Here is how they mostly work: You sign up and pay the buy-in fee to receive your startup kit, and then you start clogging everyone’s social media feeds about your new venture and beg your friends and family to join you on your “journey to financial success”. You host a bunch of fake parties and wine tastings or worse, you meet up one-on-one to catch up and the whole thing turns out to be nothing more than a demo and sales pitch where you guilt your friends into buying stuff they don’t want or need. After you subject them to that, you then try to recruit them to join your team of consultants, or whatever term your particular MLM uses.
It is almost impossible to stop the industry because of the amount of investors and lobbyists who are profiting from them. “During the Obama administration, the Federal Trade Commission made its biggest-ever effort to curb this industry when last summer it slapped nutritional supplement–seller Herbalife with a $200 million fine and, as part of a settlement with Herbalife, demanded it restructure its business so that it would “start operating legitimately,” as FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez put it.” (Slate) The current administration under President Donald Trump will be a completely different story and may very well be a boon for the MLM industry. Let’s start with Trump himself. In 2009, he licensed his name to an MLM, which eventually went bankrupt, along with many of his participants. Many in Trump’s cabinet have strong ties to MLMs as well: Betsey DeVos (whose husband is the president of Amway — by the way, DeVos family has donated $200 million to the Republican party over the years), Ben Carson, Carl Icahn (a billionaire who is also a major investor in Herbalife and holds five board seats at the company), and Charles Herbster.
Fast forward to 2017. LuLaRoe is the biggest MLM for women. “More than 80,000 women have paid around $5,000 for several boxes of low-cost clothing and worked as much as 80-hour weeks to outfit hundreds of thousands of suburban women in multicolored polyester. But according to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, 99% of people who join multilevel-marketing companies lose money. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a brilliant business model or a predatory practice — or a little bit of both.” (FTC)
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. You can spot pyramid schemes by their greater focus on recruitment than on product sales.
I totally agree, Mary. You can lose soooo much more just by opening up a small storefront business. I was in the Spa Industry and then the economy tanked in late 2008. I did not renew my lease in 2009. Lost my several hundred thousand dollar build-out. Lost so much more than taking an MLM business seriously. Even if I would have front loaded on a ton of product, I still would have been better off. People spend $750 and get some business cards then do nothing and blame MLM.
The term “MLM company” isn’t exactly accurate because the company is not necessarily defined by the fact that it uses a multi-level marketing structure. Instead, a good MLM will be a product-centric company, meaning that it will be, for example, a cosmetics company that uses an MLM structure. Test the product of the company you are interested in; the product must be something that you would willingly advertise even if you weren't working for the company.
Great job on the top 25 MLMs. Really like what you’re doing for the industry as a whole. Your analysis is spot on. However, a closer look at retention rates for each company might give you another perspective on the value proposition of any given company. As a Doterra Wellness Advocate we are told by our corporate execs that we have a 65% retention rate with customers repurchasing the product within 3 months. And that if we based it on the industry standard of 12 months our retention would go up to 85%. I’m told that this is unprecedented in network marketing. So I’m believing that Doterra is succeeding because its selling a product that works and that users and word-of-mouth drive the business in the long run.