Pampered Chef, Young Living, Thirty-One, Plexus, Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple, Jamberry Nails…Ask anyone you meet what they think about these direct sales companies (also referred to as MLM (multi-level marketing) or referral marketing or network marketing or even “pyramid scheme” companies), and you’re likely to get either a strongly negative or decidedly positive response. Some people have no qualms about companies who embody this marketing strategy; others avoid them at all costs.
So far, though I’ve been tempted a time or two, I haven’t ever sold products for any of these companies myself.* However, I have lots of friends who have, and I am not opposed to buying from, attending, or even hosting their sales events, commonly referred to as “parties”, and here’s why.
Direct-sales “home businesses” are a great way for stay-at-home moms to earn an income and for other busy individuals to supplement their income with a side job. Money, much as I hate it, is pretty necessary to live in today’s world, and I’m all for enabling people (especially women) to be able to make a living AND raise their children in a healthy home setting or otherwise live out their core values.
Unfortunately, you’ve probably experienced or heard about a friend’s bad experience with MLM sales reps that are “too pushy.” I can’t say I’m exempt from this myself, and I do know how disappointing it can be when someone with whom we used to enjoy spending time becomes suffocatingly obsessed with “how you really should try X, Y, or Z” (the miracle product or cure they’re selling), or when the Facebook friend or blogger that used to post such interesting content now seems to only post about how great their company is.
However, I’ve often heard comments such as “I don’t want to be friends with so-and-so when they’re so interested in making money off of me.” Let me ask you this: do you like that all the other business establishments you support make money off of you? The big box retailers and fast food joints and convenience stores that invest their incomes in things that you would readily agree are morally wrong?
We all give money to these places at some point or another, even those of us who try to avoid it as much as we can. Tell me, then, what could possibly be so bad about making a purchase to support a friend or acquaintance who is trying to put food on her family’s table, or pay for college, or get out of debt? (Even IF you have to pay a little extra for it?!)
Unfortunately there have been people and there have been companies in general who have given some of these businesses a bad rap. But trust me, the people who choose to participate in this type of marketing are NOT all greedy, money-driven, pushy, and rude. (For that matter, even the companies themselves aren’t all created equal.) You don’t have to look very far to find sales reps who truly DO have your best interests at heart.
And that leads to another advantage I see in buying from these companies: the unprecedented personal customer service. When you have questions about use, need to reorder or replace a product, or just want to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck, the consultants are often immediately available and are more than happy to provide the satisfying, individualized customer service experience you most likely will never have in a large store or business establishment.
Another thing I often hear people ask is that “if the product is so great, why can’t they sell it in stores? Why do they have to get in your face to try to get you to buy it?” There’s certainly not a blanket answer to that question, and even if there were, I’m sure I wouldn’t have it. But personally, I can respect that there is more than one way to market products. You know what? Some of the big companies use much more maddening advertising tactics than these home party operations. You may not necessarily be as aware of how much the stores you frequent are tracking what you buy and when in order to figure out how to get you to buy more from them…but marketing is marketing and every single business does it.
When I receive an invitation to a product-themed event, I don’t automatically turn it down. It’s usually not too hard to gauge whether the hostess wants me to attend regardless of whether I plan to purchase anything, and if she does, then I will honor our friendship by attending. And if during the course of the presentation I discover something that could be quite useful or improve my life in some way, or serve as a thoughtful gift for someone I love, I will make that purchase without guilt. And if not, I will enjoy the socializing, thank the hostess for a good time, and leave–also without guilt. I choose to believe that this is all that my friends expect and want from me, and I hope you will do the same.
So for the time being, I’m happy to support the people in my life who are working hard to pursue their own unique versions of the good life. If that means purchasing an accessory or kitchen gadget from them instead of from Target, that seems like a win-win to me.
I don’t mean to open a can of worms here and I hope that you’ll feel my heart on this issue despite any injustice of description, but I would still love to hear your thoughts. What’s your take on MLM companies?