Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Amway (headquartered in Ada, Michigan) because it was ridiculed on the very popular Netflix show House of Cards. As a result, Amway has responded, as well as Dick DeVos (the son of one of the co-founders of Amway). Basically, what it boils down to is that the company claims it is being misrepresented and everyone who has ever dealt with the company (judging from the comments on each one of these stories) feels the representation is more than deserved and probably overdue as well.
So, obviously, you’re probably wondering what Duane thinks about this whole thing. And fortunately, I have not only an opinion, but a story that sounds a lot like many of the stories that people have been telling in the comments section of each of those stories. You see, Amway has become a really powerful company that basically sets the tone for most of the discussions over this issue. The little people, like us, rarely get a word in because we don’t have the money to pay for media access like the people who run the pyramid schemes in the first place.
So, let’s go back some years ago when I was working as a low level executive for a major hotel chain. I was in their security department and out of the blue I received a phone call from someone who acted on the phone like he was a really good friend of mine. At the time, I had a lot of business associates who I kind of knew, so I was polite, and he then talked about a business opportunity that might benefit me in the future. As I was somewhat looking for a new job at this time (and most likely that was how the guy found me), I responded positively and ended up meeting this guy and his wife at another hotel in the city where some meeting was taking place. As I’m sure you suspect, that meeting was one of those Amway meetings.
What was interesting was that this was during the time when Amway’s name was dirt to most people. So the company being hailed was some other named company that claimed to have no connection with Amway. As a matter of fact, when this symposium started, and I heard the sales pitch, I turned to my “friends” and asked them if this was “Amway” and they said no, that there was definitely no connection. When they gave me a ride back home, all of the crap in their car (tissues and everything else, and I mean a ton of crap) all had the name “Amway” on them. In other words, the company was still recruiting people, but it was using another name to do it.
I will say that they use a really hard sale approach and those two that recruited me really used a guilt concept approach to try to rope me into their scheme. All I remember was how uncomfortable I was being in their car for the ride back (also remembering how they had thought it was a better idea to drive me, rather than me meeting them by driving my own car). They took an extra long way back to my work place (as it was literally down the street), and I remember them trying to sell me on the whole approach over and over again.
The next few days, I couldn’t get them to stop calling me. I told them I wasn’t interested, and that seemed to make no difference to them at all. They tried every foot in the door approach they could, and it got to the point where I found myself yelling at the phone, telling them to stop calling me. This was before the age of caller ID being prevalent on phones, so you’d pretty much have to answer the phone for anyone who called, and call blocking was still a decade or so away.
What I can say is that their products were mediocre at best, yet their markup was huge. When they explained the “business model” the first thing I thought was “pyramid scheme” because you had to be higher up on the pyramid in order to actually make any serious money, which meant so few people would actually be making money in this business.
The sad thing is: Amway is not the only company doing this sort of thing. Years later, I was back in school and someone contacted me about a job opportunity (I had been trying to find a job during this time, so obviously my name was found through some job site). I showed up and it was identical to the Amway meeting from before EXCEPT there were a bunch of “group leaders” who were escorting all of the marks. What I noticed was that for each male mark there, there was a hot female “group leader” who was that person’s contact. For the women (and there weren’t a whole lot of them), there was an attractive guy “group leader” assigned. I think I was the only one not assigned this way because the person who targeted me had gotten me through a business connection. But all I remember thinking was “wow, this is a freaking cult”. And its business model was identical to Amway except it felt more like it was spur of the moment, where the designer had attended an Amway meeting and thought, “hey, I can do this, too and do it so I’m on top of the pyramid when it starts”. What I specifically remember about this meeting was a computer printed sign as the markee on the main building and then driving by a week later to see that all of the signs for this “business” were gone and the place and a”for lease” sign was now on the front lawn.
I guess the point is that no matter how much these places try to pretend they’re legit, they’re basically bottom feeding and out to screw you. I remember talking to a lot of people who were at both meetings and they were almost always paycheck to paycheck or “get rich quick” thinkers. I also remember at the second meeting that one of the “group leaders” spotted me talking to other people and she quickly put a stop to it, apparently not wanting any of their marks to actually compare notes.
Now, I can’t say that these places don’t work for some people. But I’d feel a lot better if I read a lot more literature on these business models to hear successes, instead of what I do see. An example is the comments section of both articles I linked in this article on MLive’s site. Every now and then, one guy named David starts talking about how great his experiences were with these organizations. and then you realize he’s the one positive response out of 113 responders, which makes you wonder whether or not he’s not part of the organization’s PR rather than someone honestly responding to these stories.
All I can say is that had I taken the bait back then, my life would be so much worse than it is now because when people are after you only for your money, they don’t care what happens to you when you’re destitute and without options. Just look at the leaders of these businesses and their political choices. If you’re poor and without lots of money, they are certainly not the people to whom you’d turn, which is ironic because for the most part, they got rich off of people with very little.