Margaux Jordon's life changed the day she admired the shoes a woman acquaintance was wearing. "My brother made them," the woman replied...

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Margaux Jordon’s life changed the day she admired the shoes a woman acquaintance was wearing.


“My brother made them,” the woman replied.


Jordon, who loves shoes, thought, “Women in the United States would go crazy if they could get handmade shoes.” From that simple idea has emerged Footprints International, based at her home in Orange, Calif.


Jordon has learned that being handmade isn’t nearly the shoe-buying enticement she thought, but buying them at a party is.


Home parties, part of the direct-sales industry, are used by such companies as Tupperware and Mary Kay Cosmetics.


Footprints could have been nothing but a glorified job: one woman selling unusual shoes at bargain prices in parties hosted by friends. But Jordon had a larger vision of a global direct-sales company, which she launched in 2003.


That has required building a system that can be taught to others and expanded as the sales force grows. It is neither quick nor easy.


“I have been amazed at the amount of work that has gone into creating this business,” Jordon said. “There’s one word I hang onto — persistence.”


“I knew nothing about how to start a business, what permits I needed, how to get credit-card [merchant] services set up, where to get shoes,” she said.


Shoe suppliers didn’t want to talk with a small newcomer. So Jordon went to the World Shoe Association trade show in Las Vegas and trudged from booth to booth seeking companies with unusual shoes in varying sizes and colors that would accept small orders.


Finally, John Kim at Falo Mi Shoes in Arcadia, Calif., accepted her order. When she left the show, she had eight suppliers.


Despite the role major corporations play, small entrepreneurs like Jordon are still the backbone of home-party sales, according to Fortune magazine.


Selling through parties keeps expenses low, with no need for a retail shop or major advertising. Face-to-face selling in a party atmosphere usually holds customers’ attention longer than in a shop and can build stronger loyalty.


Every step of the way, Jordon has found people willing to help her organize her business.


“I didn’t even know how to transport the shoes,” she said. “I boxed up all my shoes and put them in garbage bags. It took me two hours to set up the first party. I couldn’t expect sales reps to do that.”


One of Jordon’s suppliers showed her large, padded suitcases used to transport shoes to trade shows.