My introduction to direct sales took place when my kids were young. We were invited to the home of a new neighbour for coffee and a play date. As it happened, the woman was an Amway sales rep who not only served me Amway coffee in an Amway mug with Amway biscuits, but proceeded to pull countless products out of her cupboards to demonstrate that her family used Amway products as exclusively as possible. Brochures and order forms were conveniently left on the table, just in case I should be moved to buy, buy, buy while I was sipping my brew. The crowning glory was cut-out magazine pictures of a gracious home with pool, an SUV, a sports car and a couple frolicking on a tropical beach, all nicely taped to the refrigerator door. This was a motivating technique prescribed by her employer, she explained, to encourage them to keep their goals in mind and sell, sell, sell. It was a thoroughly distasteful experience and the only time I set foot in that home.
My second experience was equally disappointing. Still relatively new in the fitness industry, I accepted an invitation to a “wine and cheese social”, hosted by a colleague for the professional fitness staff of a health club. The invitation made no mention of direct sales products. Thinking it a lovely idea to promote collegiality, I accepted with pleasure. There was wine and cheese. There was also a video on Shaklee products, brochures, samples of supplements and a long dissertation from our hostess about the health benefits of using Shaklee nutritional supplements and weight-loss products. The guests were invited, not only as potential buyers, but as potential sales recruits who would sign on to market these products in our classes. Nobody bought anything and everyone went home thoroughly disgruntled.
Tactics like these are one of the things that give direct sales and multi-level marketing (MLM) companies a bad name. Major and highly-publicized class action suits against some MLM giants have not helped to instill confidence in the buying public. Although the terms MLM and Pyramid Scheme are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. The first is legal, for one thing, and the second is not. The defining line is how the money is made. If a representative makes money selling a product or service and also recruits other representatives for added income, it is an MLM. If the primary source of revenue is through recruiting new representatives with no tangible product or service being sold, it is a Pyramid Scheme.
Many MLM companies have been around for a long time and report staggering revenues. Amway is the largest, founded in 1959. Selling health, beauty and home products, the company reported sales of $8.6 billion in 2017. Avon has existed even longer, registered in the 1930’s to sell “perfumes, toilet waters, powder and rouge compacts, lipsticks and other toiletry products”. Also in the top 10 are such familiar names as Herbalife, Mary Kay and Tupperware.
The advent of social media has vastly increased the presence of MLM’s in our lives. No longer reliant on door-to-door sales, selling “parties” and glossy printed catalogues, these companies flourish in today’s technological world. The products they sell are not available in any bricks-and-mortar outlet, and they rely on their distributors to grow a committed network of repeat customers. MLM’s provide training, marketing support and networking events for their salespeople, creating an exclusive club atmosphere.
The vast majority of MLM’s cater to women. Health, nutrition and weight-loss supplements are huge, as are cosmetics, essential oils, beauty and anti-aging products. Home decor, household maintenance, jewellery and clothing are popular lines, as are kitchen items like Tupperware and Pampered Chef. Primerica is a successful MLM offering insurance and financial services.
Epicure is the largest direct sales company in Canada, offering clean eating programs, cookware, dry mixes and herb/spice blends. “Great part-time job! Epicure is a great company with fantastic morals and guidelines,” reads a five-star consultant review. “They strive to help consultants reach their individual goals. Epicure allows you to work to make the income you desire if you put in the effort to build a team.”
Not only do women make up the majority of MLM clients, but published reports say that 75% of direct sales consultants world-wide are women. This number is much higher in North America.
So what’s the appeal? Why would someone want to sell products similar to products being sold, not only by other MLM’s, but often by local stores as well? Considering that the price point is often higher than that in your local shop, and that purchasers also have to pay shipping costs, does it make sense?
It does. “The best part about direct sales is that you get to connect with other women, share a product you're passionate about, and you can work from home within hours that you set,” says the Work At Home Woman website. “Direct selling offers a lot of flexibility, so it can be an excellent growth opportunity for outgoing moms, especially if you have a large social network.”
Start-up costs for many MLM’s are nominal, and distributors often benefit with reward packages for free products as soon as they begin selling. Whether envisioned as a part-time undertaking for a little extra income or a full-fledged effort to build a fortune, there is money to be made for the person with the right personality, attitude and commitment.
Some MLM’s cultivate an evangelical philosophy that many find disturbing, but it’s all part of the recipe to inspire the required attitude and commitment in their distributors. Passionate belief in the validity and superiority of the products being sold is an essential ingredient for success, and most MLM consultants are true believers, developing their faith through their own use of the products they sell.
If you think that launching a home-based multi-level marketing business might work for you, you may be right. It can allow you to work from home, manage your time, establish an income, build a team and become part of an exclusive networking group that will look after your training, marketing and development. Just do your research. In the immortal words of the old knight guarding the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, “choose wisely”.