Chef executive

The party plan

There were some things she didn’t like about party plan sales: The high-pressure pitch, the obligation to purchase something even if you didn’t want to. From the beginning, Christopher eliminated that aspect from The Pampered Chef’s culture, and focused simply on the quality of the tools and the expertise of the consultants.

Here’s how it works. A host offers up his or her home for what The Pampered Chef calls a "kitchen show" and invites the guests. The kitchen consultant arrives and demonstrates a range of kitchen tools. Afterward, the consultant takes orders from the catalog. There’s no obligation and no pressure, yet the formula is wildly successful.

"I didn’t have a formal business plan," Christopher admits. "I didn’t study direct selling or party planning. When I look back on it now, I truly was a novice, both from a business perspective, but certainly from the perspective of understanding anything about direct selling. I learned as I went along."

From the first kitchen show in 1980, Christopher booked more shows until about nine months later, when a woman approached her about doing her own kitchen show. Christopher had always thought she would add a sales force, but wasn’t sure she could afford one.

That night, she and her husband devised a commission system for the kitchen consultants and made their first hire. By 1981, The Pampered Chef had 12 consultants.

By the late 1980s, The Pampered Chef had expanded to states surrounding Illinois but had yet to make the leap to other parts of the Midwest, let alone the eastern states. By that time, Christopher’s girls were older and didn’t need as much supervision, which allowed her to do some traveling.

She went to St. Louis, Indianapolis and Milwaukee to recruit new kitchen consultants. She placed small newspaper ads and worked her personal network of family, friends and consultants who knew people in those areas who might be interested in selling.

"One of the things that’s very strong in our business is that we recruit other people into our business from the experience itself," Christopher explains. "That’s how we recruit them best. That is where people become really enamored and excited about being a part of this, so having kitchen shows is pretty important."

A little good press helped, too. A few small articles in national magazines about this new kitchenware phenomenon that was quietly sweeping the Midwest proved to be a major catalyst for Christopher. Eventually, The Pampered Chef cracked Pennsylvania, then Maryland, then Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Soon, it had a kitchen consultant in every state.