Multi-Level Mecca: Utahns who succeeded and failed at MLM efforts share their stories

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These stories are parts 3 and 4 of Multi-Level Mecca, a series of investigative reports from Fox 13 News. Click here for parts 1 and 2.

SALT LAKE CITY -- While Utah may be home to more multi-level marketing companies than any other state, that doesn’t meant succeeding with an MLM is easy in the Beehive State.

In fact, there are factors that make it particularly difficult, including the presence of so many MLMs.

Related: Resources and research on Multi-Level Marketing

That’s one reason Nicole Lopez was determined to keep her family and friends out of her MLM life when she signed up with Herbalife, a nutrition MLM based in Los Angeles.

“I talked to people in Europe. I didn’t have to talk to my friends and family,” Lopez said.

Nicole joined the MLM world hoping to work from her modest condominium in Springville. Her little boy was a newborn, and she wanted to be home with him and the other children she hoped to have. At the same time, she knew that the family needed the second income she earned as an office manager.

Still, she didn’t want her personal life to turn into a series of potential sales meetings. She feared the same thing would happen to her that happened to Jon Taylor when he spent a year selling products for Utah’s largest MLM, Nu Skin.

“It was affecting all of our relationships, everybody within three feet of you is a prospect, and so people were avoiding us,” Taylor said, describing a conversation in which his wife demanded he stop.

Both Herbalife and Nu Skin provided FOX 13 with written statements saying their companies do not employ high-pressure tactics and abide by strict ethical guidelines.

For Nicole, though, the pressure felt intense. She had several people in what is called her “upline,” a term describing the distributors who benefit from Nicole’s sales and recruiting, in a growing “team.”

“It was an all or nothing thing for me because I thought, 'Either I'm going to do this fast and replace my income, or I'm going to have two jobs that I'm working,'" Lopez said.

Lopez found herself getting deeper in debt: A thousand dollars for a packet of sales leads, a couple thousand a month in product to sell so she could start making commission checks. Soon, she says she had $10,000 in credit card debt and had to get out.

One couple's success story

Parts 1 and 2 of our investigation go over some of the earnings numbers for major multi-level marketers. The clear conclusion is that most people don’t make a commission and a very few people advance to the highest levels that lead to incomes that might replace a good, full-time job.

Going into it with that in mind though, we found people who love their Multi-Level experience and feel like it rejuvenated their lives at home and work (which is largely at home.)

Exhibit 1: Laura and Spencer Pettit. The Pettits started using doTerra oils as a favor to friends who had just started as Wellness Advocates (doTerra’s term for independent distributors.)

"It took me months before I would even admit to people that I was doing multilevel marketing,” said Spencer, sitting next to his wife on a couch in the office building on doTerra’s expansive Pleasant Grove campus.

It may have taken months to admit it, but the Pettits also report it took just months to replace the income Spencer had been making as a marketing director with a local company.

The Pettits describe the change as a Godsend, giving them a career where they feel like they are helping people get healthier physically, spiritually and financially.

And Laura says the first life they saw transformed was their own.

“He worked 15, 16, 17 hours a day. He hardly saw our children,” Laura said.

But the Pettits make clear they work overtime, even if it is on their own schedule.

"Really, network marketing requires day in, day out commitment, just as if you put a shop in on Main Street,” Spencer said.

To do the job and be full-time parents, they home school their children, traveling together sometimes for weeks at a time so they can recruit new members of their doTerra “team” and support current members.

Along with looking at the Pettits, Part 4 asks the question, why Utah?

We put this question to every person we interviewed.

Dave Stirling praised the diversity of language training available with returned missionaries of the LDS Church.

MLM critic and author Jon Taylor talked about the trusting and close-knit communities fostered by the LDS Church. He’s a devout Mormon himself.

Nicole Lopez, the former Herbalife distributor, talked about the prevalence of stay at home mothers. Utah has more than any other state, sharing the distinction with Arizona according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Spencer and Laura Pettit talk about the “Green Jello Belt” of communities in the Intermountain West that foster entrepreneurial attitudes, a strong work ethic, and openness to natural products.

3 comments

  • bob of all bobs

    All MLMs all pyramid schemes. If anyone comments about how they quit their full time job and replace their income in just a few short years odds are they are just lying just so they can get you to sign up.
    Seems really unfair that 99.9% are set up to fail as they invest and making those 0.1% rich.
    Person A can put in just as much work and effort and time and money as person B. But only one of them will be truly successful. How is that fair?
    Truth is success in a MLM takes more then just dedication, hard work and time, it just takes pure Dumb luck with a lot of these people who are successful. And frankly a lot of them don’t really deserve that success.

  • bob of all bobs

    To add, yes, MLMs does seem to be a Mormon thing to do. Take the Osmond family for example. My family has known the Osmonds for decades. The Osmonds are known to join one MLM, get all the fans to sign up under them just so they can make a quick buck and then once that dies down the Osmonds then jump to the next hot MLM. The latest is blue ocean business group. In short, blue ocean business group is a scam. I was lied to by my own parents. Funny how their story goes from “last month we got a $800 check in the mail” before my wife and I signed up to then learn that my parents lied and that they never had a check. Truly sad that my own parents would betray us. My advice, don’t ever combined family with a MLM.
    Since we joined blue ocean business group for one year now, our total income, $8. Money spent?, over a thousand before we stopped with the monthly orders. Don’t fall victim like we did.
    Sure my wife and I worked hard with trying to promote people by bugging other family members, friends and coworkers to join, since we are not supposed to tell them what it is before scheduling a presentation you better believe that everyone’s question was “well what is it?” So there was only really two scenarios when you tell them what it is and then they tell you no thanks. Or two, you try to beat around the bush the best you can but it makes it look like you’re trying to hide something so that scares them off also.
    Long story short, no one will give us the time or day. And everyone kept telling us it was a pyramid scheme and sure enough they were right. Lesson learned never again.

    • Cornelius

      I totally agree. I’ve lost good friends due to MLMs. One of them jumped from MLM to MLM, inviting me to join each one as he tried to get things going. I once told him that someone else invited me to join one of them that he had previously invited me to join. His response: “Oh, don’t join that one! It’s a total scam!” Last I saw him, he had a jeep completely covered in Mona Vie decals (so he could claim everything he did with it as a business expense), and it was impossible to talk to him without him pressuring me to join him. The last time I told him no he condescendingly said, “That’s fine. Making over $200,000 per year isn’t for everyone.”

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