NEW PORT RICHEY — Kim Washington had a sick baby and a boss she didn't like.
"It's your husband's turn," he would growl after the day care called to say her son needed to be picked up early.
After much agonizing, Washington walked away from her job as a recruiting manager for a Clearwater call center to be a stay-at-home mom to two young kids.
Now, more than six years later, she's raking in a six-figure salary and driving a BMW convertible selling bags and purses for Thirty-One, a direct sales company that deals in colorful totes, purses and other organizational items.
Washington, 43, who has nearly 4,000 consultants who work on her sales team, is the only senior executive director for Thirty-One in Pasco County.
On Mother's Day, she shares secrets of her success with other moms, and anyone else who's involved in sales. We talked with Washington about her career. Questions and her responses have been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started in direct sales? Were you the kid on the block with the lemonade stand?
No. I was the little girl clinging to mom's leg. My mom sees me do parties now and says, "You were so shy." Now I just get up there and talk. But it takes practice. I try to keep it interactive. We play a lot of games.
What did you take in college? Business?
I tried business, but I didn't like all the math. I majored in sociology. It's a good fit because I read people well. Sometimes too well.
How did you decide you wanted to sell Thirty-One as opposed to any other direct sales product?
I had sold Pampered Chef, but I didn't have a passion for it. I told a friend I was looking for something different. One night she called me and said, "I found it." I told my husband, "I'm leaving. You're watching the kids." At that time Thirty-One was brand new to the area. "It cost $99 (for a display set), and we're going to make millions," she said. We even got shirts that said "Future Millionaires." At $99, I figured what do I have to lose?
How did you go from staying at home full time with two young kids to cultivating clients and hosting parties? Was it difficult to divide your time?
I have a lot of support from my husband. He would stay with the kids when I did parties at night. I'd get calls from him during parties asking things like, "Do you know where the diapers are?" or "What do I feed the baby?" But it was okay. But it was a time for them to bond with their daddy. Now my kids don't want me to put them to bed. (laughs)
How do you work with the kids in tow?
You can tell a child "Hey, mommy has to work for 20 minutes and then we will go to the park. You can put signs on the door, a smiley face for when it's okay for them to come in and a stop sign for when it's not. Another good idea is to keep a special bag of goodies for them that they can only play with when you are working. Anybody can do this. I know of a woman with five children who does.
What's the biggest challenge?
Knowing when (my husband) is working. I may need to schedule a party a month out, but he gets three weeks of leeway changing his schedule. We're continually working the process of making sure there's coverage for the kids.
What's the biggest benefit?
I set my own schedule. I can be home when my kids get home from school. In my old job, I'd have to work until 6 and we'd get home at 7 and then put them to bed. This way they can get their homework done early and have time to be kids. My husband, (who works at an Apple store) got to quit a job he hated and now gets to work at a job he loves because of my income.
Now that your kids are a little older (7 and 9) are they able to help out?
They sometimes put labels on catalogs or unpack bags, My daughter is the entrepreneur. She wanted to have a dog wash and put fliers up all over the neighborhood. She came to one of my shows and was a helper. Recently my son asked to come to a show.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I'm a strong supporter of visuals. (Points to office wall of posters) I tell everyone to have a goals list, a "why" or "bigger reason" for what you do. My list here is 1) grow group leaders; 2) share the Thirty-One story in the community. 3) plan retreats and events for leaders; 4) cruise — that's for my family. We want to take a Mediterranean cruise.