The choice is pretty clear: why would I work my butt off every month selling widgets to make $1,000, when I can make the same money by recruiting ten other people to sell, and then do nothing? And when the distributors under me see me kicking back and relaxing, what motivation is there for them to do all the work and make a fifth of what I make?
Multi-level marketing is a legitimate business strategy, though it is controversial. One problem is pyramid schemes, which use money from new recruits to pay the people at the top, often take advantage of people by pretending to be engaged in legitimate multi-level marketing. Pyramid schemes can sometimes be spotted by their greater focus on recruitment than on product sales.
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.
^ Jump up to: a b O’Donnell, Jayne (February 10, 2011). “Multilevel marketing or ‘pyramid?’ Sales people find it hard to earn much”. USA Today. Archived from the original on May 4, 2011. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
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.
The short answer to the above question is “ABSOLUTELY!” However, many people have attempted to get into Network Marketing and haven’t been willing to do the work necessary to see dividends on their investment. They go into it thinking it will be easy, that they can just sit back and start raking in the cash. When they discover it takes work and diligence to make it work, they often are taken aback and simply give up.
The main issue with MLMs is in the way they usually work. Rather than your profit coming from the actual products you sell, it comes from recruiting people into the business as sellers under you (your ‘downline’) and making commissions on their sales (and their downlines).
MLMs blur the line between ‘contractor’ and ‘customer.’ That’s because participants aren’t just required to sell products – they’re required to recruit other people, presumably in the same general geographic area, who also sell the same products. When you recruit someone, you’ve just created a competitor, which will decrease your own sales. What you gain from recruiting that person (i.e. the cut from his sales) is never enough to offset the loss of your own sales, and thus, your income.
^ Jump up to: a b Merrilees, Bill; Miller, Dale (1999). “Direct Selling in the West and East: The Relative Roles of Product and Relationship (Guanxi) Drivers”. Journal of Business Research. 45 (3): 267–273.
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.
Not so with the MLM crowd. Pick up any brochure or videotape for an MLM and you are more than likely to see a cheesy, obvious, and blatant appeal to greed and materialism. This is offensive to everyone, even die-hard materialists. Typical is an appeal to “the American dream.” Usually there will be a mood shot of a large new home, a luxury car, a boat, perhaps a beautiful couple boarding a Lear jet, and so on.
But having devotion to a company despite evidence that they are not telling the truth or that their products are not superior taints the reputation of all MLMs and their reps. It’s frankly uncalled for.
Since MLM organizations are notoriously flash-in-the-pan, one has to wonder why any new company would choose this flawed marketing technique. Perhaps one of the things to consider is that the MLM organization can effectively skirt the Federal Trade Commission by using word-of-mouth testimonials, supposed “studies” done by scientists, fabricated endorsements, rumors and other misrepresentations that would never be allowed to see the light of day in the real world of product promotion, shady as it is.
Ashley (name changed), a mom and wife who lives in the suburbs of Indianapolis, signed up to sell LuLaRoe in August 2016 after her husband lost his job and was only able to make half his salary at the next one he found. “Simply put, I signed up to make money,” she says. Ashley opened three credit cards to cover the initial set-up cost and generated $3,500 a month in revenue for the first two months. But on the advice of other retailers, she plowed it all back into buying more inventory instead of keeping any of it for herself, her family, or their mounting bills. “Often increased inventory can assist in increasing retail sales to consumers,” says Justin Lyon, LuLaRoe’s chief marketing officer.
Thus, the only “control system” will be the inevitable losses and subsequent bad image the MLM company will gain after it does what it was designed to do: fail. And sooner or later we have got to stop blaming this particular MLM company or that, and admit that the MLM technique itself is fundamentally flawed.
Jump up ^ Jeffery, Lyn (March 21, 2001). “Placing Practices: Transnational Network Marketing in Mainland China”. In Chen, Nancy N. China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture. Duke University Press. pp. 23–42. ISBN 9780822326403. Archived from the original on April 22, 2016.
MLM can no longer claim to be new and, thus, exempt from the normal rules of the market and the way goods and services are sold. They have been tried and, for the most part, have failed. Some have been miserable failures in spite of offering excellent products.
In mainstream terms, it’s most similar to franchising, where a business operator buys the rights to a specific brand and in turn receives support from the company that owns the brand. But there are two big differences:
MLM companies have been trying to find ways around China’s prohibitions, or have been developing other methods, such as direct sales, to take their products to China through retail operations. The Direct Sales Regulations limit direct selling to cosmetics, health food, sanitary products, bodybuilding equipment and kitchen utensils. And the Regulations require Chinese or foreign companies (“FIEs”) who intend to engage into direct sale business in mainland China to apply for and obtain direct selling license from the Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”). In 2016, there are 73 companies, including domestic and foreign companies, have obtained the direct selling license. Some multi-level marketing sellers have circumvented this ban by establishing addresses and bank accounts in Hong Kong, where the practice is legal, while selling and recruiting on the mainland.
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.
**For purposes of comparing Internet search term interest using Google Trends (GT),all 25 companies were compared to the term, MLM. A score of 1.00 would indicate the same level of Internet search interest; anything above 1.00 more interest, anything below 1.00 less interest.
MLMs sell themselves using self-empowerment language and sparkly beauty products. They’re #girlboss mythology repacked for Christians and Mormons; entrepreneurialism for women brought up believing men should be the breadwinners; and a peppy dream for millennials who were told they could do anything.
But even if LuLaRoe were to go out of business tomorrow, another MLM pushing scented candles, jewelry, or kitchen products would rise up to take its place. “The regulators cannot keep up with these companies,” Brooks says. “There are so many of them. When one company blows up, the founders and high-level distributors move on to another company, and it goes on and on.” At best, LuLaRoe is a company that grew too fast; at worst, it consciously preyed on business-naïve communities eager for a sense of self-sufficiency.
Manes invested about $4,000 into her Arbonne business, which she maintained for a year. By the end, she’d only made $600. “I had vendor shows, so I had to purchase product for display. Obviously, I used the products that didn’t sell… but I wouldn’t have initially bought them,” she says. “I also felt pressure from my upline to purchase more to make the business successful. It was constantly said that you should have the latest products and try everything before you sell it.”
“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.
The Federal Trade Commission warns “Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. Some are pyramid schemes. It’s best not to get involved in plans where the money you make is based primarily on the number of distributors you recruit and your sales to them, rather than on your sales to people outside the plan who intend to use the products.”
LuLaRoe’s messaging is filled with positive language: “I believe in you” is the company’s unofficial tag line, and body-positive imagery floods its website to showcase its large selection of flattering plus-size outfits. “It’s hard to find plus-size clothing that actually looks good—that makes you feel like you look good,” Sophie says. “That’s why there’s such a customer base for LuLaRoe.”