Loss and Failure Rates in Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

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More than 99% of people lose money in multi-level marketing (MLM). In Chapter 7 of Dr. Jon Taylor’s book, The Case (For and) Against Multi-Level Marketing, he details the failure rates of participants in multi-lievel marketing companies. In order to analyze the true failure rates and to calculate actual profits or losses from participation in these (improperly termed) “business opportunities,” it is necessary to wade through confusing and incomplete disclosures and to estimate figures that are critical but not provided by the companies.

Dr. Taylor completes a thorough analysis of the numbers. Of the hundreds of multi-level marketing companies active in the United States, Dr. Taylor could find income disclosure statements for only 30 of them. What are the others hiding?

The analysis of these 30 income disclosure statements was completed through the following process:

1. Obtain Average Earnings Statistics – These purport to show the average earnings by distributor level.
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Myth of Retail Sales in Multi-Level Marketing

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Multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) like to refer to themselves as “Direct Sales” companies, because this puts the focus on the sale of the product or service, and takes focus off the business of recruiting.

I’ve been researching MLMs for years, and I’ve found that companies use the product or services simply as bait and a cover. It is “bait” for recruiting because it looks legitimate to a potential recruit. (How many people would join MLMs if they were truthful and told you that what you really had to do was constantly recruit new people?)

It is a “cover,” since it is what makes the schemes legal under state and federal laws. Pyramid schemes (which are simply a transfer of money up a pyramid-like structure) are illegal. But if you use a legitimate product or service as your cover and your reason for transferring money up the pyramid, you can successfully claim that your company is not a pyramid scheme. Again, the product or service takes the focus off recruiting.

But the truth is that the people involved in multilevel marketing companies do little actual retailing of products or services to third-party customers (non-members of the scheme). The vast majority of the purchases of products and services are made by the members of the MLMs themselves, either to stock inventory (which they will probably never be able to sell) or for personal consumption. Continue reading

Comparing MLM and Corporate America

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Fans of multi-level marketing (MLM) often say that it is just like corporate America! There are levels of employees and managers… Corporate America is a pyramid and MLm is no different. That’s a faulty analysis. When I call MLM a pyramid scheme, I am not calling that because the management structure looks like a pyramid. I am calling it a pyramid scheme because of how it functions.

A pyramid scheme is a pay-to-play scam. People pay to become a part of it, and they pay continually through minimum purchases that are required to remain a qualified member of the scheme. MLM is based on the continuous recruitment of people into the scam using the promise of making money, despite the fact that more than 99% of participants in MLM actually lose money. MLMs sell a fake opportunity. While they appear to be focused on selling products or services, those things are simply a front to make the “opportunity” look like a legitimate business. Sadly, MLM is not a business. Continue reading

LuLaRoe Review: Bad “Business”

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lularoe-scam-fraudLuLaRoe leggings have become popular, and therefore the multi-level marketing (MLM) “business” of LuLaRoe has taken off. I’ve said over and over that multi-level marketing is not a business because more than 99% of participants lose money. But I wanted to take a look at this company specifically, because it’s been getting so much press.

Business Insider promoted the idea that LuLaRoe is making women rich. While there ARE a handful of women who are making a ton of money from the company, only an incredibly tiny fraction of participants can make this type of money. Why? Simple math. If you’re making a 3% to 5% commission on your downline (as you’ll see below), it takes $700,000 of wholesale purchases by your downline to earn $35,000 in a month. (I realize that various bonuses change the math, but I’m using these numbers to simplify things.)

Imagine how many people need to be in the downline and how much they each need to buy to generate this volume. Simple math tells you that everyone below the woman earning $35,000 can’t build a pyramid of this size. There simply aren’t enough people on the planet, and there are only so many customers available for each distributor.

Let’s talk about some of the specifics downfalls to this fake business. Continue reading

More on John Oliver’s Takedown of Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

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john-oliver-multilevel-marketingRobert FitzPatrick, one of the foremost experts on multi-level marketing, published a piece entitled “What John Oliver Didn’t Have Time To Say In His Hilarious Exposé Of Herbalife And MLM” on Seeking Alpha. (register for free to read the whole article) As always, he did a masterful job o flaying out the case against MLMs, which are nothing more than elaborate pyramid schemes set up to look like legitimate businesses.

As of the writing of this post, the YouTube video of the complete episode Multilevel Marketing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) had over 5 million views. The program made the point (in a very articulate, yet humorous way) that MLMs are nothing but pyramid schemes.

FitzPatrick expands on the episode: Continue reading

John Oliver Exposes the Scam of Multi-Level Marketing

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Last Week Tonight With John Oliver devoted this week’s episode to multi-level marketing. Although he uses quite a bit of humor in his presentation, his analysis of MLM is spot on. Multi-level marketing companies are pyramid schemes, plain and simple. MLM is not a business. It doesn’t matter what product you’re trying to sell, the whole set-up is a fraud in which 99% of participants lose money.

The full episode is shown below, and is well worth the time spent watching. John Oliver mentions companies like Mary Kay, Herbalife, Market America (Shop.com), Jeunesse, and Youngevi. The producers did an excellent job of honing in on the important facts about an industry that is made intentionally confusing (in order to conceal their fraud, of course).

MLM: It’s About Recruiting, Not Sales

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pyramid-scheme-mlmI’ve been telling you for years that multi-level marketing is NOT about selling products. It’s about recruiting people into a fake opportunity. The products are the “front,” meant to make MLM look like a legitimate business. In reality, very little product is retailed to actual consumers. Instead, it’s sold to new recruits into the scheme, who have little chance of ever retailing those products for a profit.

Look no further than the case of Herbalife to prove my point. (This point is usually difficult to prove, as MLMs do their best to hide the numbers so we never see the truth behind the scam.) This month Herbalife entered into a settlement agreement with the FTC that has them paying $200 million and substantially changing how the company does business.

Herbalife falsely claimed: “Settlement Does Not Change Herbalife’s Business Model as a Direct Selling Company.”

The FTC clearly disagrees, and said in its press release about the settlement (emphasis mine): Continue reading

Pyramid Legalization Act of 2016

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A new bill is making its way through Congress, and it’s titled “Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act of 2016.” What’s it all about? It is an attempt by the Direct Selling Association and multi-level marketing companies to make sure that their pyramid schemes are never shut down. It is a bunch of fluff that is designed to look like it protects consumers, while the bill is really protection for MLMs. It makes inventory loading (getting recruits to buy inventory to “qualify” for commissions, regardless of the fact that they will likely never be able to sell that inventory) perfectly legal under basically all circumstances.

Attorney Douglas Brooks has analyzed the bill and dubs it the “Pyramid Legalization Act of 2016.” This is his analysis:

In the guise of an “anti-pyramid” bill, the proposed legislation would more accurately be called the “Pyramid Legalization Act of 2016.”   The bill would make it extremely difficult if not impossible to prosecute the most pernicious forms of deceptive multi-level marketing programs and product-based pyramid schemes. Continue reading

ESPN on AdvoCare

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Yesterday ESPN published an article about AdvoCare, Drew Brees Has A Dream He’d Like To Sell You. AdvoCare is a typical multi-level marketing (MLM) company. It focuses on selling a “business opportunity” and uses nutritional products to make it appear as thought they’re not promoting a pyramid scheme. Unfortunately, more than 99% of participants in MLM lose money, making it a “business opportunity” that is even worse than gambling at a casino.

Mina Kimes did an outstanding job of digging into AdvoCare’s empty promises to distributors. It’s a long article, so I’m going to pull out some of the most interesting excerpts for you. Here is one of the most important things to remember: ESPN has nothing to gain from misleading you. They don’t care one way or another if AdvoCare or any other MLM is a legitimate opportunity.  AdvoCare, on the other hand, lives or dies by the public perception… they are fully invested in consumers believing that they push a good and beneficial opportunity.

On selling hope:

AdvoCare, which has used athlete endorsers and event sponsorships to cultivate deep ties to the sports world, portrays itself as a company that “offers the average American the chance to make an above-average income,” but, in truth, only a tiny percentage of salespeople ever make significant money.

Slight correction: Only a tiny percentage of MLM salespeople ever make any profits. Continue reading

ESPN Outside the Lines on AdvoCare

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advocareUPDATE: The television segment has been pushed back, but the article is out today.

ESPN has been investigating AdvoCare, a multi-level marketing company that sells a “business opportunity” using nutritional products as their hook. Today, ESPN’s investigative news show Outside the Lines is running a segment in AdvoCare, airing at 1:30pm Eastern time. The broadcast will be replayed on Sunday, March 20th at 9:30am Eastern time.

The broadcast must be good, because Advocare launched into damage control mode a few days ago. The company has posted a video that purports to be an excerpt from the interview, but it is clearly a self-promotional piece. They also are promoting the hashtag #AdvoStrong. on Twitter.

In conjunction with this broadcast, ESPN the Magazine is publishing an article about AdvoCare by Mina Kimes.

Please check out both the segment and the article, as they both help shine a light on the negative effects of multi-level marketing.