Confessions Of (An Awful) Multi-Level Marketer

I've never told anyone -- ever -- about a little side profession I have as a distributor for Sunrider International. Admittedly, that's a disadvantage, seeing how it defeats the whole purpose of being part of a multi-level marketing program, which is to recruit other people to cough up an entry fee as I did for a box of introductory products I'll mostly never use, like produce wash, and Fortune Delight® -- a "naturally revitalizing herbal beverage designed to nourish and cleanse the body."

I found the latter a pleasant enough beverage, but I'd have to rope a whole lot of you into agreeing with me before I could really justify ordering it again with the CFO, post-recession cost controls at T.H. Forbes Co. being what they are. So I haven't actually taken delivery on anything from Sunrider in years.

That's hasn't stopped me from receiving another benefit of membership, however, which is monthly perky emails from Corporate, often featuring some wisdom from Dr. Tei-Fu Chen,  founder and chairman of the board. Truth is, they usually go unopened and largely unnoticed by my conscious mind. But an email from a lady who must be one of my "uplines" arrived the other day with a flyer attached that brimmed with graphics explaining how the Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine works, and implying that Sunrider products regenerate the body accordingly. It also reminded me of my folly.



So how did a natural-born sucker, er, skeptic like me get involved in something like this in the first place?

Let's just say that in the heat of a nutrition and cooking class I took with someone a few years ago, I got caught up in the palaver that Sunrider's "proprietary blend" of Stevia leaf extract was better than anyone else's sugar substitute. My instructor was a Sunrider distributor. But what I learned from her about preparing healthy foods was so worthwhile that I long ago wrote off my small, if ill-advised, MLM investment as money well spent.

This is not to suggest that there aren't a whole lot of true believers out there, as Jessica Pressler's piece in New York magazine last month -- "If I Can't Trust Donald Trump, Who Can I Trust?" -- so amusingly demonstrates. That line comes from a 29-year-old woman who quit her job and returned to her parents' home to join a new MLM venture headed by The Donald.

It seems that Trump purchased a multivitamin purveyor called Ideal Health two years ago and has rebranded it as the Trump Network, replete with his vaunted family crest. Other lines include snacks for the kiddos, energy drinks, a diet program and a skin care line.

"With this company, I let it be known from the beginning: Product first. Marketing second," Trump says. Sure. Of course. Who'd think otherwise?

The company is very sensitive to those who would suggest that the enterprise is a pyramid scheme where the upline folks who get in first reap all the benefits and the schmucks like me move on to more straight-up transactions, like investing in collections of Golden Oldies from the Sixties and Seventies that would cost a fortune to put together ourselves. Trump himself tells Pressler that people should not expect to make enough in the enterprise to support themselves full time, though it "might lead to that."

It's that "might," of course, that has motivated wannabe self-made gazzillionaires since Amway founders Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos first started selling - you guessed it -- NUTRILITE® Dietary Supplements door to door in the 1950s.

Close friends got involved as Amway distributors about 15 years ago and came back from a meeting of their peers and uplines with evangelistic fervor. For a few years, we'd get Amway products like candles and air fresheners as Christmas presents but eventually that petered out. They kept their day jobs.

One problem with MLMs, of course, is the suggestion that anyone can be a salesperson and/or marketer. I have too much respect for people who really know how to push the right buttons to think so. Another problem is that you've either got to truly believe that the products do what they say they do, or you've got to be willing to at least suspend your disbelief.

As (hopefully) harmless as the vitamins and tonics sold by many MLMers might be -- and I'll even grant that many might contain helpful nutrients -- I personally couldn't tell you with a straight face that they will regenerate cells and restore vitality or any of the other things claimed for everything from acai berries to pills of no known provenance. Or that Amway household cleansers worked any better than the stuff we normally get at the supermarket.

There is one MLM product, however, is catching people's eyes. The distributors or "coaches" for Beachbody, which consists of workout programs such as P90X, Brazil Butt Lift and Body Gospel presumably are fit and buff.

"Their testimonial and therefore their business relies on how good they look, not whether they tell friends that a certain superfruit drink helps them have more energy or cures their stomach problems," writes Darren Rovell in a story for CNBC.

Hey, who can resist the lure of "Go from regular to ripped in 90 days," particularly if you've seen someone do it? No, I haven't actually seen someone turn a mushy belly into a six pack with P90X, but who am I to suggest that it's not happening every day? Why, I bet I could do it myself if I got up at 4 a.m. instead of 5 and really, really applied myself. And hmmm, let's see. If I sign up a dozen of you a week ...

1 comment about "Confessions Of (An Awful) Multi-Level Marketer ".
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  1. Hugh Simpson from WOW! Presentation, March 2, 2011 at 8:23 a.m.

    I too have been in network arketing in the past and even a columnist for a networ marketing newspapaper. I swore that I would stay away from this potentially addictive behavior until as a 25 yr vet of video production I was asked to beta test for a new video based network marketing company called TalkFusion. I was skeptical but like Beachbody and PrePaidLegal this company offers something that every business can use In fact they private label for DHL, Century21 and Sam's Club already. I think there is a lace for network marketing when the product is beyond energy drinks, vitamins, potions and lotions.

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