Sometimes, life is like a box of cacao products
August 16, 2014 10:30 AM   Subscribe

"Enrique Martinez didn't like chocolate, but he was eating as many as 10 pieces a day, drinking chocolate protein shakes and rubbing a chocolate-based skin cream on his face. It was expensive chocolate, too. Martinez and his wife, Michelle, were going through $2,000 in chocolate a month."
posted by reenum (31 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
After a decade apart, my best friend from childhood called me on the phone and invited me to hear a business proposition, or so he said. So I went, and his older brother gave me the Amway pitch.

They never actually used the word "Amway"; I figured it out and asked them.

There are all kinds of things wrong with MLM, needless to say, but what I think I hate most is that it makes its participants completely mercenary and ruthless.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:41 AM on August 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

"The reason I hyper-consumed was the promise for building a business," Michelle said.

I love that there is a term like "hyper-consumed." They are literally having to "eat" this mistake, not figuratively the way people usually use that word in business.
posted by BibiRose at 10:42 AM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's an awful business, it forces participants to aggressively sell at every opportunity and alienates friends and family.
posted by arcticseal at 10:59 AM on August 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

With the amount of effort they're willing to sink into this and the fact that they have experience running an actual business, why don't they try to do something that isn't as plain stupid as MLM crap? Open a second salon, a clothing store, a restaurant. Become a salesman at an established company. Hell, become a realtor.
"The hairstylist had dabbled with 16 other multilevel marketers over three decades, including Herbalife and Nu Skin. He lost a little bit of money every time [...]"
Is there some pithy saying for just this sort of thing? Like "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him stop hitting himself."
posted by stavrogin at 11:20 AM on August 16, 2014 [16 favorites]

My mom dabbled for a few years in the Advocare overpriced health-food racket before she gave up. I still have weirdly fond memories of the tasty chocolate meal-replacement shakes and of an energy drink named Spark that was like pure, concentrated caffeine/speed in orange-flavored powder form. Once I drank 2 packets of Spark on an empty stomach and started shaking involuntarily within an hour. Good times!
posted by nicebookrack at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

You can lead a mark to an MLM, but you can't make him think.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:42 AM on August 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

When I was a naive high schooler, I went to a hiring pitch for Cutco, a cutlery sales company. Their model was not exactly this type of MLM, but did involve direct marketing to family and friends. It would have been my first job, and I really wanted to work, but the pitch and business model felt so slimy I walked out halfway through. When I got back to my dad's car he said, "I was hoping you'd make the decision to walk out." I think that was a damn good lesson.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:44 AM on August 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

Aside from the financial loss, the members of these companies all seem to end up feeling depressed and defeated. So much of the sales pitch for becoming a representative or member is about how much promise you have, how much you can improve your life by working hard, and how much you deserve to achieve if only you'll try. Then, of course, you don't make any money and fail.

Of course, you didn't fail; you did exactly what you were supposed to do, which was give a bunch of money to the company. In that way, you were a success. If everyone "succeeded" in the way the company promised when it recruited you, the company would collapse like every other pyramid scheme.

Contemplating this is depressing.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:52 AM on August 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I think that was a damn good lesson.

On the other side of the coin, I still use the Cutco knife I bought from my high-school girlfriend 25 years ago. So their product at least lives up to its claims a little more than "healthy chocolate" does.
posted by escabeche at 12:26 PM on August 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've made some pretty bad decisions in my life, but at least I've never gotten sucked into the MLM racket. In retrospect, I should thank the guy who hired me to mow his lawn, then wouldn't pay me until I'd heard his spiel to try to recruit me into his Amway downline. Unfortunately, they sucked in my sister and brother-in-law for a short time, and it was heartbreaking to listen to them talk about how Amway was the answer to all their hopes and dreams. MLM execs are vampires that thrive on leeching out hope.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:21 PM on August 16, 2014

In the late nineties I was taking an undergrad business course about the post-Soviet economy. One of the class projects was to take a case study of a failing privatized factory or other organization and come up with, in teams, a presentation for how to turn everything around. Everyone else's teams just had some lame plan about attracting foreign investment or tinkering with the product line to increase domestic market share or do some exporting, but my team insisted that we must give the gift of capitalism in its purest form: we proposed to restructure the operation as an MLM scam, producing cheap crappy products sold and distributed through a network of dupes, milking pensioners and anyone else who came across a few rubles to partake in the noble endeavor of daring personal entrepreneurship that had made America great and would surely restore and revitalize the Russian economy!
posted by XMLicious at 1:37 PM on August 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

In Norway, one blogger decided to post his research into this so called 'healthy chocolate'.

This lead to harassment, and what appeared to be threats (including directions to his house). They contacted his employer, who forced him to remove his posts.

But another blogger posted the original blog plus the threats, translated into English, leading to publicity and scorn in Norway.
posted by eye of newt at 2:19 PM on August 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, not that anyone here is going to fall for this MLM, but it is true that acai berries and dark chocolate can be good for you, and you can get acai berries covered in dark chocolate for very little money at Costco, Trader Joes, Amazon, and many other places.
posted by eye of newt at 2:28 PM on August 16, 2014

To qualify, the couple bought $113,459.88 in chocolate, paying with their credit cards
posted by ovvl at 3:54 PM on August 16, 2014

Albuquerque has a ton of the ads for this kind of shit around; I've been noticing them since I read a cockeyed piece about Herbalife a few years back. They're on lightpoles and they clutter up craigslist.
posted by NoraReed at 4:02 PM on August 16, 2014

One thing that this article didn't really touch on is the number of stay-at-home moms who do this to keep a hand in the workforce. This is on top of the low-income working women I know who do this to earn a little extra money on the side (the line in the article from the trade association about how people go into MLM to enjoy the product and not to make money? I don't know how the spokesperson said that with a straight face and clear conscience). I've certainly sat through more female friends' sales pitches for chocolate, purses and bags, sex toys, and other traditionally feminine purchases than I ever have from guy friends.
posted by librarylis at 4:27 PM on August 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've certainly sat through more female friends' sales pitches for chocolate, purses and bags, sex toys, and other traditionally feminine purchases than I ever have from guy friends.

Yes, and I think this goes together with the reason that it's become such a thing in the Hispanic community, too, and low-income people in general. I have a friend on disability who has trouble affording food who still has one of those bags from a "party", and this isn't an uncommon thing in poor communities. If it wasn't your cousin or sister-in-law who was asking you to buy it, when you're broke, you'd say no. If it's family or your best friend? You have a product you know you can't make profitable ordinarily, but hey, look, it's profitable if you hold a gun to people's heads and threaten the financial security of their loved ones!
posted by Sequence at 6:03 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh Amway. I have a personal experience of the MLM, but not as a subscriber. My parents were recruited into Amway when I was around 12, and looking back, the tools and techniques used to pitch the MLM lifestyle were worse than disgusting.

My family, like many of those involved in Amway in our area, were working class poor. Indeed, one could easily describe our family as living in poverty. To my parents, Amway pitched the chance to rise out of that poverty, if one only believed enough that it was possible. I remember the products, which were perfectly fine. But more than that, I remember the tapes.

The tapes were motivational spiels, recorded by the supposedly higher-ups who had managed to become rich. They interspersed snippets of speeches with energetic songs such as "I wanna be rich" by Calloway. They were very good at convincing you that if you drew enough circles, you too, could someday be giving such a motivational speech. Even better? They made you purchase the tapes! Not only were you schlepping products at twice the cost of typical grocery store items, but you were purchasing the very motivational tools needed to continue convincing you that what you were doing would end well. Some if those motivational tools also gave rejoinders to people that doubted your MLM-prowess--"Don't ever let another person steal your dream!" was a favorite.

My parents drank the kool-aid, and so did their children. I remember planning our amazing new home we would build when we made it big. I remember my father, in an effort to cheer me up after a particularly trying week, in which no food was in the fridge and the electricity went out from non-payment, telling me about how I would get my chance to use the wrecking ball on our dump of a house when we finally made it big.

But, of course, we never made it big. My parents spent money on cleaning products when they could have used that money to pay for electricity. My parents left my 12-year old self in charge of 5 younger children and almost no food in the house, on too many nights when they went to draw fucking circles. And we eventually went bankrupt. This certainly isn't all the fault of parents made these bad choices and others.

But when people are desperate, they grasp at any straw they can. To me, that is the greatest sin of companies like this. They prey on the vulnerability of the ignorant, feed them lies wrapped up like a dream, and never acknowledge the possibility of failure.
posted by nasayre at 6:17 PM on August 16, 2014 [42 favorites]

Growing up LDS, there was a huge overlap between Mormon survivalists, a bunch of pseduo sciencey health scams, evangelical culture, and MLM. We were sold Shaklee vitamins, and Amway supplements, and my sister even did Mary Kay for a while. Mom never did, but I think she was tempted.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:02 PM on August 16, 2014

I have MLM to thank for the most surreal conversation of my life, in which my elderly aunt tried to sell me "stimulating cream" to spice up my sex life with my boyfriend.

MLM is a hell of a drug.
posted by biscotti at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

The worst thing about MLM is that with the shitty economy of recent years, we're all seeing more and more of our friends resort to it...and we're having to cut ourselves off from them because they attack us with endless spam via social networking. Somehow this just wasn't as hard to live with when it was just the occasional e-mail, phone call, or awkward inappropriate moment at a family gathering.

How many friends and relatives have you had to unfriend/unfollow/mute/ignore? :(
posted by trackofalljades at 10:43 PM on August 16, 2014

Like nasayre, I spent much of my teenage years as an Amway orphan. The tapes and videos they encouraged you to buy were the worst, the absolute pits of useless bullshit peddling possible. My mum had literally two hall cupboards packed full of the things. I remember the tapes encouraged people to play them loudly so that unbelievers in the house would hear them and be converted.

My least favourite was the one about Mr and Mrs Hundred Percent User, which was designed to encourage people to buy and use all the products they were flogging. "Mr Hundred Percent User picks up the tickets to the luxury cruise he plans to surprise his wife with for their anniversary, while Mrs Hundred Percent User drives their new car to drop the children off at their private school!" It really was that obvious - and pathetically attractive to my mum.

I blame Amway and their sucking-in for my family splitting up - it caused deep rifts we've never healed from in 30 years. Yes, my mother was foolish to get involved with it, but the working-class scrimp-and-savers, which we were, are often financially illiterate and easy prey for MLM con artists. She still is; it's heartbreaking to see a close relative make terrible financial choices for their entire life. The sad thing is that we lived in a country area where there were nowhere near enough people to ever make her "business" work anyway.

Yes, I'm bitter.
posted by andraste at 1:24 AM on August 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Wow, that article from Norway that eye of newt linked is terrible (to be clear: the article is great - the events described are terrible). Someone wrote a blog post that criticized the health claims of Xocai chocolate and the company responded by contacting his employer and coworkers, posting a picture of the man with his home address (mentioning again his employer) on their website and if that's not enough they sent an e-mail to his coworkers and 9000 (!) Norwegian "members" with detailed directions to his house, a picture showing his genealogy (pictures and names of Morten’s parents, siblings and wife; all with occupation, year of birth and residence supplied), a map from Google Maps showing his residence, and a picture of contact information from Enhetsregisteret and Norid.
posted by blub at 4:12 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

How many friends and relatives have you had to unfriend/unfollow/mute/ignore? :(

Most people who contact me, contact me only the one time. Not because I object or unfollow them but because it seems like the person doing the selling-- often at one remove from the person that knows me-- doesn't last long for whatever reason. I wonder if a lot of the profits is just selling introductory crap to recruits.

That said, friends and in-laws of mine have had their families/circles of friends torn apart by this particular aspect-- the MLM member putting pressure on the others not just to buy, but to push the whole "business opportunity" to their friends and acquaintances. Or they'll go straight through you and push it to your friends, acquaintances and maybe even business associates. It's strange how it changes people. A lot of them get very judgmental about people who object to it, or may object to it. I sense that that's part of the indoctrination.
posted by BibiRose at 7:05 AM on August 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Bibirose, that sound you just heard is me favoriting your comment so hard I broke it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:46 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Probiotic chocolate"?
I don't think those words go together. I have tried out chocolate energy bars and something called Amazing Meal, but I would never try to persuade anyone else to eat them.
If the Martinez couple were eating that much of their stock in order to convince others that it was good, or because they were so broke from buying in en masse, no wonder they were crazy.
posted by bad grammar at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2014

My mom I think is into this stuff because she's retired and bored. Her starts at a career always got interrupted by having three kids and then my dad's job forcing them to move to new cities a few times after we were grown. So she sells jewelry and throws "jewelry parties" and even went to a conference this year. She's not super pushy about it (I don't think, I live pretty far away and don't see/talk to her all that often) and she doesn't need the income. I think it just gives her a thing to do.

I've thought about talking to her about it because all MLM things just bug the heck out of me, but as best I can tell it's not hurting anyone. At least with the jewelry, aside from her buying herself things to display at the parties (and to wear; she loves the stuff), her customers order from a catalog so she's not maintaining inventory that will go to waste. It still worries me but she's earned the right for me to keep my mouth shut.
posted by misskaz at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your mom goes through $2,000 worth of chocolate in a month! #rekt
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:35 PM on August 17, 2014

When I was in my 20s, I had a crap job in a factory as an electronic test technician. I got along great with the tech who sat next to me. We started to become good friends.

Until he fell into the Amway trap.

He gave me his best pitch. We could get the hell out of that shithole of a factory, he said. We would be rich beyond our wildest dreams, he said. I told him that was a terrible idea and that they were ripping him off. I told him to get out while he still had his shirt.

He never spoke to me again beyond the bare minimum required to perform our work. Amway cost him, and me, a good friendship. I can't imagine what it would be like if he were family.

Fuck Amway.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:40 PM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mother-in-law has a 9-5 job but does a lot of "MLM of the week". She's been doing Scentsy for at least 3-4 years. She went into debt flying to conventions/retreats for ViSalus. She also is involved with some company that sells decals you put on your nails so you don't have to paint them (no, really).

ViSalus/Body by Vi seemed the most predatory. The people who lured her into that took a strong hold on her. They were slick.

The Scentsy shit is somewhat more harmless. She buys the votives and refills for us as gifts constantly, so that she can maintain whatever level she needs to maintain for whatever reason. I have no idea how she, or anyone, makes any money on the nail decals.

She's always had a shit job as long as I've known her. She's smart, educated, a very hard worker, but every job she's had (mostly in logistics and distribution for large companies) just grinds her into dust. Her bosses have always been horrible. Her working conditions have been the worst. Her commuting distances are insane and she always gets the night shift, which she hates. I guess these MLM opportunities come along and seem like a way out for her. She justifies it as "Oh, I just do it so I can get a discount on everyone's Christmas present".

Let me know if you want any Scentsy refills. I have crates of them in the garage.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wonder if a lot of the profits is just selling introductory crap to recruits.

At least in Mary Kay, that seems to be the case.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:28 AM on September 4, 2014

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