Lia Sophia invites Internet to the party

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While some party plan businesses see the Internet's direct marketing model as incompatible with their lifeblood -- the in-home party -- costume jewelry direct seller Lia Sophia has embraced the online channel wholeheartedly.

Lia Sophia, which was known as Lady Remington Jewelry until two years ago, has undergone more than a name change in recent years. Under executive vice president Rick Schwartz and executive vice president of sales Peter MacBride, the brand's merchandise mix has been given more of a fashion-forward direction to appeal to a wider range of customers. Also, the company's PR efforts have intensified to where the brand regularly appears in fashion magazines and on the arms and necks of celebrities. Embracing the Internet is yet another way the company has updated its image.

"We saw the potential of the Internet and the efficiencies it could bring to the business," Mr. Schwartz said. "It provides a meaningful way to communicate with end users and our sales people."

The company has taken advantage of what the Internet has to offer without competing with the parties that its own consultants hold, he said.

Lia Sophia, Bensenville, IL, has accomplished this with help from software solutions provider Next Wave Logistics Inc., which has created a platform for direct sellers that provides consultants everything they need to run their business from a computer. This includes a calendar program, contact database, personal Web site for consultants, online learning and the ability to send invitations, place and track orders, receive communications from corporate headquarters and monitor how recruits are performing. Consultants also can download corporate-approved ads that they can place in local newspapers as well as various business forms.

For example, a consultant can send invitations via the Internet for an upcoming party that have "Yes, I can attend" and "No, I can't make it" RSVP buttons. If a recipient clicks yes, she automatically gets directions to the party. If she clicks no, she is brought to Lia Sophia's online product catalog, where she can place an order and the consultant will receive credit for it.

"This is the perfect marriage of being able to hold a party and, at the same time, for the people who say no, being able to make sure they see the catalog," said David Proctor, executive vice president/co-founder of Next Wave Logistics, Naperville, IL.

In the past, consultants had to chase down anyone who couldn't attend a party in order to hand her a catalog, he said.

The online catalog is shopped "quite regularly" by people who can't make parties, Mr. Schwartz said. "We've added at least one additional customer per party" employing this strategy.

An average of 11 people order per every Lia Sophia party, and the company has 16,000 advisers nationwide.

Lia Sophia's corporate site, www.liasophia.com, also directs visitors interested in making a purchase to their nearest consultant's Web site to review the product catalog. Browsers can view a selection of the brand's products on the corporate site but they cannot make purchases.

The business management tools provided by Next Wave's platform help consultants be more efficient so they dedicate more time to selling and managing their recruits, said Mr. Schwartz, who noted that about 98 percent of consultants now place their orders via the Internet. He didn't know how many use the online invitation tool, though he said many do.

"E-mails are not a perfect medium to send invitations," Mr. Schwartz said, as some get blocked by spam filters.

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