Direct Selling Legend: John Fleming

John Fleming has been one of direct selling’s most consistent and strongest advocates. His successful career as a distributor led him to a corporate role with Avon Products, Inc., followed by the distinguished title of Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Direct Selling News for nine years.

FLEMING was inducted into the Direct Selling Education Foundation Circle of Honor in 1997,  is a member of the DSA Hall of Fame was honored and was the first recipient of the Direct Selling News Lifetime Achievement Award. In retirement, Fleming has devoted his time to researching the gig economy. His book, Ultimate Gig, which explores the history and potential of the gig economy, will be released later this year.

Fleming was interviewed by Stuart Johnson, Direct Selling News Founder and CEO. The two are long-time friends and colleagues who built Direct Selling News together, with an emphasis on advocacy and positive journalism that continues today.

What inspired you to get involved in a direct selling business?

I was inspired by authenticity. I’ll never forget because at the time, I never, ever considered direct selling to be a part of my life. My sponsor was so authentic and passionate and became one of my best friends. He was a school teacher with a family, and he was also working a part-time job in this business model where the masses could participate and it could be a way to add value to life. Quite frankly, he changed my life, so I’m very grateful.

When did you decide direct selling was the right choice for you?

I remember that year distinctly when the earnings from the direct selling business, part-time, were about three times what I was earning in the architectural firm. That was a defining moment for me because I was working in the office of Mies Van der Rohe, recognized as one of the three masters of modern architecture. I was so proud of my architectural career, but I also wasn’t earning enough money. I took a sabbatical from architecture and decided to do direct selling full-time. I was beginning to understand that I was learning a lot by working in the direct selling model. I was learning about people, passion and purpose, and about how to hook those things together. In architectural school, we learned how to design buildings, but this business taught me how to design a life.

What are a few of your most memorable moments?

The architectural concepts that had been so entrenched in my thinking process—the concept of less is more—began to kick in. We focused a lot on reducing complexity into simplicity in architecture and at Avon, we really had the opportunity to put that into play on a major scale and transform that company at a very significant moment in time. We built a new form of Avon, which became a billion-dollar business within a multi-billion-dollar company. That’s a memorable moment for me.

What is your outlook for the business model?

I’ve always been a believer that this channel of distribution is one of the finest forces for good on planet Earth. I see a very optimistic, growing future. The channel has a great opportunity to reduce complexity to simplicity, and as we do that, we are going to become more appealing than perhaps ever before. When you look at the evolution of the model, we did go through a period where perhaps we became a bit too complex. I’ve been around long enough to say that from observation. History is very, very important and we can always learn a lot from it.

What advice would you like to share with our audience?

We’re using technology now as well as anyone, and we can use technology in a more personal manner than anyone else. The dependency on physical presence is going to yield to the digital economy, so digital presence is where we need to be. And we’re going to be better and better at it.