What this all adds up to, in the eyes of opponents and supporters, is a benign era for MLMs. Regulating these companies, with their legions of independent salespeople, is difficult for the toughest regulatory regimes. And the Trump era will be anything but that. “Anybody who would continue to expect or hope for law enforcement regarding financial schemes of this type would be living in a dream world,” said Robert FitzPatrick, the president of the watchdog Pyramid Scheme Alert. “[MLMs] are going to gain protection.”
FitzPatrick will get no quarrel from the industry’s biggest fans. “We think that with the new administration you can forget any aggressive action vs. MLMs,” industry analyst and Herbalife shareholder Tim Ramey wrote in a note to clients in January. “When Betsy DeVos was named to the Trump Cabinet we took that as a very strong signal that the Trump administration had no real issue with the MLM world. … You don’t put Betsy DeVos in your cabinet and then go out and try to put [Herbalife] out of business. We are in a post-regulatory world.”
Take Rodan+Fields, a skincare line developed by the dermatologists who created Proactive. It’s supposed be top-notch stuff. When they initially launched the product, they went the traditional retail route. Estee Lauder then bought the company for an undisclosed amount and continued to sell it through traditional retail. Sales of Rodan+Fields were surprisingly lackluster, however, so its former owners bought the company back and implemented the MLM model. Sales of the product skyrocketed to over a billion dollars. They’d claim it was thanks to the word-of-mouth marketing MLMs facilitate. I’d venture to guess it had more to do with the fact they have a captive customer base amongst the hundreds of thousands of distributors who are required to make minimum purchase amounts each month and recruit other distributors who will have to make minimum purchase amounts each month too.
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