I smiled in return, set my art supplies on the table next to her, and we hugged. "It’s so good to see you. I can’t wait to hear all your news."
"Same here," she said. "How’ve you been? And Mike?" Was the Colorado trip just wonderful?"
"It was fast," I answered, shifting myself up onto the stool next to her. "Pretty much just an errand trip, to pick up Mike’s new rifle. But never mind that, I want to hear all about your new business!"
"Well, Barry and I happened upon a wonderful opportunity. It has to do with sharing environmentally-safe products with others, and we’re doing it from home! Just finished having our garage made over into an office." Her face glowed with enthusiasm. "Not only do we make an income, but we meet some fabulous, health-conscious people doing it, and are looking forward to earning a company car!"
My curiosity grew. "So tell me more—who supplies the products? What are they, exactly?"
"It’s a reputable old company—well established. They make cleaning, nutritional and personal care products, with only the purest ingredients and solid science behind them."
"So, how does it work?"
"It’s kind of complicated to explain … would you like to go with me to a local meeting sometime? I go once a week. I’d be happy to pick you up."
"Okay. Sure. Just let me know a few days ahead."
Her voice fell to a whisper as the art teacher entered the now-full classroom. "I’ll give you a call next week."
I went with her to my first multilevel-marketing (MLM) meeting the following week, and found it interesting. I continued attending, and learned more about nutrition and non-polluting cleaners than my mother ever knew. I still worked on new designs for my wall hangings, however, and did my own outside research on the MLM company and its products. Convinced that the parent company was sound and their products good, I paid my $15 membership and ordered multivitamins and soy protein powder. I believed that both Mike and I might improve our health with the supplements.
Mike wasn’t too interested in listening to the merits of the products or the opportunity of a business, but he downed his vitamins with a small glass of milk and soy protein mix every morning without complaint. By late spring, it had become a daily ritual for us both.
It wasn’t long before I noticed an increase in my physical stamina. Mike no longer fell asleep in his chair after dinner, but instead spent evenings in his hobby room, working on plat drawings or hand-loading ammunition. I credited these changes to our new regimen of supplements.
I would work outside until dusk, refining the soil in my flower beds, planting seeds, or just tidying up the yard. This, after a full day of working on my wall hangings and studying notes from the MLM meetings.
Watching my friend Mally during those meetings, I’d marvel at her commitment to build their business. "Life evolves," she once said to me. "Our needs change. And there is a price to pay for everything." Her price was giving up her passions of creating artwork and spinning wool fibers into yarn. She sold her vintage spinning wheel and supply of wool fibers. She packed her pastels, watercolors and easels and stowed them away.
I thought of the time when Mike and I found her at an art show in the Northgate Mall, one of a few "painters in action." I’ll never forget the line she used when someone began to grill her on how to paint with pastels. She’d smile widely at them and say, "First, you find a good teacher." I vowed to remember that line.
If Mally could pay-the-price, why not me?. I ventured into the MLM business under her tutelage. I bought the forms, I copied the flyers, I studied the benefits and I wrote to my friends. To my surprise, a few signed up to use the products. I promptly filled their orders by buying wholesale from Mally. It was a start, but I chose to not forego my creative endeavors.
In April I made a trip to the 6100 Building in Seattle, where representatives of gift manufacturers had showrooms. I called on the few that featured Scandinavian items, asking the person in charge to look at my samples and consider representing them. I gave a copy of my wholesale flyer to each of them before leaving, and asked for a business card in return. I left for home with half a dozen cards in hand, but no commitments for representation. At least not that day.
A week later I got a phone call from one of the representatives. "I can add your wall hangings to my showings," she said. Her fee would be twenty percent of the wholesale price.
I agreed, delighted with the response.
"The Christmas market is in August," she said. "Can you send me one each of your designs before then?"
"Yes. I can get them together and mail next week. Thank you so much." I shipped the samples as promised, and expected the orders to roll in, especially following the August gift show. But they did not.
She didn’t sell many items of mine because, as I learned from experience, agents first push the highest priced items to their clients. Of course. Bigger commissions. I came to believe that she wasn’t really showing my things at all. We would part company by mutual agreement before the year was up.
As always, I shared my failure with Mike, referring to myself as stupid.
His retort was, "You’re not stupid, honey. A little naïve sometimes. But never stupid! You’ll figure it out. You always do. Want to go get a cookie?"
"Sure." I knew what he meantwe’d go to our neighborhood shopping mall where I’d find consolation in a freshly baked cookie and a Pepsi®. And he’d cajole me out of my current doldrums.