Marketing is part industry-driven and part creative thinking. In the case of network marketing, it is also about finding salespeople with charisma. When you hire people who are excited about your business and product, they will share that enthusiasm with others. An enthusiastic sales force leads to more sales, but also to more recruits into your marketing network.
Both the Amway and Herbalife cases underscore one of the problems of prosecuting alleged pyramid schemes: There is no federal law defining the crime, leaving it to the courts to interpret and pricey lawyers to find wiggle room. The debate is also clouded by the rhetoric of free markets. At the far right end of that debate is the DeVos family, which has donated $200 million to Republicans over the years, and owns a company that combines Christian fundamentalism with extremist free-market ideology and maintains such a grip on many of those who join it that some, fearful for their lives and harassed mercilessly, went into hiding after they sought to expose it.
Shaklee earned $515 million in revenue in 2013 and has a network of 1.25 million representatives around the world. It’s been around since 1956 and sells products in 8 countries around the world. Shaklee heavily advertises its daily regimen packages, including the popular Foundations Regimen, Healthy Solutions Regimen, and Smart Heart Blood Pressure Regimen, all of which include multiple Shaklee products.
Technically speaking, pyramiding is an illegal practice of a company that solicits their members to recruit more members, more than selling the product. In turn, the primary source of income for its members is the number of members they have recruited instead of the products they have sold over time. Clearly, not all MLMs are pyramid schemes, but it all seems like a matter of degree.
In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (after WWII) the concept of a franchise business gained traction. In a franchise, you rent the business model that someone else (Franchisor) has perfected. One of the very first franchises was started by John Pemberton in 1886 when he created a beverage with a secret recipe and licensed bottling territories to others. This became Coca Cola. Rexall Drug Stores and even General Motors started out as Franchises. As in any new industry or business model there are abuses by unethical promoters and business persons (think of the robber barons and anti-trust regulations). By the 1960’s franchising was getting a black eye. Deceptive sales practices, double selling the same franchise territories to different persons and financial insolvency of the Franchisor were rampant. Eventually, in 1979 federal regulation came into play. The unscrupulous and under-funded Franchisors went away and the legitimate players who complied with the FTC regulations changed and became giants. (Think Subway, McDonalds and others.)
The Federal Trade Commission issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by effectively requiring "independent" distributors to sell at the same fixed price) and making exaggerated income claims. The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as "pyramiding".
(Update: In April of 2017 there was an article posted about this company, so as of May 2017 it is unsure if this company has gone under.) First off, to sign up and become an affiliate of the company you might do a double or triple or quadruple take at the startup cost (which is almost 4 figures). However, you do get to truly set up your own business, because you can set the price on all the products you sell. If you have that business talent to make consumers buy the products (which are legit btw) you can certainly make that start-up cost back in no time. This company has also been achieving some high praise by being the recipient of many awards (including a growth award from the Direct Selling Association).
If you insist on trying one of these MLM offers, the least you can do is look for proper business registration with BBB, toll free number, and proper address (no Post Office box). Also, you will need lots of family and friends to make it work. As a final step, check the MLM materials for one or more of these "red flags" that are associated with the worst of the offerings:
Network Marketing distributes goods and services through distributors, which may include hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands of distributions networks. Distributors may buy products from the company for pennies on the dollar, and then sell the products, or they may simply sell the goods and/or services for the company and receive a commission on the 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.
Consultants for It Works! frequently employ before and after photos highlighting unbelievable results. They claim that customers can minimize the appearance of cellulite, tighten loose skin, and achieve lasting weight loss results in as little as 45 minutes. The one thing they don’t mention? The fact that dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. So even if they don’t work, customers wouldn’t know about it.
The most interesting thing about them is their products. Their selection is extensive and they include many unusual areas. For example, their key categories are Rest & Restoration, Environment, Nutrition & Personal Care and Accessories & Replacements. They have many items within these categories, including filters, support wraps, magnetic support and wellness items.
Now this company is one of the more infamous networking marketing companies out there, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think. They have been in a never-ending battle with the FTC for a number of years. So, currently they have made an agreement to pay out $200 million dollars to former associates and have sworn to reorganize their organization.