The most recent, high profile multi-level marketing company to defend its practices is Herbalife Ltd., a manufacturer and distributor of weight-loss and nutritional products with more than 500,000 distributors. Although the FTC has been investigating Herbalife, it was activist investor William Ackman who shed a national spotlight on the company by shorting $1 billion of the company’s stock in 2013. Ackman accused the company of operating a pyramid scheme and backed his allegations with a bet the company’s stock price would fall under the weight of the scam. As of May 27, 2016, the company’s stock price traded at $59 a share, about where it was five years ago. A lawsuit filed against Herbalife accusing it of misrepresenting its sales practices as legitimate was dismissed.
Of course, there’s an even better indicator that these companies might have been unfairly maligned: the women who have actually joined them. Despite the dismal stats, many women say they’re making money and actively contributing to their household’s bottom line — and they don’t feel exploited. Like, at all.
The upper echelons of LuLaRoe’s consultant community have a reputation for being vicious to their downline. “It’s like the policy police,” Ashley says. “‘We’re going to find you, stalk you, tell on you. How dare you guys say a single word bad. We’re going to shame you.’”
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LuLaRoe also says it invests “considerable time, resources, and talent” to support its “independent retailers,” as it calls its consultants. If they experience financial or psychological hardship through operating their businesses, it says it’s not the company’s fault. “Retail is not for everyone,” says a LuLaRoe spokesperson. “Retailers own their own business and make their own decisions…The success of any business depends on its leader’s own respective and independent business goals, and the strategies they employ to achieve those goals.”
These sales go against company policy. While a LuLaRoe spokesperson says sellers are “free to set their own sales prices for the LuLaRoe products they sell,” they don’t allow you to actually advertise those prices: “Out of fairness to all retailers, they are not allowed to advertise prices below MAP (Minimum Advertised Prices). LuLaRoe encourages retailers not sell product below MAP as MAP ensure that the LuLaRoe brand maintains a consistent level of value and fairness that benefits all Retailers. Advertising prices below MAP violates the agreement between retailers and LuLaRoe.” If caught, sellers are ostracized by the consultant community for diminishing the LuLaRoe brand, and some have claimed to be locked out of their point-of-sale systems.
The combined number of recruits from these cycles are the sales force which is referred to as the salesperson’s “downline”. This “downline” is the pyramid in MLM’s multiple level structure of compensation.
When considering whether or not to engage in the fast paced world of network marketing, one of the most important things you can do to prepare is to identify the overall demand for the product or service you are looking to promote. By identifying the level of demand for the product/service you are promoting, you can be more effective in connecting with the individuals or groups interested in the items.
On the flip-side of the issue of being stuck with the recruitment “pitch” is the fact that the MLM organization is otherwise loose, to say the least. This is part of the appeal to many, to “be your own boss.”
The above title is meant to be absurd. Most people, no matter how jaded, would not foist such a con on their own mothers. Even if people don’t know the specifics of what is wrong with MLMs, intuition often warns us: “Don’t tamper with that relationship.” The first marks for recruitment are the gullible, or the “expendable” friends. But successive moral compromise, experience, and desperation… may yet lead to “good old Mom.”
Jump up ^ Pratt, Michael G.; Rosa, José Antonio (2003). “Transforming work-family conflict into commitment in network marketing organizations”. The Academy of Management Journal. 46 (4): 395–418. doi:10.2307/30040635.
“The fact that it was a low investment to join was very enticing for me,” she says. “And last September, I left my job as a full-time fitness coordinator to focus on my business. I still teach a few classes a week, but majority of my time is dedicated to Stella & Dot.”
All products and services have partial market penetration. For example, only so many people wish to use a discount broker, as evidenced by the very successful but only partial market penetration of Charles Schwab. Not everyone wishes to join a particular discount club, or buy gold, or drink filtered water, or wear a particular style of shoe, or use any product or service. No one in the real world of business would seriously consider the thin arguments of the MLMers when they flippantly mention the infinite market need for their product or services.
MLMs sell themselves using self-empowerment language and sparkly beauty products. MLMs only sell through a network of consultants, not in online stores or in brick-and-mortar shops. Sellers buy inventory from a parent company and sell it to their friends and family, keeping the profit for themselves like a franchise would. But the real potential to earn money generally isn’t in peddling wares: It’s in building up a team of sellers below you and getting a cut of their commissions. Once a seller has recruited new consultants, she has to push them to buy more inventory each month or to hit consumer-sales targets in order to earn her bonus check and keep the money flowing upstream. This means the further down the recruitment ladder you are, the less opportunity there is to make real money.
The unfortunate “distributor” at the bottom is the loser, and once this becomes apparent beyond all the slick videotapes and motivational pep-talks, good people start to get a bad taste in their mouths about the whole situation.
Jump up ↑ Sataline, Suzanne (May 11, 2007). “Health Claims by Sales Force Boost Supplement Firm; Mannatech’s Products Attract the Gravely Ill; Disclaimers on Labels”. The Wall Street Journal. https://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB117884606430799400. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
Many LuLaRoe Facebook groups have the word “addiction” or “addicts” in their titles: Christine’s LuLaRoe Addicts Anonymous, LuLaRoe Addicts, LuLaRoe Addiction VIP Boutique. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s truer than many women realize.
A few people do make big money from MLMs. And these people are often trotted out in promotional videos, celebrated at annual events, and very publicly ‘rewarded’ with prizes like prestigious cars (although these ‘prizes’ aren’t as generous as they first appear – you simply get a discount on the lease which you must take out in your own name, and if your sales fall, the discount ends…). You also need to promote the company on the car they ‘give’ you.
Vulnerable women are duped into believing that they too can become business owners, all in their spare time, while bouncing babies on their hips, taking care of a home, and working another part time job. They are given nothing but a promise and a golden carrot to chase, and then sent out to go sell.”
Imagine a neat new product called a Widget that will sell for $100 (a fixed price, to keep it simple). Now, while everyone could use a Widget, not everyone will. Some will be afraid of anything new. Some will be loyal to existing brands. Some will want to buy an inferior product for less money. Some will want a more expensive product for prestige, regardless of quality. The reasons go on and on, and the fact is that only “X” Widgets will sell at $100.
The basic question that needs to be asked is this: If this product or service is so great, then why isn’t it being sold through the customary marketing system that has served human society for thousands of years? Why does it need to resort to a “special marketing” scheme like an MLM? Why does everyone need to be so inexperienced at marketing this! Is the product just a thin cover for what is really a pyramid scheme of exploiting others? But more on that later.
This article will analyze four problem areas with MLM. Specifically, it will focus on problems of I) Market Saturation, II) Pyramid Structure, III) Morality and Ethics, and IV) Relationship Issues associated with MLMs. Thus, you can properly assess your “instincts.”
Even in the digital age, the brick-and-mortar retail experience is preferable to MLM: it’s more convenient and does not open people up to accusations of conning their friends with substandard products or high prices. Internet and catalog shopping and reliable shipping services have long since obviated the need for a tightly-knit distributor network serving remote areas; in urban areas, where retail shopping has always been fairly available, MLMs were never important to begin with.
There’s another positive that consultants always emphasize: friendship. MLMs often provide a sense of belonging for their consultants; a crucial lifeline for moms sitting at home with only the kids to talk to. “I had come out of a rough situation, a custody battle,” Sophie says. “I was lost. I had no friends, I had no social life. And then instantly I had this giant family of women who I didn’t even know. ‘We love you. What do you need? Let me help you. You’re having trouble with sales? Let me share my customers with you. You can’t make an order this month? Let’s trade shirts so we have new inventory.’ It was a true, true sisterhood.”
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It’s no wonder being able to make money without having to work a traditional 9 to 5 is super appealing. Full-time permanent employment is increasingly hard to find, and research confirms it. According to two 2015 studies, one by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the other by the United Way of Toronto, the economy is increasingly dependent on precarious employment — which disproportionately affects young people aged 15 to 24, particularly women and people of colour.
The overwhelming majority of MLM participants (most sources estimated to be over 99.25% of all MLM participants) participate at either an insignificant or nil net profit. Indeed, the largest proportion of participants must operate at a net loss (after expenses are deducted) so that the few individuals in the uppermost level of the MLM pyramid can derive their significant earnings—earnings which are then emphasized by the MLM company to all other participants to encourage their continued participation at a continuing financial loss.
Imagine that Wendy’s became suddenly possessed by the idea that “everyone needs to eat,” and opened four Wendy’s franchises on the four corners of an intersection in your neighborhood. Who would benefit from this folly? The consumer? Certainly not the franchises; they would all lose. Wendy’s corporate? Perhaps temporarily, by speculative inventory sales while the unfortunate franchises were under the delusion that they could all make money. But in the end, the negative image of four outlets dying a slow death would likely offset the temporary inventory sales bubble. Even the most unreflective of the hapless franchisees would think twice about doing business in such a manner again. This is why real-world distributorships and franchises are contractually protected by territory and/or market.
Network marketing, also known as Multi-Level Marketing (MLM), is a business model where independent contractors buy into a company and earn a commission on the products they sell. The profession appeals to many people because they can be their own boss, set their own hours, and work towards their own success. It is a big commitment, but network marketing can be a very lucrative career.
It is important to distinguish between the MLM company itself versus the so-called “independent businesses” run by the MLM participants. Many MLM companies generate billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profit, however, an MLM company’s overall profitability does not correlate to the profitability experience of their participants.
MLMs are also criticized for being unable to fulfill their promises for the majority of participants due to basic conflicts with Western cultural norms. There are even claims that the success rate for breaking even or even making money are far worse than other types of businesses: “The vast majority of MLMs are recruiting MLMs, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLMs is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company.” In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further “recruit people to compete with [them]” leads to “market saturation.” It has also been claimed “(b)y its very nature, MLM is completely devoid of any scientific foundations.”