Beyond the ‘burp’

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ORLANDO, Fla. – With the lights dimmed and New Age music playing in the background, Kemper Bushnell is leading a group of women though a series of breathing exercises.

“Breathe in through your nose and put your hand on your stomach to feel your breath,” Bushnell says to the group gathered in a living room in a suburban east Orange County, Fla., home.

While Bushnell’s instructions are designed to relax, they’re also part of her pitch.

An independent director of a sales team for BeautiControl, a line of beauty and skin-care products owned by Tupperware Brands, Bushnell is putting on a so-called “spa escape party” designed to sell items ranging from chilled eye pads with cucumber-ivy extracts to frozen margarita foot cream.

The party represents part of a multiyear makeover at Tupperware, the Orlando, Fla.-based company that has been trying to shed an image left over from the 1950s of homemakers peddling milky-white bowls in tract homes.

Already, Tupperware has changed the look and feel of its parties, updated and expanded its traditional product line to include colorful bowls and stylish kitchen goods, expanded into foreign markets and pushed into the cosmetics business with the purchase of BeautiControl.

Furthering its transformation, Tupperware agreed to pay an estimated $566 million in August for the overseas direct-selling beauty business of Sara Lee Corp.

To underscore the point that Tupperware sells more than plastic bowls, the direct-selling firm changed its name from Tupperware Corp. to Tupperware Brands Corp. in December, when the deal with Sara Lee closed.

Tupperware chief executive Rick Goings said the recent moves were needed to reignite growth at the company.

“It’s part of the strategy that we really crafted six or seven years ago,” Goings said.

Sales of the company’s containers and kitchenware in the United States have been on the decline for the past several years with the proliferation of cheaper disposable containers and kitchen goods.

Sales of the company’s BeautiControl North America line have moved up at a steady pace since its purchase. Revenue for the product line was $146.7 million in 2005, up 24 percent from $118.2 million in 2004.

That’s not surprising to BeautiControl consultants like Bushnell, who said she enjoys pitching skin-care products and personal care items in a relaxed, low-pressure atmosphere.

“You can earn a wonderful living,” she said. “I’ve got the flexibility to work when I want to.”

Bushnell said her spa escape parties typically pull in between $200 to $500. She estimates a full-time beauty consultant could generate about $5,000 a month in sales. That figure, however, does not include the money the consultant makes from recruiting women into the business.

As an incentive to grow its sales team, BeautiControl offers consultants a percentage of the sales of new recruits they’ve brought to the company.

Shirley Rivers, 56, one of Bushnell’s recent recruits, said the spa escape party Bushnell put on impressed her.

“I’m in-between things and want to do something where I have more time to spend with my grandkids,” Rivers said.

What helps with the beauty business pitch is that it has the built-in advantage of selling a product consumers tend to use more often and need to replace, compared with durable plastic containers and kitchenware.

“There is more repeat business,” said Doug Lane, a consumer product analyst with Avondale Partners, an investment banking firm in Nashville, Tenn.

“Tupperware has a lifetime guarantee for heaven’s sake.”

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