The New Tupperware

A few years ago, I went to a Tupperware party in a friend’s apartment. It was a somewhat surreal experience. The official Tupperware representative was a middle-aged suburban woman sent in to this tiny apartment filled with Manhattan 20-somethings, most of whom  — or perhaps all of whom — had never been to such a thing before. What I remember most about the experience is that the representative gave a little spiel about selling Tupperware as a career. As she put it, “Tupperware will let you stay home with your kids.”

I think this depends on what your definition of “staying home with your kids” is. She was clearly a working woman, earning a fair amount through a sales job. In her mind “staying home with your kids” meant not reporting to an office/factory/store for 8 hours 5 days a week. Selling Tupperware let her set her hours, and work more or less at different points in her life, yet still make some cash.

Once upon a time, Tupperware, and perhaps Avon, had that market to themselves — tapping the energies of semi-entrepreneurial types who didn’t want to come up with an entirely original business model, but also wanted a lot of flexibility and didn’t want to commit to full time hours. In our modern, networked world, though, I keep coming across more business models that offer some element of that. I’m still investigating which ones actually translate into good opportunities or not. But somebody pointed me over to UrbanInterns the other day, noting that people could specify their virtual availability by hours per week and skill. A bookkeeper who wants to work 11-20 hours per week? You can put that out there. Etsy, of course, has been written about a lot as a craft portal, but I was also pointed toward Zazzle, which seems to traffic in light manufacturing on behalf of creative types. Design an image and they’ll stick it on a bag and do the back office stuff. I’ve been looking into Macaroni Kid, which has women doing local newsletter content in home-based publishing businesses. Then there are the usual portals: elance, Craigslist, etc.

In general, if you want to make serious money, you may be better off doing something truly entrepreneurial. But the existence of the new Tupperware does point to a certain changed element of our economy. Much of the usual personal finance advice is based on the assumption that families cannot change their income. That may have been the case when people had jobs long term. But if people change their jobs every 4 years, that means that every 4 years there’s a chance to renegotiate. And beyond that, there are starting to be all kinds of other ways to make money on the side now through the new Tupperware and other ventures. The “frictionless labor market” is a concept economists talk about that means a world where people move in and out of jobs quickly with demand, scale up and down their involvement as they wish, and can turn any available time into money without massive transaction costs. The new Tupperware may be pointing us toward that world.

Have you ever made money through a non-traditional venture?

(photo courtesy flickr user ctudball)

7 thoughts on “The New Tupperware

  1. Yup! I earn money from blogging, and I also hold/have held a number of other nontraditional jobs over the years, like teaching piano students at home, doing photography, playing for funerals/weddings, etc. I’ve only worked a traditional job once in my life (I worked at Nordstrom for a year or so.)

  2. @Kristen- I’ve been learning a lot more about the economics of blogging this past year, and clearly some people are doing well. Like Crystal at Money Saving Mom paying cash for a house! Perhaps blogging may be the new Tupperware…

    1. I know! I only wish I brought in that kind of money. But honestly, given that blogging is so fulfilling to me, I’m happy with what I’m making. You’d pretty much have to pay me to QUIT blogging, in fact.

  3. I’d like to hear stories about ordinary people finding flexible, family wage jobs across the country. I see stories about jobs that pay less than $20/hr with no benefits (not a family wage) but family wage jobs (say, $40/hr including benefits, so perhaps $25-$30 + benefits) that are flexible are rare. I pull in ~$15k from home editing research papers for a few hours/week, but the demand is very limited and the work gets monotonous.

    I suspect only the top ~1% of bloggers are making significant sums. For the rest, it’s “extra income”, like Tupperware.

  4. I would love to understand how people are making ANY money from a blog I’m new to the “work from home” industry and am coming from the opposite end of the spectrum of having spent most of my career in traditional jobs.

    1. Two ways, far as I can tell. The first is to blog for a company that pays people for content, period. I blog for CBS MoneyWatch (used to be BNET) and get paid for that — a base plus a traffic bonus. I know some journalists who ghost-blog for various people and organizations and get paid for that. The second way is to get money from ads and affiliate income on your own blog. So when people run little ads on their sites, that’s translating into money and people will put links in their posts that they also get paid for when people click (like books, online items, etc.). I don’t make money that way – no ads or affiliate links here because if people feel acquisitive at this site I want them to buy my books! But that’s how a lot of people do it.

  5. Hello Laura,
    I want to start by saying that I am really enjoying your book “168 Hours…” on audio. I listen to it several times a week while I am at the office. I have gained a lot of insight into managing my life as an entrepreneur and a full time employee at the moment as well as being a wife and mother of five. I must say I am taken aback at little here at your post and your phrase “In general, if you want to make serious money, you may be better off doing something truly entrepreneurial”
    I am not a Tupperware representative but I am in direct sales with a leading skincare company and I don’t believe I am any less an entrepreneur than you are and have the potential earn just as much “serious” money as the next person regardless of the business model they are using in their entrepreneurial pursuits.
    While I do see the tremendous value in creating your own product, there is also validity in choosing another business model that does not require you to promote your own product. I believe serious money can be made in both and it has been proven time and time again. I earn a great income just from the part-time effort that I invest into my business (direct sales/network marketing model) and I want others to know that it is possible to earn serious money as you put it with Tupperware or any other similar business model.

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