After her husband's cabinet-making business became a victim of the Great Recession last year, Lizette Sosa reordered her priorities.
Instead of looking for a new job, she focused her time and energy on passion, romance and sex. But it wasn't an effort to rescue her marriage. Instead, she was trying to save their livelihood. More than a year later, it seems to be working.
Sosa sells adult novelty items as a consultant for Slumber Parties Inc., a multilevel marketing company that enables women to become distributors for a fraction of what it usually costs to start a business.
And because of that, according to those who work in the sex toy/home party industry, some women are trying entrepreneurship as a solution to a stagnant job market.
"We've seen a huge increase in consultants over the last couple of years," says Slumber Parties spokeswoman Claudia DuFrene. "If I had to put it into numbers, I would say over the last couple of years, we've had a 5 percent increase. And the economy is a big factor."
The company, founded in 1993, boasts nearly 30,000 consultants, covering almost every state as well as four countries. It's one of several companies that use the Tupperware model for selling their products to women in their own homes.
Another company, Las Vegas-based Passion Parties, saw a 15 percent increase in the number of consultants this year, says company President Pat Davis.
"A lot of women are saying either their husband has been laid off, they've been laid off or their hours cut," Davis says of new consultants' motivation for getting started.
In a recent report, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity noted an increase in overall entrepreneurship from 2007 to 2008, especially in Western states.
Working as a consultant for a company such as Slumber Parties or Passion Parties appeals to women because it requires only a modest investment, about $150, and can turn a profit almost immediately, industry representatives say. Consultants make money in two ways: They keep a percentage of sales made during the parties they host and, if they recruit other women to the company, they receive a portion of her sales. The bigger the team they build, the more money they can make.
Passion Parties allows distributors to keep up to 40 percent of the proceeds. Slumber Parties allows distributors to keep from 40 percent to 53 percent of their sales, Sosa says, depending on the size of a team.
Some companies, such as Healthy Pleasures, have taken the consultant concept and put it strictly online. Healthy Pleasures uses "sales executives" who pay an initial $50 for business cards and a Web site that is maintained for them, says Bobbie Archut, a company spokeswoman. They then build a "circle of friends" and sell the company's adult novelties through their site, keeping 20 percent of proceeds. They don't have to host parties but consultants often do to introduce women to their products, Archut says.
The lure of being her own boss was a major reason Archut got involved with Healthy Pleasures. She could, in a sense, control her own fate while earning money.
"You can go where you want, live where you want. And anything having to do with sex does well in a down economy," Archut says before a recent in-house demonstration.
In spite of the recession, demand does exist for their products, DuFrene says. In fact, some of the company's consultants report six figure incomes.
"A lot of people think of it as a recession-proof industry," Sosa says. "Sex sells. People see it as not just a frivolous purchase, they see it as an investment in their relationship."
Growth isn't as strong as years past, Davis says of Passion Parties, but it's still in double digits. Thirty-three consultants are in the million dollar club, meaning their teams do at least $1 million in sales over the year, she explains. Davis expects to add five women to the million dollar club next year. Their top saleswoman earned $400,000 in 2009, she says.
Though Sosa isn't at that level, she earns enough to support herself and her husband, while he explores his options. A part-time Slumber Parties consultant for 14 years, Sosa decided last year to expand into a full-time entrepreneur after the housing market went into a free-fall, taking with it demand for the cabinet-making company's services.
The thought of depending solely on her team-building and party-hosting was a bit scary, she admits. But it has paid off.
"It's either sink or swim. And sinking is not an option," she says.
Though the overhead is almost nothing, Sosa experiences the No. 1 concern of any entrepreneur:
Luckily for her, word of mouth has helped so much that Sosa doesn't have to advertise. She hosts four to six parties a week and hasn't experienced a decline since she went full time with the business in October 2008.
"Sometimes I walk out of (a party) and say, 'Wow, I just did a $1,200 party with 10 or 15 women.' I haven't really seen a real major break in that. And I have to ask myself, 'What recession?' " Sosa says.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.