Sunday, March 25, 2001

Home business only option for some women

Lifestyle, profitable ventures perfect match

By Christy Karras
The Associated Press

        SALT LAKE CITY — Laura Savage used to make toys for fun and for spending money, running an assembly line in her basement in her spare time. But when her husband's construction business collapsed, Mrs. Savage — pregnant with her sixth child — discovered her home business was key to the family's survival.

        “We were on the verge of losing everything,” Mrs. Savage said.

        She expanded her line of crafts to an array of specialized refrigerator magnets, notepads and stickers she sold at conventions and through home-business acquaintances. She sewed outfits for kids to dress up as doctors, nurses and superheroes.

[photo] Tiffany Fairbanks (right) helps Helene Johnson with a home business project.
(Associated Press photo)
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        It's not an uncommon story — Mom's at-home work bolsters the family's earnings — but in Utah, it's considered a natural outgrowth of Mormon culture.

        Home businesses are “a perfect match for the lifestyle in Utah,” said Linda Hamilton-Orr, a district manager for Avon Products Inc. in Salt Lake City. “A lot of home-based businesses thrive here.”

        The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose membership includes about 70 percent of the state's population, encourages women to stay home and take care of their children. A cultural reverence for pioneer heritage and the self-sufficiency that went along with it make craftwork and social networks a daily part of Mormon women's lives.

        The Washington-based Direct Sellers Association says 73 percent of the 10 million direct sellers nationwide are women who sell everything from Tupperware to lingerie. Although there are no state breakdowns, many companies rank Utah near the top in terms of per-capita involvement in home businesses.

        Mrs. Savage, who later wrote The Home-Based Businesswoman's Guide to Success and Sanity, may be one of the best examples. She became part of a network — even publishing a telephone directory, “The Pink Pages,” for them when the phone company wouldn't let them list their home phone numbers in the business pages.

        “Utah pushes so much the stay-at-home moms' family values, it's really natural,” said Angie Pymm, who markets scrapbooking supplies for Creative Memories, a Minnesota-based scrapbooking company. “It gives women a creative outlet and an option to be in the business world.”

        Like many Mormon women, Mrs. Savage thinks women should not work outside the home. She tried it briefly, and “it was a nightmare.”

        In a 1995 survey taken for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52 percent of Mormon women agreed with the statement, “Everyone is better off when Mom stays home,” while only 29 percent of non-Mormon women agreed.

        In addition, Mormons tend to have large families, making day care expensive and providing further impetus for mothers to avoid the office, said Tim Heaton, a sociologist at Brigham Young University.

        “You have to pay for the kids' food, lessons, school, but working outside the home is not really an option,” he said. “So finding a way to earn money and stay home at the same time is a priority.”

        The church also provides would-be businesswomen with a built-in network of friends and neighbors who share their values.

        For decades, Mormon women have set aside one or two evenings a month for what the church calls “home, family and personal enrichment nights” — where they socialize, make crafts and share lessons on motherhood and home economics.

        That makes it easy to find potential sales representatives or willing buyers.

        “There's a lot of opportunity for networking,” said Valerie Arnold, a senior director for The Pampered Chef, a kitchenware seller.

        But the bottom line is money. And for some, the rewards are big.

        One Utah company, Stampin' Up!, was started by two stay-at-home sisters 12 years ago and has grown by 30 percent each year for the past three years. The company, which sells rubber stamps and stationery, had revenues in 1999 of about $100 million.

        While most home-based businesses are part time, half of those who do it full time make more than $50,000 a year, said Amy Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Direct Sellers Association.

        Top Avon saleswomen, for example, make almost $200,000 a year, said company spokeswoman Stephanie Dupre.

        Even part-timers do well. Ms. Arnold says she makes about $5,000 a month working six nights for the Pampered Chef.

        But women say independence and a sense of accomplishment, things that don't always come with being a full-time mother, are as important as the money.

        “No one ever says, "Oh, Mom, the toilet is so clean!'” Ms. Arnold said. “It's a good way to bolster our self-esteem.”


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