when a coworker asks you to host a product party

A reader writes:

You answered a question for me earlier this year (regarding being a working mom and needing to adhere to a strict schedule) and the insight provided by both you and your readers was enlightening. I since accepted a new job and am settling into my role nicely — utilizing a great deal of the advice garnered from that question/post.

I have found myself in a bit of an uncomfortable situation and I am eager to know how you would handle this. I was recently approached via email by a coworker who sells beauty products as a side job. She asked me if I would be interested in hosting a “beauty party” for all of my friends. She attempted to pitch it as “I’m not trying to make money…everyone can shop at my consultant discount…I just want to meet new people,” but then she closed the email with, “You’d really be helping me out if you could do this.”

Yikes! I am in no way interested in these products, nor do I want to push them on my friends and family. She sent me the email early this morning, but I have yet to respond. The awkward factor is climbing by the minute, as I sit directly across from her in our open-concept office layout. Her title technically puts her above me, but she does not manage me directly. I am struggling to put the words together to politely decline, but I don’t want to be rude or create any friction.

“Those parties just aren’t my thing.”

Or, “You know, I’ve just never liked those types of parties. But thank you for offering!”

Or, “No, thank you. But good luck with it!”

If she continues to pressure you, repeat as necessary. If it gets over the top, you can get more assertive (“I’m really not interested; please don’t keep asking”), but hopefully you won’t need to.

Whatever you do, don’t make an excuse like “our calendar is really busy this month” or “we’re on a strict budget right now.” That will just open the door for her to ask you again in the future. You want it to stick, so make sure your no isn’t about circumstances, just simply a “no, this isn’t for me” type of no.

And don’t feel guilty. To some extent, the people involved with these “social sales”/multi-level marketing businesses rely on their friends/coworkers/family feeling obligated to say yes, which is Not Nice. She’s the one putting you in an awkward situation; you are not doing anything awkward by saying no.

Say no, be cheerful about it, and move on.

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    My wife sells Mary Kay, but has hosted a grand total of (I think) 1 ‘party’. She just doesn’t have the time to devote to it, since she works full time and we have a toddler. But she likes some of the product, and she likes being able to get it at a ‘discount’ by being a seller.

    But to keep her ‘discount’, she has to sell $xxx every 3 months. So even though she has no interest in making money off this, she has an interest in selling enough to keep her own discount. Thankfully, enough of her friends make occasional purchases that she really doesn’t need to work at it to get the $xxx.

    For the folks who do these at-home-product-sales/parties for money, referrals are critical. They need an ever-expanding pool of people to sell to and host parties. So they’re trained to ask directly to their friends/acquaintances/friends-of-friends to see if anyone will host a party (often with the perk of some freebies). Honestly, it’s a good sales strategy, even if it’s a little bit of a ‘hard’ sell. Lots of people (apparently) like the parties; plenty don’t.

    Your co-worker is probably just exercising her training by asking if you’d like to host a party. I cannot imagine she will be offended in the slightest if you decline (if she is, she’s *odd*). So feel free to decline, simply and plainly.

    “No, thank you. If I ever have need for $Product, I’ll be sure to let you know. But I have no interest in hosting a party or providing referrals to my friends/contacts. Thanks for understanding!” (The second sentence is optional, depending on if you have any interest in the product at all…)

    1. Josh S*

      Oh, and my wife wants to know if any of AAM’s readers want to host a Mary Kay party in the Chicago area during the upcoming teacher strike. ;p

      //Sort of

    2. moe*

      If it were just a good friend asking me to direct my purchases to her–for a product I would be buying anyway–that wouldn’t bug me. Your wife sounds reasonable about this.

      But trying to pressure a new employee, whose rank is below yours, into springing for a whole party? That’s not exercising training, that’s exercising chutzpah!

      I wonder how this training is so good at breaking down normal human social boundaries? I mean really. I can’t imagine.

    3. Kelly O*

      Every time I hear about Mary Kay, I’m reminded of the old Bloom County “Attack of the Mary Kay Commandos” book.

      However seriously I very naively went with an acquaintance to a “networking meeting” once and found myself at a Mary Kay meeting. No, I’m not kidding. And I saw enough there, and subsequently read enough online about their training methods to not want anything at all to do with it. (Basically to them, “no” is just an excuse. So if you get a die hard Pink Ranger and tell them “no, thank you” its not going to cut it in the long run.)

      I also dislike MK/Avon disciples because at least two or three times a year, the exact same thing happens to me. I will be out on my lunch break, minding my own business, when someone I don’t know will walk up to me and say “gee, I love your makeup” or “do you work in an office, you look so professional?” and launch into their 30-second speech. They act really, truly hurt to the core when I decline even taking their cards.

      I realize I’ve climbed up on the soapbox, but between Mary Kay, Avon, Stella and Dot, 31 Gifts, Scentsy, whatever, I have umpteen hundred people who want to host a party, want me to attend a party, or try to get me in their little MLM pyramid, and act like I am crazy because I just say “no, thank you” and walk away.

      I am SO cool with working for The Man, mainly because he does not want me to pester the shit out of my friends, pardon the expression.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I actually had a rather campily enjoyable experience at a Mary Kay party with friends and colleagues, and mistakenly believed the woman when she said that since I wasn’t interested no one would follow up. But I’d been fed into the machine, and the follow-up caller said that I’d been put down as “VERY interested.” Ha.

      2. Jamie*

        “I am SO cool with working for The Man, mainly because he does not want me to pester the shit out of my friends, pardon the expression.”

        That is a good point – rarely am I asked to recruit my friends and family so we have more people at the management review meetings.

  2. snuck*

    I say something like “Uunfortunately I like to keep it simple and just don’t do these things – otherwise I’d have to do them for a whole raft of people all the time, I’m sure YOU understand!”

    A lot of people do sell these things as a way to access discounts and so on, but equally a lot of people are trying to sell, sell, sell. I use incredibly few of these sorts of party products for a whole raft of reasons, and if I’m really pushed by someone (especially if they are standing there holding a bottle of product – shudder) have no qualms in saying “oh you don’t want me at your event – I break out in a rash with EVERY one of those products – that’s why I don’t wear ANY makeup ever – I won’t EVER be a billboard for your products that you would like to have running about!”

    And if they push again, “I’m sorry, I must have given you the impression my family hosts these things, we don’t. I’ll let you know if that changes though, and will keep it in mind if any of my friends are looking for a supplier of *x* product.”

    1. Emily*

      To avoid friction, though, I think you want to be careful not to insult the coworker (or friend, neighbor, etc.), directly, or indirectly by demeaning the product or the party concept in general. Don’t fib about a rash or go so far as to bring up billboards—that implies a negative connotation and could cause unnecessary offense, when a simple, honest “no, thank you” would suffice.

      1. Phideaux*

        Yes, it is so much simpler to be upfront with anyone who approaches me with a request to host a party/buy product, sign up for their kids cookie drive, or even to chip in for s0-and-so’s wedding present. I’ve made it my personal policy to not give anything towards these things. The reason being that I can’t afford to give to all, so rather than getting into the “you gave to him but not me” game, I just opt out completely.

        Now this will likely come back to haunt me as my daughter starts kindergarten tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll be asked to supplement my school use taxes by “helping” the kids sell various products.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    I hate, hate, hate this marketing model, which, as AAM says, preys on the natural inclination of people to want to help out their friends. And I agree with the advice that you have to say no without giving an explanation. If you explain, you open the door for pushy people (and pushy people are the ones who do best at this kind of selling) to explain away why you can do it in spite of whatever reason you gave. She needs to run into a wall of “No, thank you, I’m not interested,” as many times as necessary.

    And if she does persist, this is something I’d bring up with HR.

  4. Sabrina*

    The only way to stop a Mary Kay lady is to flat out tell her you are not interested. Most people try to be polite, it won’t work. They won’t be offended, they are TRAINED to keep after you even after you’ve tried to politely put them off. “No thank you, I am not interested.” Is the only way to get them to stop. Now that’s not to say to not be polite in telling her this, you can be, but don’t beat around the bush and say something like “Oh, I don’t think I can right now.” or “I don’t wear a lot of make up.” They have ways to get around ever excuse other than “I’m not interested.” This is coming from a cult refugee. Er, former MK lady.

    1. Anonymous*

      This, absolutely. The cosmetics sales ladies get rejected ALL the time, they are not gonna get all in a tizzy if you tell them no. And you HAVE to tell them no because, like you said, when you make money off every sale you aren’t gonna drop a lead just because they dropped a hint at you.

  5. Anonymous*

    Oh boy, I had a friend that tried to refer me into selling for a company like this. It was so awkward when I agreed to meet her to discuss “an opportunity” and it ended up being a meeting office with other people she wanted to refer and the woman that signed her up. I say be polite but firm in your answer because she may keep asking.

    1. cf*

      That happened to me! An aquaintance who is a freelance writer told me she might have some work for me. I thought she might mean writing work. We met for lunch and she pitched me makeup and asked me to ask my friends to buy it. It was very, very awkard, mostly because I didn’t have the guts to be direct and say that I wasn’t interested. I did tell her I would ask my one friend who did wear makeup (the seller did not, which is what made this all the odder) if she was interested. My makeup friend is a good friend, so she had no problems blurting out, “Absolutely NO WAY!” to me.

      1. Anonymous*

        I wonder if this is the same company that teaches this stealthy (deceptive) method! I got a message a few months later from someone that was at that meeting telling me how she didn’t like selling it lol

    2. The Other Dawn*

      This happened to me also. It was a new friend. She said the same words, that she wanted to discuss “an exciting new opportunity”. I didn’t agree to meet her because I knew exactly what was coming. I told her I wasn’t interested and that was it. She never talked to me again.

    3. How Can I Work Remotely...*

      Ha! Some people I used to freelance for called me out of the blue to ask me to meet with them again. The words the lady used were, “Can you meet with me to discuss an opportunity?” And I couldn’t stop myself. I blabbed right out, “Are you trying to sell me Mary Kay?” Luckily she laughed and said no, it was a project they wanted me to do for them.

      But that word – opportunity – just seems so synonymous with Mary Kay.

  6. NewReader*

    Am chuckling.
    I bought a “home product” from a coworker once.

    I was seriously disappointed in the quality. Ok, it was junk. I returned the home product and asked for my money back. I point blank said “It was not the quality I thought it would be.”

    No one ever asked me again to buy their products. hahahaha.
    That was not my intent- to shut people off – I just wanted a quality product. Whoops.

    However, I like the idea of having a standard reply such as “If I do this for one, then I have to do this for all. So I cannot do this.”
    You might want to check out what your work place allows. Sometimes these types of solicitations are not allowed.

    As the years rolled by everyone and his cat had a product to sell. It was way over the top and not something I felt I could participate in. Between that and the money cards that went around- it was almost cheaper for me not to work.

    Having a standard reply is very helpful. And having your own personal SOP for money cards is helpful, too.

  7. Jamie*

    Questions like this always make me feel so mean, because I feel like I should be more angsty over turning people down.

    A friendly no thanks, not interested really works. If they persist another no thanks, not interested with a quizzical look which makes it clear that you’re baffled because didn’t I just say I wasn’t interested?

    These things must make money, or people wouldn’t keep doing them, but I can’t imagine wanting any product badly enough to participate in what amounts to paying to have people annoy me.

    As long as there are stores I have a non-party way to procure my make-up, candles, and cookware.

    1. Rana*

      I wonder if they function on the Cut-Co knife model, in which the sales reps have to buy a “sample kit” of the product in order to sell orders.

      Once I had the… interesting… experience of going to a Cut-Co orientation to see if I wanted to work for them. I’m not sure what I was thinking – I hate sales, and everyone who knew me was baffled that I’d even bothered – but there I was. So, the recruiter is telling us all about the product, and about how selling it works, and it’s all sounding good… up to the point that he informs us that the next step is for us to each buy a selling kit at about $100+ a pop. Uh, no. At that point I and another guy got up to leave – we were the only ones in a room full of people, too! – and the recruiter tried to guilt us into staying. I was fed up by this time, so had no trouble not falling for it, but I remember how stricken the other guy looked; it was clear he’d have stayed if he thought he could afford it. So, right there, you have a room full of sales at $100 each, and a bunch of people really anxious to recoup that expense. Scary, but effective. (Plus the product was genuinely good, I have to admit.)

      1. KT*

        Ah! Cut-co. I ended up at their orientation session once too. I was in college at the time–now there would have been too many red flags for me to have attended. It was set up as an interview for a summer marketing position and was quite literally a door-to-door sales job. The ‘interview’ was a product demonstration with about 50 people in the audience–I agree with Rana, the product did look good. I got up in the middle of the presentation and walked out (partially because they said it would take half an hour and I’d been there for two hours and partially because I knew there was nothing they could say that would have me selling knives to my friends and neighbours.) When I got up, the presenter lambasted me. I kept walking and didn’t look back. A handful of people followed me out and thanked me in the hallway for starting our escape.

        1. KT*

          And one of my friends did buy the knife kit and started selling. It took her the whole summer to make back her money (I think the one she bought was more than $100 but I’m not sure). She accomplished it by selling scissors and paring knives (the two cheapest items) to her parents and her parents friends.

          1. Jamie*

            My eldest unknowingly “applied for a job” with them his first semester of college – they were all over the campus recruiting. I researched it before he went for his interview and it was a total scam. It was knives, but a different name – starts with V. Anyway, it took a lot of saying no to get them to stop calling.

            I hate scams like this – but I really hate when they deliberately prey on the kids just out of high-school without the experience to know better.

            1. KT*

              That’s the one ! Vector Marketing is the company; Cut-co is the product. I was able to walk out because I was in a position where I wanted a summer job for resume experience but wasn’t in dire need of money. They had a lot of adults there who were professionals recently out of work and a lot of university kids. These people completely had their hopes up about a marketing job, and instead were being trained to sell knives (door-to-door know less! Can you imagine someone knocking on your door asking if they could show you how sharp their scissors are? Umm, no.). They were really good at telling people what they wanted to hear–you know, about the fast, vast fortunes people have made through knife selling. And for the university kids, how fortunate they would be to have real marketing experience on their resume. For some entrepeneurial/natural sales people, maybe you could make money, but when I calculated how many knives I would have to sell to make $500, I realized that it would take me a very, very long time. McDonald’s and Walmart both pay much, much higher.
              And they were repeating over and over how the best customers are “the people you alread know.” In other words, harass your friends, neighbours, co-workers, and acquaintances for parties.

              1. Anonymous*

                I was tricked into interviewing with Vector as well! I was literally just graduating college, no joke,my graduation was the same day as the interview! I thought I had allotted enough time. I remember being there for at least an hour. Jobs that want you to impromptu stay and get started on the paperwork and working right away that same day are probably a big red flag to begin with. I mean who is that inconsiderate of someone’s time? Anyways, I told them I couldn’t stay and finish because I had to go to my graduation. Not sure what I would’ve said had that not been true and had I not really been pressed for time. I was just glad to get out of there. They never contacted me back and I didn’t bother to follow up with them either for obvious reasons.

          2. Jamie*

            “As a good deed, I want to start attending these sessions and leaving partway through, to show others it’s okay to leave as well.”

            I did that once – not as a good deed though. When I was last on the market I was called by a company who on the phone screen said they were looking for an operations admin to run analytics – which by all coincidences was the first thing on my posted resume.

            Anyway, was totally sold to me as a regular interview, and I consider myself pretty smart and I wasn’t even desperate because I had a good temp gig – I didn’t smell anything. Got there and it was a freaking group interview to get people to “invest” in classes to become financial planners and sell packaged funds.

            I was so mad – I put on pantyhose for this stupid interview and everything. Everyone, about 15 people, were all grumbling under their breathe – all misled…but when I was all wtf and walked out no one walked with me. I didn’t care – but wasn’t going to waste another second there.

            It wasn’t even shading the truth – they totally lied to me.

            I really hope there is something to karma and it visits people who do that.

          3. Rana*

            I have to admit I’m still proud of myself for knowing, even at that age, what wasn’t going to work for me, and having the strength of will to walk out despite the hard sell and guilt trip.

            It would have been nice if there’d been more people there doing that!

        2. K.*

          I walked out on a group MLM scam interview too – we all did. It was a smaller group, maybe a dozen people. It felt great. (Well, getting an actual job would have felt better, but still.)

  8. Deirdre*

    Previous employers for whom I have worked have had non-solicitation clauses specifically for situations like this. I would check with your employer/HR.

    Not that you want to play that card but it would be good to know yourself.

    Concur with all the others – firm but polite no thanks, not my thing.

    1. Anonymous*

      I would totally play that card, but I would play it as “Oh and I don’t think you’re allowed to do this through work, so be careful. I don’t know if they’d be upset with you about it or what would happen, but if there’s anyone else at work you wanna ask about it you should be careful about that.”

      Because really I don’t care if it’s against company rules, but if I was her I would genuinely want to know if I could get into hot water for doing that. Also it might make her stop asking coworkers, which I would also like ;)

  9. Jessica*

    Maybe I’m overreacting (and I probably am, since I hate the idea of “home parties” with the fire of a thousand suns), but it seems very inappropriate to use work time and work resources to promote your side business. If the OP’s co-worker had a side job at a store instead of a direct sales company, would it be OK for her to use company time and her company e-mail to convince her co-workers to host a party where all the guests will be pressured to buy things from the store in question? I openly admit that I’m not a fan of this business model in the first place, but it REALLY bothers me to see it brought into the workplace. I wish more workplaces would have clearly defined guidelines for what is and is not appropriate (i.e. independent consultants may leave a catalog in the break room, but may not solicit on company time) so that this would become less of an issue and employees wouldn’t keep finding themselves in this awkward position.

    1. Jamie*

      I’m with you, I think this is a hideous concept and shouldn’t be allowed at work. I’ve been asked to “get togethers”, “someone’s house for drinks with the girls”, and then after declining finding out from others it’s was a sales thing.

      Calling it a party doesn’t make it any less a sales scheme, and as such should fall under no solicitation bans that IMO all work places should have.

    2. Catherine*

      Agreed. I detest these types of businesses and their sales practices.
      However I like how one of my coworkers handled this. She left catalogs in our mailboxes and sent an email that said, I left a catalog in your box, if you want to buy or host a party, call the person, if not, toss it in the recycle bin. No pressure, she got the message out, and I tossed the catalog in my recycle bin. Barely 5 minutes of work time spent, and she never mentioned anything to us in person.

  10. Anonymous*

    Having been on both sides of the network marketing thing, I have to say that this is a situation that doesn’t need to be awkward. She’s presented you with a business opportunity, and you can either take it or not.

    You should not feel pressured to say yes, and she should not pressure you into changing your no into a yes. You can just thank her for thinking of you, tell her that you’re not interested, and that should be it. If she pressures you, just repeat your answer until she gets it. No big deal.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree that it doesn’t have to be awkward… The first time. She can ask (in a straightforward way, not invite for lunch and then surprise them with a “business opportunity”) and you can say no thank you and you both move on. After someone has said no up to 5 times (like I have), it does get awkward.

    2. fposte*

      That’s fine to say for private life (though I think you and I have different stands on how acceptable it is there), but this is in a workplace. It doesn’t belong in a workplace. At least in this case it wasn’t crossing a hierarchy, but I’m sure there are situations where some poor subordinates are feeling their job depends on buying the boss’s blush.

    3. Kelly O*

      See, here is my argument with that – it’s not framed as a “business opportunity” – they call it a “party.”

      So, on the surface it looks like you’d just be having this fun evening with your friends, when in reality it’s all a sales pitch. Like those advertisements for a weekend at a resort but you have to sit through the sales pitch for a timeshare.

      And, like other people have said, you’re already at work. In some places it’s not a big deal and in others it’s huge.

  11. AJ*

    I’m equating this to the “Hey you need to join my Fantasy League. Bring $40 and I’ll see you at the draft,” (a predominant convo among a few coworkers). I’ve had easier times getting out of…almost anything else. I ended up ignoring their emails because they wouldn’t listen when I told them that I wasn’t interested.

    1. Lanya*

      This. I know nothing about fooball and have no interest in it. Yet I have friends and coworkers who keep begging me to join their league. What gives?

      Usually when I tell them I decide which team I like better based on their uniform colors, they back off.

    2. some1*

      It’s similar in that you are being solicited by a co-worker, but I think sales parties are almost worse because I can’t go to Target and join a FF league for cheaper, like I can with all the sales party products I have seen.

    3. Catherine*

      It really annoys me when people tell you to bring money to something! I don’t often have $40 to blow and if I did I certainly wouldn’t blow it on FF!

  12. Zee*

    The only purchase I’ll make from someone who has one of these side businesses is if they are selling Tupperware.

    I went to a jewelry party a few years back. A friend was hosting a party at her house, even though she wasn’t the seller but was learning the ropes, and she wanted a few people to come over. All right. I caved and went. I was sitting there bored out of my mind. Then, the real host gave us each a box that had an unknown piece of jewelry in it. It was technically free, but it had a hitch – we had to agree to host our own party in order to take home this box with the jewelry in it. Completely ridiculous and let’s not talk about the ridiculous games. I completely felt out of my element.

    AAM has good advice. If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to.

    1. Anon*

      The Tupperware thing is why these things work I suppose. You’re willing to buy Tupperware. I’m willing to buy Tupperware and Avon. Someone else swears by so and so’s jewelry/makeup/candles.

      What really ticks me off is when they play those games and all I wanna say is, “God I’m broke – I have no money. I only came to hang out with friends.”

      1. Blinx*

        Tupperware rocks!!

        But may I interest you in some ridiculously expensive handwoven baskets, to organize all of your cosmetic and Tupperware purchases? Coordinating liners and lids extra, of course…

        1. Zee*

          Relatives still have their Tupperware from 20+ years ago! That’s stuff is worth buying.

          There are expensive baskets out there. I just wish I could remember their name.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I keep finding it at the flea market. It’s still in good condition and super cheap there. So I buy it! I wish I could afford the new stuff- it comes in such nice colors now, but I can’t.

    2. Elise*

      Pampered Chef is good too. But I don’t hear about Tupperware or Pampered Chef sellers annoying people too much. Likely those who actually sell quality products don’t need to bother everyone they meet. They just put up a website or an ad in the paper or even a post on Craigslist and the buyers find them! More like a real business than a hidden agenda “business opportunity”.

  13. Can't Say, Small Town*

    My husband owns a very successful funeral home and I work in the corporate world. We’ve both confronted this issue, however my husband’s experience was decidely more uncomfortable.

    He was contacted by an old high school acquaintance requesting discussion of a ‘business opportunity.’ Not having a clue, he returned the call to schedule a meeting. This person, reading from a script, attempted to recruit him to sell ‘household and business cleaning products,’ noting that his network would immediately ‘graduate’ him in the sell level. He was so stunned he had to ask her to repeat what she’d said – he genuinely didn’t follow what she was saying. Sadly, his polite decline was met with resistance and some mild, manipulative argument.

  14. kristinyc*

    I had a friend do one for Mary Kay…and Candlelite….and those wall adhesive wall things… IN THE SAME NIGHT. Out of control. I bought some Mary Kay stuff and a candle, but mostly out of feeling bad for my friend and knowing that she really needed the money. At the time, we were all fresh out of college, and NONE of the people there really had extra money. Ugh. Luckily, she stopped doing those sales parties.

    Miss Manners says to say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but that’s not the way that I prefer to shop.”

    Or you could say something like, “I would, but my sister-in-law sells that exact same product, and she’d be pretty upset with me if I got it through another channel.” (Okay, it’s a lie, but I’d love to see how someone would counter that!)

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Nooooo, not the second way! All that means is that when coworker gets bored of Mary Kay and moves on to Lia Sophia (or whatever), you’ll get hit up for that.

      1. kristinyc*

        “She lives in another state.” There are probably thousands of people selling Mary Kay… they can’t possibly all know each other.

        ::shrug:: I use this one on the street in NYC when people stop me trying to sell me some insane hair salon “discount.” My sister actually is a hair stylist (never mind that she lives in another state, and I go to someone else locally…).

        1. Anonymous*

          Ahh! “can I ask you a question about your hair??” I just keep walking. As mean as that sounds, I have encountered way too many of those. One was even after a haircut haha

  15. K.*

    Just say no. Alison is right, we (especially women) are socialized to think that saying no isn’t nice. False. You certainly shouldn’t spit in her face, but saying “No thanks” politely and firmly is not rude, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You don’t have to accommodate every request made of you. It was hard for me to come to terms with that idea, but once I did, life got easier.

    One of my friends, who was also a colleague at the time, hosted such a party for her friend – but it was actually a ball. (It was … not a Mary Kay or Tupperware party.) She did invite people from work definitely no pressure from her to attend – and the seller was a lovely person, a single mom of three who did this on the side for extra cash.

    1. K.*

      “She did invite people from work BUT THERE WAS definitely no pressure from her to attend.” Typed too fast.

      1. LMW*

        I once attended a party…that was also not a Mary Kay or Tupperware party…with all of my sister’s colleagues (it was hosted by one of her coworkers I was also friends with). Sometimes you do NOT want to know what your coworkers are buying.
        But it was a pretty hilarious party.

        1. K.*

          Ha! We had a friend/colleague (male) who was getting married, so the people from the office bought a few tame gag gifts for him. And her friends were there, the seller’s friends were there, I brought a friend with me … it was really fun. Women, wine, and silliness.

  16. Hugo Stiglitz*

    Hosting one of these parties is more work and time than what you get back in return. You need to clean your house before, set up extra seating, move things around, set out snacks, then clean up afterward. You devote probably 6-8 hours for doing this and may get a pittance in return. Aside from that, unless you really love product parties, you won’t have any fun. Keep in mind that you’re probably doing this on a Saturday or Sunday, so a whole weekend day is just blown away while you let your home be invaded by a product consultant hawking their wares.

    “No thanks. I am not interested.” (go pester someone else)

    1. Jamie*

      I really want a pink heartshaped bathtub now.

      This is why my husband needs final approval on all decor, to save me from myself. Left to my own devices I’d live in a amalgam of Barbie’s dream house and the Hello Kitty house (google it – it’s am-a-zing!)

      And yes, there have been a couple of articles in the news recently about people who end up in serious debt over the Mary Kay thing.

          1. Jamie*

            Which is why I will never be truly sad.

            The key is not to overdo it, I always have some out and most put away and rotate them…otherwise it’s wicked overwhelming.

            I can so easily be bought, too. My boss gave me a white gold HK charm after a big project…now I have to work here until I retire. How can you leave a place that rewards in Hello Kitty and precious metals?

  17. some1*

    I hate this business model as well. Please stop calling them “parties”, btw. A party to me means you have people over and spend money for food, drinks, and entertainment on them to be hospitable (or if you’re broke, you do a potluck thing but you at least provide some of the above plus a location). You don’t invite people over and ask them to open their wallet. That’s a fundraiser. (Not to mention, 90% of the”friends” who have invited me to one of these things has never invited me to their home if there’s no chance of making money off of me.) My answer to one of these invitations is always, “Sorry, I don’t go to sales parties.”

    I had a coworker at my previous job who sold Avon on the side. She constantly emailed the women in the company asking us to buy the stuff. Luckily she got the hint when I always said no.

    At my current job, there are a couple of people who sell make-up and candles. They just have catalogs in the break room, and people who want to but it can, and people who don’t can ignore them. I appreciate that approach a lot more.

  18. Cruella DaBoss*

    Thankfully, we have an HR policy on this sort of thing. It really but a kibosh on any of the amateur sales people we have lurking around the office.

  19. Elaine Vassal*

    Hi OP,
    This is indeed a very irritating circumstance up there on my list with pressure to contribute to children’s softball teams and church bake-offs. At my workplace they needed to come up with a system for those who are annoyed by non-work-related e-mails to categorize and create rules about them. For example:”If person X is sending an NWR about something charity-related you must put “charity” in the subject line so people who don’t want to receive it can create a rule sending it somewhere other than their inbox” Same thing for things related to someone’s kids or free tickets to something. It’s just out of hand!
    Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase here. I’m pretty positive this co-worker of yours receives nos all the time and will not be surprised by yours. Follow Alison’s advice and be firm! And don’t feel bad about it! Like Alison said, her underlying motivation is not nice.
    BTW I’ve got this investment opportunity for something I designed called a face bra? Anyone interested? ;-) j/k

  20. Kimberley*

    I used to sell Tupperware, and I did it for the extra money (and the discount). You definitely need referrals to keep the parties going. However, if I asked someone to host and they said “no” that was the end of it. I guarantee you 100% that this will not be the first “no” that your coworker has heard. She will understand.
    For the record – I never host these types of parties. I don’t like to entertain. When I’m asked I simply say “no thanks, that’s not really my thing”.

  21. Anonymous*

    We have an HR policy as well at my work on no soliciting. It even includes girl scout cookies which are quite popular. Despite the policy, I knew one of my close co-worker’s daughter was selling girl scout cookies since my co-worker was the troop leader. So a few of us did secretly buy from her. She just brought our cookies in concealed bags for us and did not advertise around the office.

    Another co-worker that I was not close with approached me about attending an adult toys party. I thought that was highly inappropriate that she was soliciting such a thing at work and especially to me when I didn’t even know her well. I had to politely refuse several times before she took no for an answer.

    1. Jamie*

      I officially love this comment. The thought of clandestine trafficking of Girl Scout cookies through a workplace. Secret payments, hand-offs at predetermined locations…

      Why do I think that would make the Thin Mints even more delicious than if purchased legitimately?

      As for the adult thing – that’s seriously inappropriate at work. That crosses the line from annoying into creating a very uncomfortable work environment for some people. Fwiw I don’t care what people do in their personal lives, but if someone at work approached me about that it would make me question their judgment in all areas.

      Who approaches co-workers with that kind of thing?

      1. LK*

        Well Thin Mints are crack to me, so I probably should eat them out of a brown paper bag, hiding shamefully under my desk :)

  22. A Bug!*

    Is this coworker a nice person aside from this solicitation? It’s possible (unlikely, but possible) that she does primarily want to meet new people. If she’s otherwise a pleasant person, you might consider inviting her to a casual get-together if you’re prone to that sort of thing. Something like “I have a personal policy of not hosting these things, but I’m getting together with several friends this weekend for drinks and you’re welcome to come with me if you’d like to meet them! Just no sales pitches.”

    Of course, if you suspect that she’ll just try to get all your friends to host parties, or if you like to keep a thick line drawn between work and personal, or if you just don’t like her, ignore the suggestion.

    I just say this because depending on the circumstances, it is really hard to just go out and meet people. You might be doing her a serious solid, but you’re obviously under no obligation to do so.

    1. Anonymous*

      Unfortunately she is no longer with the company. Not sure if it was because of the adult toy soliciting or something else but I do suspect she was fired.

  23. Uncomfortably Solicited*

    Hello, All! I am the one who emailed AAM with this uncomfortable situation. I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful insight – though, as an avid reader, I expected nothing less! You guys are awesome and always provide fantastic anecdotes.

    A quick update for you –
    I emailed my colleague first thing this morning, after reading through AAM’s response and reviewing the first 25 or so comments. I kept my reply short, simple and honest. I thanked her for thinking of me, but said, “These types of parties aren’t my thing. I do appreciate the offer, though!”. She did not respond to my email, but we have been conversing on and off all day re: client work and the awkward factor has been minimal. If anything else develops, I will surely let you know.

    As a side note – I am curious if my company has a policy against this sort of thing. I work for a rather large public relations firm. We have HR policies and guidelines for most everything you can imagine. I have to believe this falls under one of them.

    1. KT*

      Great news! Hopefully she’ll leave it at that.
      I’m sure you’re work does have a policy, but it might be a little hard to rely on that since you would have to tattle on her to HR (which I think would be appropriate if she keeps pestering you, but not if she drops it now). I always respond to this type of request with something like “I’m not interested in hosting a party but if anyone ever tells me they are looking for Mary Kay (or whatever she’s selling) I’ll give them your contact info.” That’s usually enough to shut people up.

    2. Jen M.*

      I’m so glad this wasn’t awkward for you. I hope that the two of you will maintain a good working relationship going forward. :)

      (My comments at the end are just me joking around.)

  24. Ashley*

    I have a friend who started selling PartyLite a few months back. I told her I would come to her kick-off party, but could not afford to buy anything. She said come anyway, and I actually did buy a clearance item for $14. Then, the lady who was her supervisor asked when I would host a party because you get like $500 in credit to spend if you host a party. I told her every friend I had was at that party, so I wouldn’t have anyone to invite. That was the truth and shut her up.

    1. Anonymous*

      The PartyLite people are my favorite. I make my own candles, and I adore the looks on their faces when I mention that.

  25. ChristineH*

    Personally, I hate this business model, and I definitely don’t think it’s appropriate in the workplace.

    I just think some of the tactics used are a little questionable, mainly with less well-known businesses. I had a friend from grad school try to get me involved in hers, and she even went as far as giving our phone number to an associate without my permission. I haven’t spoken to her since.

    I will say, however, that PartyLite was reasonable and had decent products. A nonprofit that I was involved in trying to get started hosted a PartyLite event as a fundraiser, and the associate was not pushy in the least. (FTR, that nonprofit never got off the ground….lol).

  26. Your Mileage May Vary*

    So, if people do know that this sort of thing is prohibited in the workplace and someone does it anyway, do you tell that person directly that it’s not allowed or do you just give HR a heads-up?

    1. Jamie*

      I would mention it to them directly the first time, under the assumption they didn’t know the policy (or had forgotten).

      If it persisted I would bring it up (to them) again and ask why they were persisting after being informed of the policy. Then I would stop talking and wait for an answer. Too many people ask the question and keep talking, or ask and drop it. Silence indicating you need an answer is a powerful tool.

      If I felt it warranted a write up I’d speak to HR. In fact I’d probably mention it anyway as a heads up in case other people were also at this.

  27. Elizabeth West*

    I hate hate hate this!
    You’re not fooling me; I know it’s a sales pitch and I’m not coming! So I just say “No thank you, not interested.”

    I used to buy Girl Scout cookies from a coworker whose daughters were Scouts, but that was because I was too, support that organization and love the cookies. And I love Avon’s catalogs, although there is no stinking way I can afford to buy a product every single week. If they reduced the frequency of them, I might be inclined to purchase now and then.

  28. Lala*

    A little off-topic, but along these same lines…one of my first jobs while still in high school was waiting tables in a little cafe, making $2 an hour. I had a woman with whom I thought I was getting along famously leave me a Mary Kay business card with “10% off” written on it in lieu of a tip. I was young and naive enough to call her and she harassed me for a month!

    1. Anonymous*

      My gym once had a raffle and I received a voicemail that I had won like $10 off or something for Mary Kay and so the Mary Kay person was calling to book a party. I’ve already been there done that so I never called back. She left a few more voicemails but eventually got the hint. I should’ve complained to my gym I mean really how did that even benefit them? Getting sales people to harass their customers in what is disguised as a raffle?!

  29. Jen M.*

    “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I have way, too many pets for it to be a comfortable experience.”

    Sort-of true. Although our house is very clean, we have eight cats.

  30. Maggie*

    A couple of my friends (one real close, the other more of an old classmate) sell for one of those scrapbooking outfits and have taken to posting updates on Facebook. It’s kind of irritating but at least it’s not at work and I can just zip on by it.

  31. Roxie*

    Wow you ladies are killers on party plan sales. I just came home from a Presentation Sales Party in which the guests truly enjoyed themselves but were as broke as could be. I think I made $10. I often wonder why did they not buy and since my products are from $5 to $200 I could not understand. They arrive late, eat all the food, drink all the drink and leave the hostess empty handed. Surely women know as what to expect and that the hostess is doing this for a discount on products. I can see the disappointment on the hostess face. She expected her friends to buy.

  32. anan*

    If it’s a family member ( not a close one), no thank you, not interested doesn’t work!!!!!!!! Please help!!!!!!! I can only avoid them so long, since we live in the same area!!!!!!!

  33. Molly Blazor*

    I know this post is pretty old but thought I’d thought I put in my two cents for anyone who might be stopping by. I totally know what you mean! I have never been one to go to those parties either. I just wanted to say that now I am actually in a point in my life where I sell products in the same manner, and don’t ever be afraid to just say, “Oh, no thanks, not my thing.” The consultant should understand that and stop asking. IF they pressure you, then they are being rude, and it’s totally justified for you be blunt in return and tell her to stop pestering you.

  34. Candace*

    Thank you! I just said, “I’m not interested, but I appreciate the offer.” That was so easy!

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