Multi-level marketing is a strategy some direct-sales companies use to encourage their existing distributors to recruit new distributors by paying the existing distributors a percentage of their recruits' sales. The recruits are the distributor's "downline." All distributors also make money through direct sales of products to customers. Amway is an example of a well-known direct-sales company that uses multi-level marketing.
Many self-proclaimed entrepreneurs send me invitations and accolades to join their favorite Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or Network Marketing company, but these all sound like "get rich quick" schemes to me. For me, the essence of an entrepreneur is creating something new and innovative, whereas an MLM is a traditional formula on an existing product with a high premium on pyramiding.
One of the earliest critics of Amway, former insider Stephen Butterfield, wrote about how its conservative economic policies actually helped bolster Amway’s ranks in his 1985 book, Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise. “In alliance with the religious right, Amway (which stands for American Way) has spent more than three decades building an authoritarian, pro-business movement in the American middle class,” according to a promotion blurb for the book. “Amway preaches devotion and obedience to its leaders, hard work and sacrifice for the Company, contempt for the poor and worship of the rich.”
Independent non-salaried participants, referred to as distributors (variously called "associates", "independent business owners", "independent agents", etc.), are authorized to distribute the company's products or services. They are awarded their own immediate retail profit from customers plus commission from the company, not downlines, through a multi-level marketing compensation plan, which is based upon the volume of products sold through their own sales efforts as well as that of their downline organization.
As for Trump, his pleas to “trust me” and “believe me” have continued to pay dividends, only now he’s saying, “I alone can fix” whatever stands in the way of American greatness. But even as Trump pursues his biggest scheme yet, one of his old ones will continue to thrive in 2017: The Trump era could ignite a golden age for politically connected multilevel marketing companies—or what critics (and John Oliver) say are often merely disguised pyramid schemes, illegal enterprises in which people primarily earn money by recruiting others instead of by selling products to the public.
The reality is there’s nothing special about the stuff MLM companies sell. You can find whey protein and meal replacement shakes at your local CVS or online. You can buy essential oils at Whole Foods and Amazon. Your wife can buy quality make-up and skincare products at Ulta, Walgreens, or online. You can get pretty much anything an MLM sells and often for much cheaper, even when your MLM distributor discount is factored in (see the next section). There’s nothing significantly different about MLM products besides the marketing and branding.
Trump’s Cabinet picks also have MLM links. First there’s his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, whose husband’s family fortune derives from its ownership of Amway, the world’s biggest MLM, with $9.5 billion in annual 2015 revenue on everything from soap to cat food. While the company’s sales have been in decline, falling from a peak of $11.8 billion in 2013, Amway remains the 29th largest privately held company in the U.S., according to Forbes.
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