Clever Container logo Metro Detroit women are developing successful careers in direct sales despite the down economy.  In fact, some are using the money they make as a new way to pay their mortgages, bills and vacations.

Karen Eschebach and Karen Weaver came up with the idea for their start-up company, Clever Container, while at a party in 2006.

"I think the minute that Karen said it, it was like a light bulb, like 'Oh my gosh, that's a great idea. Why hasn't anyone ever thought of that?," said Weaver.

Eschebach was a professional organizer at the time and Jennifer Weaver was a consultant for Pampered Chef.   They decided to try and sell the products Eschebach uses to organize homes in a home-party setting.

They began their business by working out of Weaver's basement.

"We basically started in a very small room," said Eschebach. "That was our warehouse and we each had a desk outside of that little tiny room. "

The home party idea took off for these Grosse Pointe women.   After about two years, Clever Container got some publicity on a network morning show and a story in an area newspaper, women all over the country wanted to become Clever Container consultants.  

"We had to buy lots and lots of stock and when that happened the husbands kind of got together and started knocking down the walls and then we took her entire basement over," said Eschebach.

 To date, they have 900 consultants across the US and hope to have as many as 1,200 by the end of the year.

In 2010, Eschebach and Weaver were still operating their business out of a basement, but then they caught the attention of two Chicago-area businessmen.

"This Metro car pulled into the driveway and this guy comes out and says you know, 'Hi my name is and I'm representing these two gentlemen who are interested in your company,'" said Eschebach.  

Stella and Dot logo The businessmen invested $250,000 in Clever Container.   They used the money to move their warehouse out of the basement to an actual warehouse in the Chicago area, an online ordering system and came up with a new compensation plan.  Eschebach and Weaver also started working out of an office in St. Clair Shores.

Eschebach said they are on track to do $2 million in sales this year, but they are putting all the money they make back into the business.

"We are looking within the next year to 18 months to have everything be designed and manufactured for us and by us," said Eschebach.

Direct Sales is big business despite the struggling economy.  Last year U.S. direct sales totaled $29.87 billion and was up 4.6 percent from 2010, according to the Direct Sales Association.

"A lot of our consultants actually have left their jobs or had lost their jobs or even husbands had lost their jobs and so they started with us to kind of help fill that void and make some extra money to kind of help pay their mortgages," said Eschebach.

Christine Lammers, a director for Stella & Dot agrees.

"I think that there is just a huge need for people to provide extra income in this area," said Lammers.

Stella & Dot sells boutique-style jewelry and accessories and offers home-based business opportunity for women.   It currently has more than 12,000 stylists and is number 57 on the Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest growing companies.

"It's so fun to see how many of us are really taking advantage of the opportunity that's in front of us," said Christine Lammers to a recent All-Stylist training meeting in Royal Oak.

Stella & Dot was founded by Jessica Herrin and it was a business that started in her living room.  This is the second successful business launch by Herrin who also was the co-founder of  WeddingChannel.com.  The company refers to stylists as independent business owners.

According to Stella & Dot, Herrin's goal in creating the company was to allow women to thrive as entrepreneurs, provide a career that allows for family and balance and provide a service and product that women really need.

"Stella & Dot really provides a great fit. It's a flexible business, you run it on your own schedule with your own hours flex in when you want to be busy slow down summer months if you want to be home with your kids," said Lammers.

Lammers, who oversees a team of 300 stylists, is one of only four directors in Michigan.   She said she knows stylists who use Stella & Dot to pay their mortgage and bills and others who use it for vacations and to pay for private school.

This was a part time job for three years for Lammers, but she recently quit her day job to pursue her Stella & Dot career full-time.

"It's something that's been coming for a long time.  That's been my goal since I started with the company. I really wanted to be home with my boys when they got off the bus. I wanted to be the one to be able to put them on the bus in the morning," said Lammers.

Women can start their Stella & Dot career for just $199.  The company has a special promotion through October 15th; stylists who join get an extra $100 in samples.

Ashley Vella  became a stylist in 2011 when she moved back to the area to help pay some of her credit card bills.

"Now I have a full-time job, so I'm doing Stella & Dot part time and I am counting on it every month to pay for my car payment and my car insurance so I don't have to dip into my full time income for that," said Vella.  "One trunk show, I can make about $150 to $250 and I mean that's easy money."

Stylists sell the company's jewelry and accessories at trunk shows and by using social media.

"You invite some eight to 10 girlfriends over for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, I bring my jewelry and set up on the kitchen table and shop," said Lammers.  "You get to touch it, feel it, try it on, and really just enjoy playing dress up for 90  minutes."

Both Clever Container and Stella & Dot said they are entering their busy season with the upcoming holidays.  

If you're interested in Clever Container you can email Eschebach and Weaver at info@clevercontainer.com or call (586) 777-7105.  For their website, click here.

If you are interested in Stella & Dot you can contact Lammers at JPLCLL@comcast.net or (734) 604-1984.  For her website, click here.