The rise and fall of Silpada, as told by its No. 1 rep.
Founded in 1997 by two stay-at-home moms and one of their husbands, Jerry Kelly, Lenexa-based Silpada Designs has been the darling of the direct sales market in North America for nearly two decades. Best friends Bonnie and Jerry Kelly and Teresa Walsh created the business by empowering women to earn money hosting jewelry parties in their homes. By 2010, meteoric growth and high sales volume made Silpada a household name and caught the attention of a struggling Fortune 500.
Avon Products purchased the high-profit business for $650 million in July 2010. They had hopes of bolstering lagging sales. Silpada’s network of more than 33,000 independent sales representatives had impressive market penetration throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
After the sale to Avon, Silpada’s sales plummeted. Three years later, Avon was forced to divest of the struggling jewelry business to lessen its drag on the company that had already experienced years of decline.
Because of their passion for the business and high regard for vendors, representatives and customers, the co-founders proactively approached Avon to buy it back.
In July 2013, Walsh and Kelly, along with their families, tendered the highest bid in an auction to purchase the business back from Avon. They paid $85 million, less than one-seventh of the price Avon paid three years earlier.
Soon after the deal closed, Silpada released a statement announcing Kelsey Perry and Ryane Delka, daughters of the Walsh and Kelly families respectively, would serve as co-presidents. Associates and employees had renewed hope for the future.
Silpada never regained profitability. In May 2016, the board of directors announced the decision to cease operations; allowing representatives to continue selling and earning commissions through July 31, 2016.
The announcement regarding Silpada’s decision to close came as a shock to many. With so many questions (and rumors) circulating throughout the community, they want to set the record straight.
Overland Park resident Ginny Fiscella, Silpada’s long-standing top performer, responsible for more than $100 million in cumulative sales since joining the company in 1999, supported and managed an impressive network of more than 2,000 team members. She had been featured in Family Circle magazine in an article about successful women who make money working from home. In the article, Fiscella stated she earned in excess of $200,000 annually.
In an emotional interview with 435, Fiscella shares admiration for the co-founders and reminisces about the local jewelry giant so many adore.
435: Ginny, what do you think happened? Why the need to close Silpada?
Fiscella: The thing is, the business was not gaining momentum. The owners weren’t looking for huge growth, but they were looking for some; and it just never happened.
435: Do you think the daughters had trouble getting things back on track?
Fiscella: Kelsey and Ryane were great. They created brilliant programs like the Stylecard, a perks card that drove customers to shop online by offering discounts and free shipping. With Kelsey and Ryane it was more about the millennial generation creating the legacy to keep the business fresh and on the forefront. To keep new representatives selling products — giving access to people who didn’t want to host home shows, or even to go home parties, but wanted to buy and sell jewelry online. The created the Stylemaker program for these new connections. They did an excellent job of bringing in fresh designs, too. I wouldn’t say there was a problem with the daughters at all. They fought and worked tireless hours to keep this company growing
435: What is Stylemaker?
Fiscella: The Stylemaker was targeted to the millennial woman who was tech-savvy and loved jewelry but didn’t want to host home shows. A Stylemaker could wear, share and sell the jewelry from their e-commerce site without holding home shows. Every time someone purchased product from one of our Stylemakers, she made money. I thought that would be very sustainable — something that would carry the business forward. But I guess it just wasn’t enough to replace the home parties that weren’t happening anymore or the slowdown in the recruitment of new reps. Those were the core of our business, and as they both slowed down so quickly, so did the business.
435: E-commerce was going well then?
Fiscella: Yes, but the trouble was, the ship was just taking on too much water, and it was happening fast. The owners were putting millions of dollars into the business, and they weren’t seeing growth. They were very quiet about it, too. No one knew about the losses except the owners themselves. Even though they had great momentum with online, it just wasn’t happening fast enough.
435: Do you believe the home party program is dead?
Fiscella: I don’t. Personally, I had been consistently hosting eight home parties every month, and that was still happening up until my very last month. Unfortunately, not enough Silpada representatives were doing what I was to sustain the business. We needed more people hosting and signing up new reps, but it wasn’t happening like that anymore. When Silpada started 20 years ago, the world was a different place. At the beginning, most representatives were upper-middle-class housewives. As years went by, more and more women had to go back to work or get back into their careers full-time. When that happened, their part-time fun job took a hit. And unfortunately, they weren’t partying anymore. They were busy. Still, our average sale at a home party was $1,000, and as a rep, you could make 30 percent of that. To go out and drink and party with the best women of your community and make 300 bucks doing it, now that was a great business model.
435: Do you think people don’t have as much free time as they used to?
Fiscella: I do. Think about the kids now. Look at what their sports have become. Back when I was young, it was all recreational. Now our kids are expected to be their very best — they have to be at the top of their game, you know? What do you think that does? I mean, even the kids are expected to really go to work; they have to excel, be the best. That all takes time. I mean, it’s just a different time now.
435: Do you know what’s next for your associates?
Fiscella: Some women are getting out of direct sales altogether. Some have jumped ship to other jewelry companies. It’s different for everyone. There isn’t an easy next step. Silpada was the highest quality direct-sales jewelry company in the industry. It’s hard to sell lower quality. Without Silpada, it’s just not out there. That’s one of the things I loved so much about the company. If they ever had a problem with an item, they would pull it and refine it until it met their high-quality standard.
435: What do you want people to know about Silpada?
Fiscella: For me, as the No. 1 rep in the business, I want people to know how great the Silpada founders and their families are. There are those people who will say the negative, you know like, “Hey, they made $650 million. They don’t have to work again.” But that is not true; not at all. You have to remember, the owners paid millions of dollars they didn’t have to because they wanted to end the company with the integrity and class they started with. So, isn’t it fitting that the Cool Jewels ladies became the absolute coolest?
A message from Silpada’s co-founders:
All the years Bonnie and I did Cool Jewels, the business that preceded Silpada, women came up to us and said, "I want your job." We never forgot that — we wanted to give them our job. We wanted them to have fun making money and meeting great women. The wonderful women in the Kansas City area who invited Bonnie and me into their home to conduct a Cool Jewels party supported us for years, and it was those women who helped us build the company Silpada Designs. We are forever grateful to them.
When we started Silpada, we didn't plan on building a huge company. We just wanted a company we could be proud of and one that did right by its employees and representatives. I’ll never forget associate Marnie Cole saying: "I started my Silpada business to buy some new rugs, but I ended up buying a lake house to put my new rugs in!”
We loved to watch the amazing support women gave each other. When a woman won an award and walked across the stage at National Conference, her team and other friends would rush up to the stage to cheer her on.
Ginny [Fiscella] saw the entire audience give her a standing ovation on many occasions, and the best was when they formed a bridge for her to run under. Every time she received an award, my husband, Tom, would high-five her while walking on stage. He nicknamed her “Just Ginny” because she received every award Silpada created multiple times year after year.
Many lives were changed, and many friends were made. This Silpada family has been through marriages, births, sickness, divorces, kids going to first grade and kids going to college, and some becoming doctors, teachers, nurses, attorneys. Many of them came out debt-free because their mom’s Silpada business paid for it all.
And through all that, many of their young children didn't even realize their mom worked because she was always there for them. Swim meets, homeroom, after-school carpool, last-minute cookie baker and reader of stories at bedtime — they were those kind of moms.
Silpada will live on forever in the minds and hearts of the people who made it great. –Teresa Walsh
“The Silpada sisterhood will never die. They’ll always be our girls.” –Bonnie Kelly