Melaleuca, Inc. is listed as a Direct Marketing Company. The company contracts with independent marketing executives who refer customers to Melaleuca that purchase its various lines of nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, household cleaning, and pet care products. They also offer travel, phone and credit card services. Customers receive discounts if they order a minimum monthly product supply, but are not required to maintain an inventory of products. The company states that it offers a “Satisfaction or Money Back Guarantee”.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states: "Steer clear of multilevel marketing plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors. They're actually illegal pyramid schemes. Why is pyramiding dangerous? Because plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors inevitably collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. And when a plan collapses, most people—except perhaps those at the very top of the pyramid—end up empty-handed."
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Not only are “home businesses” or “MLM’s” very interesting, they are successful. Many of the longest standing organizations in this country have this business model. MLM is a marketing strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they personally generate, but also for the sales of others they recruit, creating a downline of distributors and a hierarchy of multiple levels of compensation. Most commonly, the salespeople are expected to sell products directly to consumers by means of relationship referrals and word of mouth marketing. Sounds legit right – so why the bad press?
MLM companies have been trying to find ways around China's prohibitions, or have been developing other methods, such as direct sales, to take their products to China through retail operations. The Direct Sales Regulations limit direct selling to cosmetics, health food, sanitary products, bodybuilding equipment and kitchen utensils. And the Regulations require Chinese or foreign companies ("FIEs") who intend to engage into direct sale business in mainland China to apply for and obtain direct selling license from the Ministry of Commerce ("MOFCOM"). In 2016, there are 73 companies, including domestic and foreign companies, that have obtained the direct selling license. Some multi-level marketing sellers have circumvented this ban by establishing addresses and bank accounts in Hong Kong, where the practice is legal, while selling and recruiting on the mainland.
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MLMs are also criticized for being unable to fulfill their promises for the majority of participants due to basic conflicts with Western cultural norms. There are even claims that the success rate for breaking even or even making money are far worse than other types of businesses: "The vast majority of MLMs are recruiting MLMs, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLMs is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company." In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further "recruit people to compete with [them]" leads to "market saturation." It has also been claimed "(b)y its very nature, MLM is completely devoid of any scientific foundations."
Yet there must be something to the business model, since I see some big business icons like Donald Trump are joining in the MLM parade. I've written about these before, and I'm still looking for one that feels entrepreneurial. Who has a convincing story that will make me feel good and pure as I recommend their MLM to my best startup clients? Do you love them or hate them?