Quid pro quo time, ladies

Apr 22, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

This morning, I poured cereal out of a Tupperware container for Sunshine and put on some tinted moisturizer with SPF by Mary Kay. The daffodils in the Southern Living at Home vase were a touch past their prime, so I cleaned that up. I put on a pendant that's on a Silpada chain. Some days, I am a walking ad.

I have a question for you. How many "home parties" have you been to? You know, a party in someone's home for Tupperware, Silpada, Southern Living at Home, Creative Memories, Mary Kay, or some other clothing, jewelry, accessory or other product line (or, increasingly, several at once). Someone you know, either well or distantly, invites you over for an afternoon or evening, there are tasty things to eat and drink and other women you know are there. There is socializing as well as shopping. While you may not be expected to buy in the strictest sense of the word, there is certainly a hope that you will, and plenty of encouragement to follow through in that direction.Over the years, I've been invited to my fair share (read: quite a few). With our family schedule, it's not always easy to get everyone settled at the right time so I can get out alone to whatever event, but I try. I try to view them as an opportunity for an evening out and to support a friend/acquaintance. If I really don't want to buy anything, I don't; if I do, I do. Usually I make at least a token purchase. I figure the women representatives for the companies and/or the hosts are trying make a career change, contribute to the family bottom line or try something new and that deserves encouragement. If my $20 or $40 can do that, I'd like to. Sometimes it's just for fun, and that should be encouraged, too, I think. Our lives are busy and we need more fun.

Suburban mom solidarity

For the most part, there's an understanding about these parties. If you scratch your neighbor's back, she will scratch yours at some later point when you have such a party. In that way, I sometimes think that it's the same money being passed among local moms. It just keeps going around and around.Last week it was my turn to have a home party. Several weeks ago I sent out several dozen email invites for a product line I really like (but it's not particularly well-known). I knew it was a bit of a tricky time with school vacation coming up and people busy getting ready for trips, but figured it was worth a try. I was fairly stunned with the number of people who didn't respond at all, but overall the positive response rate was about what I expected with my timing concerns. I still thought it would be a nice evening. Just enough people coming.

Asking too much?

As the evening approached, I thought more about it and became a little nervous. Was I asking too much? I thought about my expectations. Did I really expect people to buy? My answers to myself were that no, I didn't think I was asking too much in any sense. If the roles were reversed, I'd approach it as I have parties to which I have been invited: an evening out, nice people, I don't have to buy anything if I really don't want to. I bought a couple of nice bottles of wine and some cannolis on the day of and looked forward to catching up with people.It was a total bust. Only two of the women who responded affirmatively showed up. I was mortified. The sales rep was a great sport, the women that did come were fun and we all had a nice time chatting and indulging in our Italian treats, but it was just embarrassing. I thought I looked like a friendless loser.I thought a lot about what happened. I heard from several people the next day. They had great excuses, of course. Maybe it was just the timing, or that it's a product line that not many people know well. I don't know, but I felt pretty bad about the whole thing, for myself and for the sales rep. It was far more effort on her part.I probably won't do this again. Perhaps I am destined to be just an invitee on the home party circuit, not a host. I'll still do for others what I hoped would happen for my event: I respond to the invitation and go if I can, and I'll have an evening out and an open mind for supporting my friends and acquaintances.If not true quid pro quo, then at least the Golden Rule.