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ERIE Stories

You're Invited

Remember the “exchange chain letters” of years ago? If I sent a single kitchen towel to the first person on a typewritten list and then mailed the letter to six of my friends, it promised I’d receive a bounty of 36 kitchen towels.

Or 36 books. Or 36 recipes. The letters came and came and came, each promising abundance (360 percent of your investment!) or shame (the obligation to tell the sender her postage was wasted, as you were going to break the chain).

These days, invitations continue apace. Yet the requests aren’t coming through the U.S. Postal System—they’re coming via email, text and, more often than not, social media. And they’re no longer
requests asking me to pop a kitchen towel in the mail so it can be returned to me 36-fold. Instead, I’m invited to check out a seller/friend’s store.

These stores are set up through network marketing companies. Network marketing appeals to many, and there have never been more opportunities to get involved. It offers a way to make a little extra money. (Or, if you’re higher up on the chain, maybe more than a little.) It’s an easy way to get into business without having to build a brand from scratch. And it provides a good excuse to connect with like-minded friends and acquaintances.

Network marketing and other jobs in the gig economy are growing. Whether you’re in the market for kitchen gadgets or candles or antiaging potions or just about anything else, there’s a product and party for you.

While sometimes these are indeed actual parties with food, drinks and friends, often they’re “online parties” or “catalog parties,” meaning you don’t have to leave your house or even change out of your pajamas to attend! Which is genius, because who doesn’t prefer an elastic waistband?

In a perfect world, I’d be flush enough to buy from every friend, family member and coworker who has his or her own business, although I’d likely end up surrounded by candles and weighted down with head-to-toe jewelry like a cross between Liberace and Flavor Flav. (But with really good skin, if those before-and-after photos are any indication!)

So instead, I splurge on things like my Pampered Chef stoneware casserole dish, which I love beyond measure. Still, the question remains: Would I really have received 36 kitchen towels? Sadly, I missed my chance and may never know. If someone out there was richly rewarded, drop me a line at—I’d love to hear!


Vanessa Weibler Paris works in Strategic Marketing at Erie Insurance.
Our columnist reflects on how network marketing and the rise of the gig economy provide her with more buying options than ever before. /blog/youre-invited Erie Insurance