Pure Romance. How can I help you?’ The lady says, ‘I want to join your team.’ ‘How did you hear of us? Did you go to our party? Did you hear about it on the radio?’ She says, ‘No. I’m from St. Louis. The front page of the St. Louis Dispatch has: “The New Tupperware of the 2000s.” And my husband told me I should join this.’
“One of the few people who was there, that night, was a private reporter who wrote a front page article for the St. Louis Dispatch. And from that day to the following Friday, we signed up 50 people, and we took that business model and we ran it for three years, straight. We went from a million to four, four to eight, eight to sixteen, sixteen to thirty-two. We spent three years in U-Hauls, only coming home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s how it all got started and we never looked back. We took that same model and started to open up cities all around the world, all around the United States. We invited reporters and media people and it just kind of blew up.”
Today, Pure Romance has continued in its mission to educate, entertain, and empower women. “We only do parties for women, to stay true to that safe environment where women can ask questions and feel comfortable,” says Cicchinelli. “We want to make sure we keep everybody safe. And we don’t want to sign customers; we want to sign up people who are looking to make $500 to $5,000 in a month. If you’re just a person who is going to want to get your product at a discount, we’re not the company for you. We know we’re not for everybody to sell the products – to consume the products, yeah. But when it comes to selling product, you have to make sure you can create great experiences for the people and really love to go out there and do it. I travel 250 days a year, training our consultants on how to own and operate their business. Becoming a Pure Romance consultant can help women take control of their financial future. We provide them with all of the tools and training to run million dollar organizations. People buy people; people buy stories. And that’s what our 23,000 people are out there each and every day, doing.”
And that’s the story.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Pure Romance
WHAT: A direct seller of relationship-enhancement and intimacy products
WHERE: Headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio
Holiday Products/Classic Erotica – For 30 years, Holiday Products has been a distribution leader in the Pleasure Products Industry focused on a “Best of the Best” product selection for brick and mortar Stores, internet retailers, and home party planners. For over 15 years, Classic Erotica has been the leading manufacturer of pheromone-infused, sexy body, boudoir, and sensual care for women, men, and couples. – www.classicerotica.net
OneTouchPoint – helps Pure Romance and other national customers manage their marketing message through U.Connect. A modular, integrated business communications solution, U.Connect is designed to manage your entire marketing supply chain providing your network a simple and intuitive way to create and order marketing materials on demand – www.1touchpoint.com