The food and drinks are ready. The guests are beginning to arrive. And the stars of the show — the products to be pitched during this Sunday afternoon get-together at a pleasant Woodstock home — are displayed on a table for all to see.
Another Mary Kay party? The Pampered Chef, perhaps?
Think again. The libations are Jack and Coke. The eats are sirloins and rib eyes. The wares are steak knives, grill brushes, wood chips and hickory planks.
And the guests? Men, and men only, in all their glory: puffing on Dominicans; watching football on the flat screen; oohing and ahhing at the latest pop-off bottle opener.
Avon it ain’t.
No, you have entered the Man Cave, primal home of gadgets and guys.
Man Cave is actually the name of a direct-sales company, recently launched by a Minnesota entrepreneur, and on this recent day, it is holding its first-ever “meating” in Georgia, hoping to sell stuff and to recruit advisors — people who cook the food, offer grilling techniques and pitch the product catalogue. Their reward: a commission on what’s sold.
The idea is to rip a page from the good ol’ girls’ playbook for home-based direct sales, which over the past few decades has become a $30 billion-a-year business.
On this Sunday in Woodstock, make-up and sparkly trinkets are the last things on anyone’s mind.
“Meat. Football. Drink. How can you go wrong?” says Joey Navarro, 45, of Woodstock.
“A perfect day,” agrees his friend and host David Zelaya, 36, adding, “We’d be doing this anyway.”
Only with Man Cave, the steaks are free, and the cooking is done for you. And, if you find a marinade or rub or tool that appeals, you can order it on the spot.
When this party concludes, about a half-dozen men will order a total of nearly $500 in merchandise. Company founder Nick Beste, who’s in the kitchen overseeing advisor Pete Keiner’s set-up, says the average take is closer to $1,100.
Beste, a 22-year-old serial entrepreneur — though still a student at the University of Minnesota — has grand plans for Man Cave. He hopes for 5 million advisors worldwide some day.
Right now, he has 50 advisors in the U.S., including one in Georgia, Bill Mitchell of Marietta. But, just days after this meating, Zelaya and Navarro sign on.
Beste envisions Man Cave venturing beyond food and food preparation.
He mentions hunting and fishing equipment, home repair tools and home brewing as possibilities.
Beste describes a man cave as “that place where a guy can be a guy. Where you’re not a husband, not a father, not a co-worker. You’re just Jim, you know?”
Men, he says, “need a reason to hang out,” and meetings “are the spark.”
So what if it means mimicking the women’s business model of holding get-togethers whose ultimate goal is to persuade friends or acquaintences to spend money?
Keineroffers that, “Women have been doing this for 20 years. It’s about time we caught up.”
Thank World War II for the womens’ head start, said Amy Robinson, spokeswoman for the 300-member Direct Selling Association. Many who entered the field when it was just starting in the 1940s had worked during the war, she said, and saw it as a way to continue earning income while maintaining a social circle.
Robinson said 15 to 20 percent of the 15 million direct sellers in the U.S. are men, but most of them sell person-to-person rather than at parties. Their products, she said, are more likely to be financial services or nutritional foods and drinks.
Man Cave, she said, “sounds like a typical party plan, but with a different demographic. They are certainly doing something other companies haven’t.”
Being unusual stirs no embarrassment among the guests at Zelaya’s party.
“No, no, I’m comfortable in who I am,” laughs David Infante, 40, of Alpharetta.
The meating’s festivities begin with the pouring of drinks and comments about the game showing in the living room. But the action soon turns to the kitchen when Keiner brings in a tray full of grilled brats.
In a bit, Keiner goes into his pitch — soft-spoken, low-key, informational.
“Our whole philosophy is heavy and shiny,” he says, handling a tool. “Guys like things that are heavy and shiny.”
There are questions about how long to soak the wood planks, and warnings from Keiner, such as don’t poke meat too often or you’ll release the flavor.
Nods of agreement.
Then, it’s outside for the steak grilling demonstration, more conversation, more consumption.
For the moment, the football is forgotten.
Eased back in a chair on the patio, watching the smoke drift over the backyard, Tim Graham, 48, sips some wine and surveys the scene.
“My wife goes to these things all the time,” he says. “I’m definitely digging this.”
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