“There was a point in time where I had $8,000 worth of inventory sitting in my home while I was running up to food banks to feed my family.” Sales started to decline in the third month. Her consultant group told her it was because she didn’t have enough inventory, so Ashley followed their advice and bought even more. As sales continued to decline, she used her income-tax rebate to buy more, but it didn’t keep her sales from bottoming out at $500 a month. “There was a point in time where I had $8,000 worth of inventory sitting in my home while I was running up to food banks to feed my family,” she says. “I really feel like I failed my family.”
“Roland Whitsell, a former business professor who spent 40 years researching and teaching the pitfalls of multilevel marketing”: “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone making over $1.50 an hour, (t)he primary product is opportunity. The strongest, most powerful motivational force today is false hope.”
First, we will analyze the “driving mechanism” of MLMs. We will detail how they are intrinsically unstable, guaranteed by design to oversaturate the market with no one noticing. We will look at why MLMs can never equalize into profitability the way companies in the real world can, so that the result will be that the organization as a whole cannot, even in theory, be profitable. When this inevitable destiny occurs, the only money to be made is not from the product or service but from the losses of people lower down in the organization.
Jump up ^ Carl, Walter J. (Winter 2004). “The Interactional Business of Doing Business: Managing Legitimacy and Co-constructing Entrepreneurial Identities in E-Commerce Multilevel Marketing Discourse”. Western Journal of Communication. 68 (1): 92–119.
“I did pretty well for myself,” says Stern, who split sales with her business partner. The work was part-time, and she pulled in anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a month in revenue. Every month, the head of her consultant group would post a leaderboard for the top inventory buyers and sellers, some of whom were bringing in up to $60,000 a month. Stern noticed that the amount of inventory bought correlated with higher income, so after attending one of LuLaRoe’s touring conferences, she was inspired to bulk up her inventory. She and her business partner went on a buying spree, posting pictures of all the unopened boxes on her Facebook page, which began to swell with excited customers.
Jump up ↑ “13 successful multi-level marketing companies based in Utah County”. Provo Daily Herald. May 11, 2017. https://www.heraldextra.com/business/local/successful-multi-level-marketing-companies-based-in-utah-county/collection_8720a5f3-7203-5b55-864a-f0f3323a2551.html. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
MLM presents itself as a “business opportunity,” with products that are ostensibly sold to the general public. However, it doesn’t resemble any other retail business at all, and what it does strongly resemble is a pyramid scheme – the underlying mathematics of the two are identical. MLM has also been described by regulators as a form of gambling or lottery. Some MLMs resemble cults. The MLM industry denies that MLMs are anything other than normal, legitimate businesses, and unlike pyramid schemes, MLMs operate openly and (just this side of) legally in most countries.
Some people don’t want to give out their SS# to become a rep. The companies need these to file taxes with the IRS. I understand concerns about keeping your SS# private. One alternative is to get a Tax ID # from your state. (Update: One reader shared there is a way to get a discount from doTERRA without your SS#.)
Jump up ↑ Washburn, David (2005-08-06). “Metabolife will plead guilty, end tax probe”. San Diego Union-Tribune. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/business/20050806-9999-1b6metabo.html. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
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”?
In 2016, the US Census Bureau stated the median rural household income is 4% lower than it is for urban families, and income inequality is also higher. The US government tried to help people understand the risks before joining these kinds of companies, but MLMs had their way. In 2012, federal legislation passed requiring all franchise companies to provide a disclosure document with information on weighing the benefits and risks of signing up. However, MLMs poured money into lobbying and flooded the FTC with more than 17,000 comments from consultants saying the disclosure would be a burden, and asked to be excluded. The FTC complied, and now MLMs aren’t required to disclose information on risks to interested consultants.
So, yes, money can be made with MLM. The question is whether the money being made is legitimate or “made” via a sophisticated con scheme. And if MLM is “doomed by design” to fail, then the answer is, unfortunately, the latter.
Apparently, it is difficult for gung-ho MLMers to see how they look from the outside. They can watch lifelong friendships unravel, churches and civic groups poisoned, the avoidance of friends and family, etc., and never see that MLM was the cause.
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!)
The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a lobbying group for the MLM industry, reported that in 1990 only 25% of DSA members used the MLM business model. By 1999, this had grown to 77.3%. By 2009, 94.2% of DSA members were using MLM, accounting for 99.6% of sellers, and 97.1% of sales. Companies such as Avon, Electrolux, Tupperware, and Kirby were all originally single-level marketing companies, using that traditional and uncontroversial direct selling business model (distinct from MLM) to sell their goods. However, they later introduced multi-level compensation plans, becoming MLMs. The DSA has approximately 200 members while it is estimated there are over 1,000 firms using multi-level marketing in the United States alone.
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.
Perhaps a better paradigm than the runaway train analogy offered earlier of how MLMs perform over time is this: a helium balloon let loose in an empty room with a spiked ceiling, where product quality is analogous to the amount of helium. The better the product, the faster the balloon will rise, accelerating unhindered, towards disaster. The other option would be the case of a lousy product, in which case the balloon will sink of its own accord, never getting off the ground. To be sure, equilibrium is not in the cards, except perhaps as an accident, and then only temporarily. MLMs are intrinsically unstable. For any company that chooses an MLM approach, it’s pop or drop.
Jump up ↑ Mitchell, LaTonya M (22 September 2014). “Warning letter to dōTERRA International, LLC”. US Food and Drug Administration, Public Health Service. http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2014/ucm415809.htm. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
Jump up ^ “The Bottom Line About Multilevel Marketing Plans and Pyramid Schemes” (PDF). FTC. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 8, 2012. Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. Some are pyramid schemes.
Consumers of an MLM company’s products/services can, in theory, be merely end-user retail consumers. End-user retail consumers are non-participants of the MLM company, with their relationship to the MLM company being nothing more than in a capacity of consumers. In actual practice, however, the overwhelmingly majority of consumers of MLM products/services are the participants. They are the very “salespeople” within the MLM who had been recruited by a fellow participant positioned above them in the MLM pyramid structure.
LuLaRoe merchandise boxes are like Lycra slot machines. LuLaRoe merchandise boxes are like Lycra slot machines. In the onboarding package, new recruits don’t get to choose the size or style of their items. For example, Sophie knew plus sizes would sell best for her, but her initial package contained five XXS dresses and several long-sleeved shirts that were a tough sell for a Texas retailer in June.
Jump up ^ Michael L. Sheffield (Feb–Mar 1999). “Comp Plan Conversion:Direct Sales to MLM Compensation Plans”. Direct Sales Journal. Archived from the original on May 1, 2011. (citing Neil Offen, president of the Direct Selling Association)
Network marketing is considered by many to be a form of direct selling (the person-to-person sale of goods or services). It utilizes a few different strategies to generate commission payments, such as recruiting, lead generation and management. Network marketing may be referred to by a variety of names, including “multilevel marketing,” “cellular marketing,” “affiliate marketing,” “consumer direct marketing (CDM),” “referral marketing,” “pyramid selling,” or “home-based business franchising.”
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.
The best-selling car in the World is the Toyota Corolla. Apparently it’s a great car, and yet at the same time is probably not the car of your dreams. Which begs the question, “Does an MLM company deserve a higher ranking simply because more people are involved?”It’s a fair question.
“The majority of [retailers] earn income from only selling LuLaRoe clothing and not through participation in the Leadership Bonus Plan,” says a LuLaRoe spokesperson of their recruitment-based bonus structure. “LuLaRoe’s success is based on [retailers] selling the comfortable and stylish clothing to consumers, not ordering more inventory.” LuLaRoe says that in 2016, 72.63% of their consultants earned their income through selling clothing alone.
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.
“What causes the average, otherwise shy person to suddenly think they can be a wealth-generating salesman? Because someone showed them “the math.” I’m sure you’ve heard it. All you have to do is find 5 people to join, and those 5 will find five, and those five will get five, and 6 months later you will have 20,000 people working for you, and you’ll be earning $10,000 per month. Really?
Regardless of all the vehement denials, MLMs are all to some extent pyramid schemes, and pyramid schemes are illegal. Sure, some are “getting away with it,” but so did the Mafia for decades. It is hard to stop a juggernaut, especially one that has taken such pains to look legitimate and misunderstood, that is highly organized, and that has so much money from its victims to propagandize, lobby, and defend itself. And so the exploitation goes on.
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.”
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.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the knowledge I gained from [Michael’s] live events and training CDs. Two MUST-HAVE [programs] in your CD library should be ‘The Total Success Pack‘ and ‘Building a Better Life.’ I’ve listened so many times I’ve lost count. PRICELESS information for your journey to success in business and in life… ‘Easy to do. Easy not to do’ The choice is yours.”
LuLaRoe gives these women a way to have it all: a career, new friends, body confidence, extra money, all with enough time left over to be an excellent mother and wife. “Want to earn full-time income for part-time work? Ask me how!” reads a sign that was sent out to new consultants last year. Stidham often promotes the idea of her company being a perfect part-time job for mothers by talking about being a single mother of seven hustling out of her home—even though she was already remarried and her kids grown before LuLaRoe was founded.
Sarah Stern, a stay-at-home mom in southern Florida, signed up with LuLaRoe in March 2016 after receiving a glowing review from a friend. “She told me that they have a cult following, the clothes sell themselves, and it’s under 10,000 people now, so you want to get in while it’s on the ground floor,” she says. Stern joined her friend’s LuLaRoe Facebook page and saw women fighting in the comments to buy beautiful leggings and dresses. She showed her husband, a VP of sales for a consumer-products company, the profit margins, and he told her to go for it.
For more, see the Frequently Asked Questions, Additional Points and Rebuttals section at http://www.vandruff.com/mlm_FAQ.html E-Mail the author of this article, Dean Van Druff, at end of this section.
Who has an eye on “X,” the point of market saturation at a given price, in an MLM? Well, the funny thing, or perhaps the tragic thing, is that “X” will be reached and exceeded without anyone noticing or caring.
During the Mary Kay heyday in post-war America, consultants would invite their friends to in-home parties (think Tupperware) or go door-knocking to sell their products in their neighborhood (think Girl Scouts). However, in the digital age, the game has changed. Consultants who had previously run out of doors to knock on or neighbors to invite over had to put their goods in a car and drive to the next town for fresh clientele. Now they just form a group on Facebook, fire up a Live video stream, and sell to eager customers across the country, like their own miniature Home Shopping Network.
I’ve been pretty disappointed with the response of some readers to Part 4 of this Best Essential Oils series. There’ve been numerous attacks on my character, both here, on Facebook sites, and elsewhere. (Check out Part 4 to see comments and my responses.)
Both recommend internal use of oils liberally, with doTERRA even having a Slim and Sassy blend that they recommend taking internally numerous time per day, for a long period of time, in order to aid weight loss. There are protocols on the internet recommending internal use of grapefruit oils by YL reps in order to lose weight.
For most people, thankfully, the MLM experience usually ends in very quick financial failure and is then sidelined. Two possible responses are: 1) being embarrassed about participation, or 2) becoming even more intractable when the MLM has failed. You will find the latter chasing after the latest “get rich quick” scheme with similar results. “If we could have just sponsored so and so–they have so many friends–we would have made it.”
Non-MLM real-world businesses that offer products of interest to friends, family, etc., such as insurance agents and small retail shop owners, seem to be more circumspect in dealing with personal relationships in all but a few rare (and grievous) cases. But the MLMer is recognizable by duplicity of friendship overtures, overbearing glad-handing, full-time prospecting, outrageous initial deception, and social callousness. This is no accident, but rather sheer desperation. How could it be otherwise? For the active MLMer is in a hopeless bear trap: with hubris as one steel jaw and oversaturation the other.
Jump up ^ “Hong Kong multi-level marketing plan needs closer look (editorial)”. South China Morning Post. October 31, 2013. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
With the company’s rules shifting and no small-business training offered to consultants, it’s easy to let enthusiasm blindside reality—and if you’re drowning, you’re fighting against a riptide of consultants to save yourself.
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.”
“One of the unique facets of this business is that the victims are also perpetrators,” Brooks says, speaking generally of MLMs. “You’re trained to recruit your friends and family and neighbors.” He points out that when you onboard someone underneath you, especially if they live in your town or are in your friendship group, you are essentially creating a competitor. It’s as if you open a Subway sandwich shop and then encourage your neighbor to open a Subway right next door—and everyone is already sick of sandwiches.