Authored by Rishi Chandiok
Times are tough. COVID-19 is unrelenting and with no clear end in sight. No one predicted how severe and lasting the cascading impact would be on the economy when lockdown started. Pay cuts, job losses, and business closures have debilitated a system already battling a fiscal downturn.
According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in India is estimated to be at 27.1 percent as of early May, as nearly 122 million Indians lost their jobs in March and April 2020.
India, like other countries, refocused their gaze within as the infections began to rise rapidly. Initiatives like ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ urged businesses and individuals to recalibrate and realign strategies. This approach encouraged local manufacturing, but also created a sense of ownership and determination among budding entrepreneurs.
Direct selling remains a compelling option for young entrepreneurs. It provides a business opportunity at negligible initial investment or operating costs. The option lends flexibility to work on their own time. However, it is Aatmanirbharta that has always been a central tenant in direct selling. Running your own business means you decide whether your business sinks or floats.
In these tumultuous times, direct selling has provided hope for millions of people who were looking to utilize their skills to go the start-up route. The 2019 sales figures of $2.47 billion prove that the direct selling industry is thriving and illustrates its potential with continued growth.
The direct selling industry is growing at a healthy rate of 12.1 percent YoY and India currently ranks 15th, four places up since the last global rankings. The pandemic notwithstanding, direct selling is bucking the trend and continues to make a rapid recovery.
Apt for remote working culture
So, what is to account for this continued growth during unprecedented strife? The conventional work models have seen a paradigm shift with an exodus to digital. However, direct sellers have always been nimble and adaptable. Most importantly though, the direct selling industry has always depended on person-to-person (P2P) interactions.
Social media tools like FB live, Instagram live, video conferencing, podcasts and webinars showcase the one-on-one skills marketers have by increasing the number of encounters and focusing direct sellers’ energy towards individual customers. This move has opened new possibilities for direct sellers, and this augurs well for the recovery of the industry and its workforce that thrives working on its own terms.
As per the report by FICCI-KPMG, 20 million individuals could be engaged in direct selling by 2025. Direct selling is a business and allows you to be your boss without the commitment of high initial capital and overhead costs. Today, direct selling comprises of millions of professional sellers who are extremely skilled at what they do and can achieve seemingly lofty goals. It also provides flexible work hours to homemakers, which is an important reason the sector has a large percentage of its workforce as women.
Vocal for local
The local growers and manufacturers stand to benefit as the demand of homegrown products continues to rise. As per the industry report, the direct selling industry employs close to 6 million representatives and has added to this workforce during the pandemic. The industry has seen a demand spike in wellness products that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients. Such products are essential for building immunity and homegrown firms in this segment have benefited by building significant manufacturing capabilities in India.
In summation, the direct selling industry has created a robust ecosystem which provides an avenue for entrepreneurial aspirants to own and operate their own business. The sector continues to attract a ready workforce in search of stable earning opportunities without the trappings of mundane work life, just the way the gig economy works.
Rishi Chandiok is Regional Director (South Asia) of QNet Ltd.