57 million are doing it

The invite read “Spring Fling Shopping Boutique to Fight Hunger.” Location: A well-known resort in Laguna Beach, California.

Wanting to support the affiliated charity, as well as the event planner, I decided to opt in. Upon arrival and joyous greeting by the bubbly event planner, I scanned the Junior Suite and immediately felt “the fundraiser vibe,” but with a slightly different twist. Say hello to this week’s trend: multi-level marketing, which is bigger than ever!

This was my fourth invite to a direct sales event over the past six months — Stella & Dot, (accessories), Mary Kay (skin care and cosmetics), Herbalife, (vitamins and nutrients), the Pampered Chef (kitchen contraptions and tools) and the newest kid on the multi-level block, Cabi (women’s clothing). 

So what’s the attraction? The Direct Selling Association states 93% of these companies pay on “multiple levels,” and 7% pay on one level. It was the complete opposite 50 years ago. Now, don’t get me wrong, the “stigma” of this type of pyramid sale has changed, although some still feel they are nothing more than an endless chain scheme while others say they are good, moral and legitimate businesses. There are also those who feel the parties are the last best hope for those without huge capital to achieve the American Dream without being bound to one geographic location.

Personally, I am fine with those who become involved to increase their financial security and personal freedom, although I am caught off-guard when charity is used to disguise the offering or “the venue” isn’t someone’s home. But regardless of the marketing hook or location to lure you in, it’s fascinating to learn this industry has positively transformed many lives (57 million to be exact), and six of the top 25 companies are publicly traded.

As of April 2012, the top two multi-level network marketing — or MLM — companies happen to be names we’ve known for what feels like an eternity: Amway (53 years) and Nu Skin (28 years). Amway, the seller of everything from health-related products to janitorial supplies, generated US$8 billion worth of sales last year. And since 1956, literally thousands of different MLM companies have opened doors, but only 50 found a way to celebrate their 10th anniversary and still remain in business today.

Although the trend is graduating from homes and into creative venues such as luxury hotel rooms, a Champagne brunch and a charity affiliation, the product options are definitely straying outside the typical vitamin and skincare fields. Although I couldn’t confirm any travel companies, my research located two tech companies (CAN and 5LINX), one service company (Legal Shield) and 22 health and wellness companies. Nutrition, weight management and skincare products continue to drive the trends in network marketing while clothing and accessories are the newer kids on the block.

Regardless of your feelings about these business models, the intent of this post is simply to make you aware of their renewed momentum, and with over 57 million network consultants worldwide, a pop-up party could very well show up at your property soon!