The only word that makes MLM Kool-Aid drinkers bristle quicker than pyramid is cult. It’s a bold accusation, one not to be trotted out lightly, but there’s simply no other way to describe the techniques MLMs use to attract and retain recruits.
I’ve used oils internally and felt that they were helpful (though the Slim and Sassy did nothing for me :-(), but I am changing my thinking on this. Oils are super potent. It takes about 16 pounds of peppermint leaves to make 1 ounce of peppermint oil. Wow. (Source)
Traci Costa, Chief Executive Officer, President and Director of Peekaboo Beans Inc., can speak to that disparity. Not long after Costa founded her company, a kids’ clothing retailer, in 2005, she realized she needed to rethink her sales strategy. She’d tried the boutique route, but found the experience impersonal, and she didn’t feel like she could compete in the online space. That left only one viable option: direct sales.
Would a rational person, abreast of the facts, go to work selling any product or service if he or she knew that there was an open agenda to overhire sales reps for the same products in the prospective territory?
Direct selling method in which independent-agents serve as distributors of goods and services, and are encouraged to build and manage their own sales force by recruiting and training other independent agents. In this method, commission is earned on the agent’s own sales revenue, as well as on the sales revenue of the sales-force recruited by the agent and his or her recruits (called downline). Also called multilevel marketing (MLM), cellular marketing, or by other such names, it is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry that distributes practically any portable item, although restricted or banned in several countries due to its history as a vehicle for consumer fraud.
If you’re tempted to join an MLM, we hope this has helped give you a more balanced view than the spiel offered by your rep. (If a friend is considering joining one, please send this article to them before they commit!)
Recruiting can involve any form of communication like email, private messaging and others, such as phone calls. No picture is needed to start a network marketing business or to be recruited by a network marketer.
According to numerous independent analyses and the MLM industry itself, the vast majority of MLM distributors make little to no money or lose money; according to one researcher, “you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone [in network marketing] making more than $1.50 an hour.” Some MLM participants lose much more than just money, squandering social capital and damaging careers, reputations and relationships.
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 percentage of an MLM company’s total profit that is ultimately distributed to its participants (the sales force), away from the MLM owners or shareholders, differs from one MLM company to the next. However, the percentage earmarked to be paid to participants is usually a quite smaller share of overall company profits. The earmarked figure is then distributed in complex compensation plans which, ultimately, funnel most of it to a few individual participants in the upper-most levels of the MLM participant pyramid. The remaining majority of participants (often over 99.5% or more) receive no returns, or negligible return which are more often than not at a net loss after they deduct expenses which were incurred in the promotion of their “independent businesses”.
The difference between a MLM and a pyramid scheme can be blurry, both legally and practically. It’s never been legally defined in the US by a statute, but the FTC defines it as whether a consultant can make an income by selling to the public alone without having to recruit consultants underneath them. “Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate,” the FTC states in its literature on MLMs. “If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s probably not. It could be a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.”
Research has shown that our brains release more of the pleasure chemical dopamine when we unexpectedly get a reward at a random time. Gambling addicts will run up credit cards and bankrupt themselves chasing that high, continually putting coins into the slot even though it’s become clear that, overall, they are losing. Likewise, LuLaRoe customers will stay glued to Facebook groups and consultants will keep buying inventory they can’t afford in the hope they will stumble across the rarest, most elusive styles.
FLARE spoke to a handful of young Canadian women, most of whom said they make money on their businesses. For some, this additional income covers “extras” they might not have been able to afford on the paycheque from their day jobs. Take Stella & Dot stylist Elyse Berendson, a 29-year-old preschool teacher who joined the company to supplement her income.
Jump up ↑ O’Donnell, Jayne (February 10, 2011). “Multilevel marketing or ‘pyramid?’ Sales people find it hard to earn much”. USA Today. https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2011-02-07-multilevelmarketing03_CV_N.htm. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
Despite their popularity, this type of company doesn’t exactly have the best rep. Though pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada, the perception that all MLM companies have pyramid-like qualities is a lasting one, aided in part by rumours of sketchy business practices and bad press about the industry. For example, LuLaRoe, which reportedly requires new consultants to purchase $5,000 worth of inventory when they join, was hit with a $1 billion class action lawsuit last October that says, according to the Chicago Tribune, “the [California] firm encouraged women who wanted to sell its leggings, skirts and other clothing to take out loans, run up credit cards and even sell their breast milk, then left some in financial ruin with unsold goods… As many as 80,000 people paid thousands up front for inventory.”
Recruitment into these companies created billions of dollars of losses to consumers each year. The losses of these 99% of distributors were passed up the sales chain to the less than 1% of the people at the top as commissions.
Nothing irritates a die-hard MLMer more than the preceding argument. If you point out the absurdity, for example, that if “the pitch” at an Amway meeting were even moderately accurate, in something like 18 months Amway would be larger than the GNP of the entire United States, then listen closely for a major gear-shift: “Well, that is absurd, of course. Not everyone will succeed, and so the market will never saturate.”
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.
So why are MLM promoters obscuring this? Who is in control of the supply “knob,” carefully and skillfully managing the size of the distribution channels, number of salespeople, inventory, etc., to insure the success of all involved in the business? The truth is chilling: nobody.
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.
It may help to read books successful businessmen for ideas an inspiration. Do remember, however, that just because something worked for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you. Read these books for ideas, but take advice with a grain of salt.
But for most MLMs, the real money isn’t in selling wares: It’s in signing up consultants. Up until July 2017, LuLaRoe’s sellers who signed up new retailers got a 3-5% commission on the inventory their downline bought. But they only garnered that commission if they and everyone underneath them each bought 175 pieces a month, a rule that incentivized inventory buying.
Then, in 2016, she had her daughter, Mia, and went on mat leave. Bored — and making only part of her usual salary — she asked her former patient to meet up. She became a consultant before they’d finished their coffee.
One of the main issue with people who are against Network Marketing is that there is a potential for abuse by unscrupulous businesses that take advantage of them, pocketing their money and returning very little in the way of dividends to the investor. One of the key areas of abuse with Network Marketing is what is known as the ‘Pyramid Schemes,’ so it would be right at the outset to explain what Network Marketing is and the difference between legitimate Network Marketing companies and Pyramid Schemes.
And it’s working. In 2015, MLM companies generated $2.55 billion in sales, a 10 percent increase from a decade before, says Linda Herron, the interim president of the Direct Sellers Association of Canada (DSA). These businesses are overwhelmingly female: 83 percent of the direct sellers in Canada are women, something you’ve likely noticed if your Facebook feed looks anything like mine.
Perhaps the successful consultants are right: It’s all about enthusiasm. Perhaps some people don’t succeed because they don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Perhaps it’s about believing that leggings printed like hotel carpets are beautiful to someone. Perhaps you think that a thin polyester dress you could get for $15 in a chain store is worth $60 if you buy it from a friend. Perhaps it’s about having no qualms hawking clothes to people who struggle to afford them, or signing women up underneath you while you struggle yourself.
Provide relevant information to the people who will be viewing your site, and keep to your own niche. Find out what the people you want to attract are searching for online, and then provide that content. You can check social media sites and forums as they’re a great repository of information.
The most cult-like thing about MLM is that it manipulates members’ existing beliefs and desires, and tricks them into believing they are exercising free will. MLMs are able to coerce people into willful and compliant self-destruction on a staggering scale: we’re talking quitting or getting fired from a six-figure full-time job due to an MLM, alienating everyone you know due to your constant sales pitches, investing your own or someone else’s life’s savings into an MLM, ruining your credit or losing collateral by borrowing heavily to fund an MLM, and even theft to support an MLM habit. Suicides related to MLM have been reported.
A few MLMs (Mary Kay, Avon) are significantly more sales-driven, with a larger customer base, and offer more added value to customers. They are still definitely not without controversy or criticism, however – no MLM is.
The origin of multi-level marketing is often disputed; but multi-level marketing style businesses existed in the 1920s, 1930s California Vitamin Company, (later named Nutrilite) or California Perfume Company (renamed as “Avon Products”).
Some variation on this structure is common at most MLMs. Financial analysis on Pink Truth, a website that analyzes Mary Kay and other MLMs’ business practices, estimates that as a LuLaRoe seller advanced up the ranks, had 10 people below her, and garnered 3% of her recruits’ inventory-buy value, she could make a bonus of $1,500 a month—but only if her downline spent about a combined $35,000 on merchandise. That’s why struggling sellers used to be told to buy more inventory: Not only did their higher-ups get a cut of each bulk buy, but if their downline didn’t hit the minimum purchase mark, no one got a bonus. “The entire year that I did LuLaRoe, I was pushed to continue buying and buying more and more and more, no matter how the sales declined, and that buying more and more was the only solution to get more sales,” Sophie says.
Dr. Jon Taylor’s website includes surveys of MLM tax preparers (do they really make money?), answers the question of “odds of success” at MLM vs. gambling (hint: you are way better off in Las Vegas,) and provides a history of MLM at http://www.mlm-thetruth.com
And these sales aren’t just to customers. You see, in order to join an MLM you usually need to buy products to sell (often referred to as a starter kit, or similar). And then in order to remain a seller, stylist, supervisor, or whatever term the company uses, you often need to make a minimum number of sales in a given time period (though not always).
But the way to make money in all this is clearly not by only selling product, otherwise you might have shown an interest in it before, through conventional market opportunities. No, the “hook” is selling others on selling others on “the dream.”
But one woman’s trash may be another woman’s treasure. New consultants are reporting getting boxes full of old merchandise that appears to be from merchants who went out of business—the ugly stuff others couldn’t sell. “While LuLaRoe may resell some inventory returned in original packaging and in new condition to its employees in its company store,” LuLaRoe CMO Lyon says, “LuLaRoe prefers that product that is returned in original packaging and in new condition be used for donations or giveaways only.” Consultants dispute that claim, posting pictures of “new” merchandise with old patterns and tags that have been marked up by other consultants.
While participants’ movement up the pyramid of an MLM can be accomplished in theory, and indeed this is one of the distinguishing factors between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes (besides featuring actual sales of products or services), said upward movement is so extremely improbable as to render it practically impossible, despite all efforts and investments of time and money by a participant.
So concerned, we felt the need to write this article, as we know mothers are a big target group for MLMs (read on to find out why). So if you are considering joining one, please do read this first – and forward to any friends tempted by promises of ‘income opportunities’.
So–are the MLM oils worth it? I don’t think they are terrible products, necessarily, but I do think that you can get a better “bang for your essential oils buck.” Stick with this bargain and quality-hunting mama– I hope to share early next week.
Use of invented jargon and euphemisms, which has led to a predictably hilarious euphemism treadmill (i.e., “network marketing,” “referral marketing”, “affiliate marketing”, “home-based business franchising”, “Independent Business Owner”)
The end result of the MLM business model is, therefore, one of a company (the MLM company) selling its products/services through a non-salaried workforce (“partners”) working for the MLM company on a commission-only basis while the partners simultaneously constitute the overwhelming majority of the very consumers of the MLM company’s products/service that they, as participants of the MLM, are selling to each other in the hope of one day themselves being at the top of the pyramid. This creates great profit for the MLM company’s actual owners and shareholders.
In a classic and severe case of crank magnetism, MLMs are notorious for specializing in products of dubious value (supplements, essential oils, laundry balls) and making pseudoscientific, questionable or outright false claims.
Founded in October 2016, the LuLaRoe Defective/Ripped/Torn Leggings and Clothes Facebook group was initially intended for posting pictures of holey leggings. Now it has more than 30,000 members and has become a place for women to share pictures of ugly merchandise, screenshots of vicious consultant behavior, and to upload documents from the numerous lawsuits against LuLaRoe. (At last count, there are nine ongoing legal battles.)
One can’t help but wish that the “neighborhood” could be like it once was. But an MLM storm has blown through, ruining valuable relationships with no regret or conscience. And brace yourself, another one is coming. Perhaps it is in that smiling face approaching you, or in that nice letter you just received from a “friend”?