This week on the Modern Direct Seller Podcast, we’re joined by Kristine Widtfeldt, the CEO of Chalk Couture! Listen in for some honest conversation about her direct sales journey, its triumphs, and its challenges, as well as plenty of tips for making your work a success, advice both for those in direct sales and those looking to join, and an overview of all of the opportunities that the industry has to offer. You won’t want to miss her insight!
Explore Chalk Couture: ChalkCouture.com.
Time based notes:
- 1:37 Kristine Widtfeldt introduction
- 6:08 Chalk Couture products
- 11:03 The overnight sensation that isn’t
- 18:08 The evolving independent contractor
- 19:59 Creating a frictionless shopping experience
- 23:07 Real-time access to payments
- 25:59 Advice for future direct sellers
- 29:03 Advice for current direct sellers
Kristine Widtfeldt’s Advice for Direct Sales Success
Recently on the Modern Direct Seller Podcast, we were joined by Kristine Widtfeldt, CEO of Chalk Couture. Kristine’s career has ranged from advertising to magazine editing, from writing film critiques to hosting on-air television, and she’s worked with top direct sales brands in senior leadership roles. She has over 20 years of experience in building strong, women-focused brands, has authored multiple books, has appeared on shows such as ABC News’ 20/20.
Chalk Couture was founded in 2016 as a company based in creativity, community, and connection, and it has grown to an excess of $40 million in top line revenue.
We’re thrilled to share Kristine’s insight into what has made her sales history and Chalk Couture so successful! Read on to hear how she answered some of our most important questions, and to learn how you too can make the most of your direct sales journey.
First, the basics. Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you serve, and what you’ve been doing in this industry.
“In a nutshell, I studied English in college, because I love to read, I love to write, and I love to speak. And, I just figured that the magic career would manifest itself to me if I pursued something that I was passionate about, with no real idea of what I was going to do. So, I did a lot of really cool gigs. But, while I was working for an ad agency, one of our clients was in direct selling. And, I really loved this client. They were this young, scrappy company with this really innovative product. And, when we started getting additional clients that were also in the direct selling industry, what I loved about it right away was that I started to see direct sales as sitting at the intersection of opportunity and innovation. It doesn’t matter what your background is. Doesn’t matter if you’re an English major, you love to read, you love to speak, you love people—you can find a path.
“So, I love the opportunity. And, I love the opportunity specifically for women. I think that it fits with where, how, and when you want to work, with all the many things that you’ve got going on. And, I often say that ‘Direct sales is for triers.’ People who love and want to try things, and who are a little bit entrepreneurial. I love that bold, brassy streak in direct sellers.
“And then, that other piece of the intersection is innovation. If you want to look at trend, and what’s going to be the next big thing, look at direct sales, because often, it is the next, next thing in makeup, in fashion—in home decor, in Chalk Couture’s case. Direct sales is a hotbed and a safe haven where good ideas can take root, and those triers can take the ideas and run with them. That’s one thing that stood out to me in my ad agency life. And, not long thereafter, I left the ad agency world and immersed myself in direct sales. And now it’s been 20 years, and I’m still digging it.”
I love what you said just around the opportunity that direct sales provides.
“And, what I think is cool is that you get to define what ‘opportunity’ means. The company you join, your sponsor, a team member—they don’t get to define it. For so many direct sellers, the opportunity is a chance to be an extrovert, and connect with other people. To have a reason to reach out even during a pandemic, and to go live on Facebook, and to connect with people who are like-minded. In our instance, it’s people who love to be creative, and take care of their home, and make something beautiful. And so, that is an opportunity. Yes, there is a financial opportunity. But, as human beings, we need to be fulfilled in a lot of ways in addition to financial. We need to have our needs met socially and psychologically and personally. And so, I think that’s one of the big, big areas that direct sales can fuel.”
You know, I was on a mastermind call a couple of days ago, and they described this concept of “entrepreneurship” as being on a forever personal growth journey. And, I could relate to that so, so much, because you’re right, that opportunity is more than financial. It provides community and connection. But, it also gives you the opportunity to grow in ways that you never even realized was possible.
“I often tell people that all direct sales companies—all good direct sales companies— are personal development companies, hopefully with a great product.”
Well, let’s talk about great products! Tell us what you’re up to over there at Chalk Couture.
“Well, if they want to visit us at ChalkCouture.com, we have a product that I could spend 15 minutes describing, or 10 seconds in a video showing you.
“We have a really great, reusable, mesh silkscreen transfer. You know, you see T-shirts of old, where they would silkscreen a design onto it? We do something similar, but it’s absolutely no mess, no stress. We sell hundreds of different designs of the silkscreen itself. Whether you want something to go on a shirt, a tea towel, a frame, a kid’s project, a gift, a card… I’ve even seen our transfers used on a woman’s pregnant belly once, like a ‘Baby on Board’ thing. You can put “No snacking” on your fridge; you can put “No soliciting” on your front door. We have hundreds of different designs, from Halloween to everyday to Christmas to Hanukkah to sports.
“And then, we offer a huge palette of totally washable Chalkology® Paste that comes in every different color you can imagine. They dry in about 30 seconds, and if you don’t like what you’ve created, take a damp wash rag and wipe it off. Otherwise, this dries to a buff, matte shine in about 30 seconds, and it’ll stay put until you want to take it off. And, if you want it to stay put forever, use our permanent Ink product; it’s the exact same kind of experience as our paste, except that it’ll last forever.
“When we talk about direct sales being at the ‘intersection of innovation and opportunity,’ sometimes the big wow of a product has been sitting right in front of us all along. Like, the product that we have is not a fundamentally new concept. The thing that makes it new and exciting is our field. You can buy products similar to our washable chalk paste and great reusable stencil at big box stores. But, at a big box store, there isn’t someone who says, “That design would look amazing on that surface with those colors. Let me show you how to put it together.” I think that’s why sometimes the biggest innovation that direct sales brings to a product is the person who’s showing you how to do it, and how to do it right. I think that’s what really put us on the map.”
You have grown very quickly, which is exciting. And growth comes with challenges. If you’re a direct seller looking at somebody else in the industry and seeing their success, everything comes across like, “Wow, they have it all together.” Has that been the case? What has that journey looked like on the inside?
“It’s not easy! We could do a whole podcast on the overnight sensation that isn’t, and all the long hours and the things that go wrong. Honestly, I really believe in the attitude: You either win, or you learn. And, we have learned a lot. And, we have really patient, flexible, visionary designers who have been willing to stick with us through the lumps and bumps and as things maybe haven’t worked out as well as we wanted them to.
“Every company, especially a fast-growing one, is going to have real problems. The reason that you don’t know about them when it comes to any big brand—like Nike, or McDonald’s, or Dillard’s—is that they persist, and they solve them. They lean into the discomfort. They acknowledge with humility, ‘Gosh, that was a bad decision. Let’s learn from it.’ Or, ‘Let’s do something different.’
“For example, when we started producing our exclusive Chalkology® paste, it was literally being produced in a KitchenAid-style mixer, like you have at home. And, we had Tupperware containers that were full of it. We would put them into 5-gallon buckets, and then they’d get scooped out and put into small jars, and that worked just fine.
“Today, we have two 50-gallon, high shear, industrial mixers that create our paste. Well, great. That’s a sign of growth. But, we found that the same recipe that worked great when you were making it in small batches didn’t scale particularly well when you put it in a 50-gallon drum. When we doubled it, we found that suddenly, this paste that had been so consistent—we called it ‘creamy dreamy’—would dry out. And so, our customers went from saying, ‘We love this product,’ to ‘I opened my paste, and it was chunky.’ Or, ‘It was hard to stir.’ And so, we had some real learning curves, where we had to modify the formulas that had always worked for us for scale, and just shift the ingredients ever so slightly. It was a problem, and we had to fix it. We had to get from the 5-gallon mixer to the 50-gallon mixer.
“And then, about a year and a half ago, we relaunched our paste. And we made sure that we sent free samples to every customer who had purchased paste, and it was expensive to do, and it was the right thing to do. We wanted to say, ‘We still believe in our product, and we want you to come back and rediscover it.’ And so, I think that was notable. And, it was directly tied to growth.”
Thank you for your transparency in sharing that story, because I think sometimes, you’re right. On the outside, it’s like, “They’ve got it all figured out. Look at all their growth. How do I do that?” Right? That’s the question. Like, “How do I make my business work?”
“You lean in, and you stay in it. Right? You literally show up every day, and you say, ‘Okay, guys, that was a hot mess. And I own it. And thank you for showing up again. And let’s get this right. What we’ve got is too special to not keep working.”
Since you have been in this industry for a while, and you’ve seen some people have tremendous success, what is your best coaching for somebody that’s just getting started?
“Direct Sales 101 means fall in love with a product first. Find an amazing product that you genuinely would use. Don’t look at something that’s just launching, or that ‘might be a massive opportunity.’ If you’re getting into it saying, ‘Well, I looked at their compensation plan, and I just really liked it,’ you’re going to have trouble building a real brand, you won’t come across as authentic, and you won’t be able to speak to how it’s used—whatever it may be. Any product can be the perfect product or the worst product for you. So, I think if you’re evaluating the industry, first have a deep, true, love of a product that you feel like, ‘I would buy this myself and love it and use it in my life.’
“Secondly, do some research, because you aren’t just signing up with the company; you are signing up with a person. Find the person who vibes with your same style. And sometimes that may be a really, really successful leader. But sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes that really, really successful leader might be too busy to give you what you want. And, you can interview them. You can say, ‘Hey, I’m looking at joining Chalk Couture. What kind of support will you provide me in my first 90 days? What can I expect? What kind of groups do you have?”’It’s perfectly fine to ask. In fact, your sponsor will love you for that. They want to work with people who want to know more about the business.
“After that, make sure that you pay attention to everything that both the company and your upline give you in the first 30 days. If you’ve ordered a starter kit, don’t let it sit on your bedside table. There’s magic in there! Open it, and dive in—and record an unboxing video. It’s good for you. It’s good for everybody. And it’s even good for your family and friends to see, ‘Oh my gosh, look at how cute that is.’ You’re sharing the surprise with them, and you want your friends and family to know what you’re doing, because they’ll be your biggest supporters. They’ll help you connect with other people as you work to build your community.”
For those who have been in the business, who are maybe gearing up for the holiday season now, what is your best advice for them as they’re planning their work on the day to day?
“If you’re already in direct sales, then my biggest advice is nothing new. I think common sense is the best rule—even though sometimes it’s not common practice. And, I love the adage that ‘You can work a business full-time or part-time, but you can’t work it in your spare time.’ So first, take advantage of the fourth quarter, because this is the time when we shine. People’s wallets are open; their hearts and minds are open. And people want to shop local. Emphasize that you are the local person. More and more people want that opportunity.
“I’m also a huge believer in to-do lists and holding myself accountable. Get a running buddy. Talk to your partner, talk to your spouse, and say, ‘Today, I’m going to set an alarm. And for 15 minutes, I’m going to focus on reaching out to everybody who has ever ordered from me in the last six months. I’m going to tell them what I’m offering for the month of September. And then, let’s talk about it at dinner tonight.’ I think husbands, partners, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, they’re the best accountability partner, because they want you to win. But, no matter who they are, it’s great to find someone who can hold you to your deadlines.
“And you can be accountable to yourself, too. Set aside a consistent amount of time every week to make sure that you are working. I’m not telling you that to have a successful fourth quarter, you need to be working at 40 hours a week. If it’s five, make those five hours a day, super, super profitable, and focus on nothing but your business.
“In truth, we win by doing just 1% more than we feel comfortable with. I do that even when I’m on a treadmill. I’ll be running, and I’ll often tell myself, ‘Do one more minute.’ And then, I’ll get to the end of that minute, and I’ll go, ‘Okay, do one more.’”
Oh, my goodness, there’s your pep talk!
“And here’s my biggest rule of the day: Early in my career, I worked for Stephen Covey, the man who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. And, I learned something from working with him and in that wonderful environment, which was all about how to be your best self. And, one of my key takeaways was: Get up in the morning when your alarm goes off, or before, because it is the first commitment of the day. Nobody else knows if you hit the snooze button, or stay in bed five minutes longer, but you do. He always used to say, ‘The most important person to hold yourself accountable to is you.’ And it starts with whatever time you’ve told yourself to get up in the morning. So, if you’ve told yourself, ‘I’m gonna get up at 6:30 tomorrow,’ do it.
And then, make your bed. Because, even though you’re telling yourself, ‘No one else is going to be in my bedroom. No one will see the unmade bed,’ you’ll know you’ve done it. And I know that sounds crazy. But, I haven’t worked for Stephen for nearly 30 years, and every single morning when I get up, I think, ‘The first commitment that I honor is to myself. And, it is to get out of bed, and put my feet on the floor when I said I would, and make my bed, because order and discipline matter.’ It’s something I do for me.
“So, that’s my advice. Take nothing away from this but ‘get up on time and make the bed,’ and your whole day is yours.”
To learn more about Chalk Couture, visit them on Facebook @ChalkCouture, on Instagram @Chalk_Couture, or on YouTube at “Chalk Couture.” If you want to dip your toe into the Chalk Couture water and keep up with what’s new, sign up for the ChalkStyle newsletter at www.ChalkCouture.com.
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Take Action: Which of Kristine’s tips will help you to become more successful in direct sales?