Do MLM Companies take Advantage of Military Families?

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August 24, 2019 by kittynh

(Since Multi Level Marketing companies are extremely litigious, I’m going to preface this article by stating all of the below are my own opinions.  I do not mean this as an attack on MLM in general. There are those writing articles and investigating MLM, that do a far better job than I.  My article is about personal experiences, and if you feel you benefit from belonging to a MLM company, that is fine.  I also happily admit I still purchase Tupperware.)

Lula Roe is just one of many MLM companies that find the military family very fertile ground for recruitment.  When my family was young, I became very familiar with MLM companies, as we were a full time military family.  Military families are very often easy prey for any MLM company.

The system of sales, where you are recruited and work under a mentor as part of a team, is sometimes referred to as pyramid scheme.  The income of a member of a MLM is not just based on their personal sales, but on the sales of those selling under them in the pyramid.  So, to be successful in a MLM company you need to not only sell, but also to recruit people to be part of your team.  Those at the top earn a lot, and those at the bottom probably earn nothing or very little profit.

MLM and the Military Lifestyle – A Good Fit?

When your spouse is in the military, your abode is where the military posts you.  This can be a very exciting and interesting life, but also can be very difficult for a spouse trying to have a non military career.  When my husband was full time in the Navy, most of the spouses complained about the inability to use their college education to create a career.  The spouses could usually find a job, but moving every few years meant a career ,with promotions and salary increases, was all that was possible.

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Marriage has added “Travel as necessary” in the military.

I want to be very clear this article about MLM and the military is from the prospective of an officer’s wife.  Too often I hear that people that fall for MLM “scams” are dumb and uneducated.  The military wives I met in officers housing all had college degrees.  A few even had advanced degrees.  These women were anything but dumb. But why would they fall for a MLM company, where few even make a profit and many lose money?

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See the world (as my friend growing up with her Army family did). 

MLM and military life go hand in hand.  The MLM company, an example would be Tupperware or Lula Roe, offer a job that moves with the spouse.  These companies now sell online, Facebook was at one time over run with Lula Roe groups, but also do direct sales via parties.  The promise of “Be your own boss” and “Your success depends on how hard you work” can appeal to a military spouse looking for a way to financially be successful.

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I love storage things.  Tupperware is a great quality storage stuff.

The first experience I had as a young Navy wife was with Tupperware.  I want to be clear I find Tupperware to be a very good product.  I also want to be clear I’ve possibly attended more Tupperware parties than anyone but a Tupperware dealer.  That’s because MLM parties were a mainstay of the Navy social life.  At one time, I knew 25 MLM consultants, representatives, dealers and everything else.  The Navy families embraced the concept of buying into a business, and then selling to all their friends and fellow Navy spouses.

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Sometimes it seemed the wife had too many “days off” to fill. And the extra income is welcome.

The problem with this is that, everyone was just buying from each other.  Also, I have been dragged to more meetings for potential new recruits, all of which I left still without that special “career” that would make me rich.  While I may not have an advanced college degree, my inner sense was that “No, I can’t really sell enough products to make all my dreams come true.”

I still remember hearing about Amway from a couple that I considered very intelligent.  Matt graduated from the Naval Academy in the same class as my husband.  His wife, a school teacher, was incredibly “together”.

TOGETHER:

-Always has full face of beautifully done make up

-Always has a beautiful outfit

-Always has a clean car inside and out

-Always smell good

-Always knows what to say

I really admired them, because they were so outgoing and likable.  Then one Navy get together they began to talk about Amway.  It seemed a family member sold Amway.  He had recruited them. They were so excited as they had been to some huge house where a top Amway seller lived.  They were 100% sure soon they would be living in such a house.  There wasn’t a smidgen of doubt.

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Smart women, and if we didn’t sell something, we went to the parties

Next was a friend with her masters degree.  If she had not been a military spouse she would easily have earned more than her officer husband.  Still, with moving every few years, she was just jumping from job to job.  Anne was one of those GUNG HO people.

GUNG HO-

-Always knows the best deals, clips coupons

-Always knows the exact amount in her bank accounts

-Always planning for the future

-Always able to convince other people to trust her

Anne was fed up with her college degree, and was going to make the family fortune selling Tupperware.  This was her get rich quick formula that could not fail because Deb was not the kind of person that failed at anything.  I have to admit, of everyone that did MLM, I was sure Anne was going to be the one with the Tupperware mansion.  Her ability to convince people they really needed a relish holder and small, medium and large jello mold was her ticket to success.

A few months after Anne had started Tupperware she came to me and some how convinced me to have my second Tupperware party for her in 2 months.  She said her “upline” had complained she was not “Making her any money.” You see, with a MLM company, everyone below you in the pyramid (they say it’s NOT a pyramid scheme) gives a part of their profit to those above.  You make money not by selling product, but by having those you have recruited selling product.  Anne was not selling enough product for her upline.  Anne was also for the first time in her life, experiencing failure.

Throwing a Tupperware party was not enjoyable.  It meant I had to have refreshments and clean the house top to bottom.  I never sold enough to get any presents.  Supposedly based on sales ,and if anyone was recruited, you would earn some free Tupperware.  I didn’t see the benefit of having a party, but for the sake of Anne, I was willing to throw parties.  Also, Navy spouses were encouraged to socialize together.  We were each others support group.  But soon support and friendship was based on business, and not need.

The Navy knew without the families supporting each other, keeping families in the Navy was going to be more difficult.

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Without support deployments are almost impossible.  The MLM made supportive wives competitive and about making money and recruitment. 

Instead of friendship and support, the Navy housing became one big MLM party after party after party.

I would attend, as frankly it was lonely with my husband gone for months at a time, and often purchase just the smallest item.  It was taboo to attend a party and not purchase anything.

When I first was married, Navy spouses had movie nights and going out for pizza night We had bowling parties and children’s birthday parties.  We did fundraisers for Navy Relief and held each others hands when the deployments seemed too long.

Once the MLM companies found the Navy spouses, it became one long party, and bring your credit card or check book.  Those that did not sell anything, were caught with not making any money and just paying it out to simply have a social life.  Friendships became based on hosting a party and there was constant pressure to be recruited by people I had considered close friends.

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Too shy to sell, I just budgeted and was a full time mom with lots of volunteer time.

I truly admired these incredibly intelligent women, so I just assumed they knew what they were doing.  My own fear of trying to make anyone buy anything, kept me from joining up. I felt I was a failure.  I just could not reconcile my moral upbringing with a high pressure sales pitch.  It wasn’t in me to press anyone into buying anything they did not truly need and could not afford.

The recruitment meetings I did attend were psychological masterpieces.  You were convinced you were dumb if you did not jump at this amazing opportunity.  There was one Mary Kay event where I was the only person that did not sign up.  I did not sign up as the make up made me break out.  I really could not sell a product I did not use myself.

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I thought I was just too dumb to understand how MLM worked.

The breaking point came when the military spouses finally complained.  They were beginning to notice that a lot of income was being spent buying MLM items.  The constant parties were a real drain on the limited finances of junior officers.

The senior officer spouses were most often not involved in MLM companies.  Perhaps they had all had their day when they were junior officer spouses?  But the change from friendship, support ,and bonding to a MLM based relationship among the spouses was a very dire thing indeed.

The Navy base where we lived worked as a safety net for military families.  Our husbands had no way to return home once they were out to sea.  If a family member became ill, or had a crisis, the crew member of the submarine was often not allowed to even know the family was in trouble.  The crew members of the submarines relied on the other families to take care of any situation that might arise.  While not officially members of the Navy, most Navy spouses took this role very seriously.

We were especially aware of our role in watching out for those that our husbands outranked.  As young officers spouses it was our job to help out any enlisted wife.  The Captains wife of the submarine on which my husband served, had a very difficult unpaid job, making sure the families survived the deployments.

 

My Captains wife saw that the “We’re all in this together” had become, “You can’t come to my movie night, as I’m going to be selling Tupperware and you didn’t purchase any last party.”  The constant “You will make more than your spouse!”, the “You will receive a pink Cadillac!”, the “You will retire rich from selling essential oils, but you have to recruit more members.” began to erode what the Navy family stood for  in her opinion.

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The riot act!  We needed to hear it!

She lectured the spouses at a party at her house where nothing was sold.  Now she had no real power, but the implication was clear.  You had parties where everyone was invited from the crew.  You checked on your fellow spouses, you offered to help them whenever possible, you stopped strong arming your fellow crew wives to sell anything.  If you did not follow her suggestion, her husband might make a note of the behavior of the family in the next fitness report about the Navy officer.

Sadly the enlisted wives, while also selling MLM, seemed to keep a balance.  It was the officers wives, with their GUNG HO and TOGETHER lives that were the ones that forgot they had an obligation to just be nice.

I’ve kept in touch with many of the Navy wives over the years.  None of them retired to some beautiful ranch in Montana with private planes and millions. Most of the families have done very well financial despite the loss of the MLM dream.  These spouses were great sales people and worked very hard, but the cards are stacked against you with a MLM company.  A very small percentage make any money at all.  Few I imagine become millionaires.

lake house two

Not everyone “wins” the MLM game!

Failure is treated as the fault of the person that joined the MLM.  Hard work though is not enough.  The reality is when you are selling a MLM item, and so is every other spouse, there is a limit to the market.  Throw in everyone is trying to recruit each other, and you have an endless cycle of everyone buying each others goods.

It’s really not a lot of fun.

Today I have people that want to sell me Lula Roe clothing, and many are military spouses.   I just hate to see another generation of military spouses chasing the get rich quick schemes of the average MLM company.  There is always the oversell of dreams, the push to let your friends in on this amazing opportunity, and the expectation of 100% loyalty to the MLM.

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Sometimes, things just don’t seem to fit together correctly….

When friendship is based on sales, everyone loses.  On a military base, where family support and friendship can mean the difference between a family collapsing or thriving, MLM can become a danger to all.  While I am sure MLM companies will claim they help make friends, those friends are often pressuring you to buy or join.  Those that opt out are often left out.

I am sure I will hear about how MLMs have helped so many military families, I’m going to need some important paperwork showing income from the MLM to  Include items like purchasing more inventory, shipping costs and also taxes.  If you aren’t living in a mansion and have lots of money in the bank, and also have lots of friends that aren’t involved in the MLM, I’ll listen.  If not, it may be a way of pretending to have a career, but in the end it may hurt the career of the military member and hurt the entire family.

 

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