Since we started to do what we do we’ve been rubbing elbows often with various multilevel marketing/network marketing entities….and I think every adult American below a certain socioeconomic level has encountered network marketing before.
A pattern I quickly noticed is that with these events that we do, the more MLM participation the worse the event goes. A lot of shows have a no MLM rule, which they believe creates a more authentic crafter/producer atmosphere. And I agree.
First, I know that someone is making money off of these kinds of businesses and that there are people who genuinely like the products they have. In my own life I can immediately think of a couple people who have been successful with MLM businesses – I can also think of dozens who fizzled out after the first week or two of doing it.
Ok, so when we think of “business” or “work” we normally think of two different situations – as an employee or as a owner. You’re either working for someone or for yourself. MLM seems to be a bizarre hybrid of the two, more similar to being a franchisee (like McDonalds, etc.) than anything else. You have a set product line, rules to follow and some system of support like an employee. But you also more or less choose your own level of involvement, determine the level of effort you put into it and sometimes put your own skin in the game by putting up your own money to get started. You’re also on your own during dry times, unlike an employee. In short, like an employee you’re given *the* business but like an owner you’re responsible for *building* the business.
People are sold into these programs by the promise of a small initial investment and then whatever time/effort you want to put into it, but I think one thing that a lot of people overlook is how much of their “personal brand” or social capital they actually burn up doing these kinds of things. To be honest, I think a lot of people see these kinds of things and then try to avoid it like the plague. Then it turns to “oh shit, it’s Suzie. She’s probably going to try to sell us It Works!” because these things work on expecting people to shake down their own personal networks….and your personal network probably doesn’t want to hear it.
Some people can get away with it if whatever product actually lines up with their lives. The only example I can think of is Advocare (and maybe Herbalife) and the personal trainer industry, where at least they can say “hey, look this works for me!” and have a captive audience.
Anyways, I think the big problem with MLM insofar as craft shows is that there’s no personality to whatever it is they’re selling….and that’s also why the people in your personal network are usually less-than-enthused with whatever the product is. It doesn’t take any vision, creativity, etc. to do Scentsy or Lularoe. Even though it’s “your business”, everyone sees it as someone else’s business that you’re peddling.
I think the most common criticism of MLM, half in jest, is being “cult-like”. That’s because it’s the same idea – someone else’s idea/thing that you go out and evangelize. Instead of talking about the normal things friends/family would talk about, you’re encouraged to talk about this or that essential oil blend and how you heard about it causing the blind to see and saving some poor woman from cancer.
Ok, so people are just generally turned off by MLM. Yes, there are people that like the products and all but I think overall people are turned off. If they go to some event and all they see is the same kinds of people that bug them at work about ordering Pampered Chef, they say “this sucks”, “nothing here is worth a fuck”, etc. So I appreciate it when a show is just crafters/producers.
One of the people I can think of that has been successful with MLM is my own wife (before we met). She started to get her Mary Kay business going again around the time RDH started to come into existence and I thank God that she decided to put that on hiatus in order to focus on *our* thing. I really believe that if she started pushing MLM at the same time we launched our business it would’ve really watered down our brand and made people in our own little circle less interested in what we had. Most people would view a post about MLM, no matter how personal, as spam on Facebook. If we post about how we’ll be at this or that event or we’re working on this or that on our personal Facebook pages, I think most people aren’t annoyed with it (although you can easily step over the line). If we did both, I think people would write off posts about RDH as spam as well.
On another note, I usually feel kind of sorry for some of the MLM vendors at these things, especially at the slower shows. Especially the ones that don’t actually have a product that someone can pick up, buy and walk off. We were next to an Arbonne lady at a show that we did very well at. All she had was a few display products and a catalog. I’m not even sure if anyone actually placed an order. She may have gotten a few contacts to do demonstrations, but if you think about it you have to overcome quite a bit to get someone to come to your table, actually write down their address and contact info to be interested in something and then be able to follow up with them at a later date to get something set up. Then at that point the sales process begins – sounds really hard.
Another thing that I don’t get is that if you’re really interested in these kinds of products, is it really that much more difficult to go at it on your own? I understand that you probably can’t make vibrators on your own and compete with Pure Romance or tasers and compete with Damsel in Defense, but there’s always some little niche you could go after on your own. Look at Young Living – how fucking hard is it to acquire some essential oils in bulk and make your own blends? I bet I could take one hour and figure out a source of oils, a source of bottles, labels and even a few recipes to make my own blends. It Works? It should be easy to come up with your own “green smoothies”. Makeup like Avon or Mary Kay? IDK, but I’m sure there’s something in that realm a person could easily do on their own.
At the end of the day, I think there’s just so much more opportunity in creating your own small business/microbusiness over buying in to someone else’s model. I think everyone would rather go to one of these shows if it were populated by people who say, made their own clothes, kitchen utensils, oils, scented products, green shakes, etc. over the extremely impersonal MLMs that exist today…and I also think the people in your circle would be a lot more interested to hear about what you were doing as well.