MLMs disproportionately flourish in suburban and rural America: According to LuLaRoe’s retailer map, it only has 10 consultants in all of Manhattan, which has a population of 1.64 million. By comparison, Pueblo (Colorado) has the same amount for its population of 110,000, St. George (Utah) has 12 sellers to its 82,000 residents, and Idaho Falls (Idaho) and Casper (Wyoming) both have nine sellers servicing each’s 60,000 citizens. In 2016, the US Census Bureau stated that the median rural household income is 4% lower than it is for urban families, and income inequality is also higher. Job growth in metropolitan areas has far outpaced that in rural areas since 2008, and the job market in these regions has shrunk 4.26% in the same time.
According to numerous independent analyses and the MLM industry itself, the vast majority of MLM distributors make little to no money or lose money;[1] according to one researcher, "you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone [in network marketing] making more than $1.50 an hour".[9] Some MLM participants lose much more than just money, squandering social capital and damaging careers, reputations and relationships.[10]
MLM presents itself as a "business opportunity", with products ostensibly on sale to the general public. However, MLM doesn't resemble any other retail model at all, and what it does strongly resemble is a pyramid scheme[1][2][3][4] - the underlying mathematics of the two are identical. Regulators have characterized MLM as a form of gambling or lottery.[5][6] Some MLMs resemble cults.[7] The MLM industry denies that MLMs are anything other than normal, legitimate businesses, and unlike pyramid schemes, MLMs operate openly and (just this side of) legally in most countries.[8]
Verify taxes. To help verify financial claims, review tax forms from the last five years of the person trying to recruit you into the organization. If he or she refuses to hand over the returns, watch out. It may be an illegal scheme. Also be wary of any MLM with a “no-buy-back policy.” Legitimate companies that require inventory purchases will buy back unsold merchandise for at least 80% of what you paid, should you decide to quit the business. Some state laws require buy backs of at least 90% of the original cost.
The company has a long, well-documented history of legal troubles. In recent years, Amway or its executives have tangled with law enforcement around the globe, most notably in India, where its CEO for the country was arrested and accused of running a pyramid scheme in 2013, let go, and then rearrested in 2014. Amway denied any wrongdoing. In the U.S., it paid $56 million in 2010 to settle a class action suit alleging it was running a pyramid scheme but did not admit wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Amway’s donations to Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government program have funded the training of more than 500 Chinese bureaucrats, who led that country to legalize direct selling, opening a new boom market that MLMs are now exploiting.
A tutorial on market saturation hardly seems necessary in most business discussions, but with MLM, unfortunately, it is. Common sense seems to get suspended when considering if MLMs are viable, even theoretically, as a profitable means of distribution for all parties involved. This suspension is created by a heightened expectation of "easy money," but more on that later.
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