Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Adventures in Amway

My first adventure with Amway happened in 1994. I was then the president the so-called "Bean Society". We held monthly meetings to the tune of 75-100 participants. As anyone with a mind to make money off their friends would think, this was a golden opportunity, and so I was approached. The friend who approached me made it sound like he really wanted to catch up. Our last bonding experience was a drive to a Fathers and sons activity and during this drive we talked about the movie, "What about Bob?" When he called again, I was wondering if there was more to discuss about this movie. He was 4 years my senior, we never really did hang out, but after a mission, one is excited to catch up with anyone. He was very excited about meeting, and quite excited about the things I was working on, evidently. When the appointed day came, I was hanging out with my friend, Matthew, I asked my friend if it would be OK if I brought along a friend. To my surprise, he thought that would be most appropriate. He asked about the Bean Society, and I told him. At the time I was really enthralled with the Bean society--actually, I still am. He showed some good-will by showcasing some projects he had worked on that were similar in spirit--if not in any way--to projects of said society. This was by way of: "See, I totally get what you guys are all about, because I work on similarly fun projects!" He then took out a book with lots of pictures of very fancy houses. Exactly the kind of thing my unmarried, no commitments whatsoever mind was looking for:a gigantic golden house.

What really interested me was a card that depicted different levels of, shall we say 'success'. The houses I was looking at were houses of 'diamonds'. Well, you can well imagine I wanted to be a diamond. I then asked where he fell on the different levels. He was somewhere between rubies and emeralds (note: I'm not exactly sure on the names). Guess what? In just one week, a diamond was going to be giving a presentation! Talk about the chance of a lifetime! We didn't leave with any sort of commitment, or any clear sense for what the whole set-up was, except that it led to riches unfathomable. and my involvement with the society could very plausibly facilitate a rapid climb up the mineral ladder. At the time, I hadn't heard of Amway.

On another occasion, a networked friend of this previous friend spoke with me and my friend, Weston, about the prospects of using this society to get gain. He related that what he most looked forward to in his adult life was just being able to go skiing with his kids, or travel the world, and not to have to worry about financial matters. He then reminded us that we had assembled in whatever way we had, a group of up to 100 people, "You guys obviously have some drawing power!" and he asked: "Do you know how much money that is?" I don't think I had ANY idea.

One of my favorite experiences came during my married life. Apparently we had agreed to listen to a presentation at our home. The visitor was a very nice lady, and I suspect she was fairly fresh off an initiation in the book that displays the homes of 'diamonds'. She was most excited about these homes. "Can you imagine living there! Oh man!" I imagine we were one of her first presentations, she kept lobbing unconnected statistics and anecdotes that, if carefully tied together in some sort of overall narrative, could have presented a persuasive case to bum cash off your friends in exchange for everyday, household goods. My favorite line of hers was this:

Lady: OK, let me put it this way: Do you know how much a penny is worth if it doubles everyday? (She didn't specifiy any time-period).

Us: (shaking heads) No, no, we don't.

Lady: It's a million dollars! Can you believe that! A million dollars!

My next experience came surprisingly when a friend stayed over at our house. He was passing through New York, and the subject turned to "What is going on?":

Friend: Well, I'm working at this advertising agency for the time being, but I'm really excited about some other really exciting projects I'm working on.

Me: Really? What is it?

Friend: Well, it's a pretty slick idea. It's very simple. It's basically, well, you buy groceries, and other items that you buy anyway, and you basically eliminate the middleman. It's basically e-commerce. I have a simple e-commerce site, and you know how great e-commerce is these days! Then I help people set up their own on-line stores, and I save money by shopping from my store, and they can save money by purchasing the goods from my online place, or I can help them set up their own, then I am helping other people benefit in the same way by helping them set up their own e-commerce location, and I get a small percentage of their revenue. And they can do the same. I love it because I get to really help people. Like I say, it's a pretty slick idea.

Me: Yeah, it sounds pretty awesome.

My last adventure is the most brief, but in some ways the most telling. We were passing through Salt Lake en route to Provo and there was a convention happening at the Salt Palace. We pulled over to talk to some of the conference attendees. The exchange went like this:

Us: So what brings you here...what is all this activity about?

Them: It's a convention...(awkward pause) an, it's, uh it's an Amway Convention. [It's a Harley...compatible. It's a Harley compatible, its basically the same thing]


  1. So I attended a meeting once where we dicussed what a "Ponzi scheme" actually was. We also discussed what made certain businesses crooked and why Multi-level marketing was not inherently bad. It was a really good meeting. You can usually see the cheaters coming when all they do is focus on how much money you can make rather than how awesome the product is. I do however want to point out that there are some companies that use MLM and are legitimate. Pampered Chef and Mary Kay are two that come to mind. Some, like my brother Jared, might think that I love MLM because I say it is not always bad. That's not true. While I do say it is not inherently bad I still will not become involved with it. That is for other reasons.

  2. Are your two selections based on a belief that they both offer quality products and so promoters tend to focus on the products, and not on their potential to make a killing?

    I agree that MLMs are not inherently evil. The closest I came to joining one was one that offered discounted cold cereal--this was appealing because it was focused on the product, I could just buy cold cereal for cheap. Of course there were subtle encouragements to get friends involved and make money off them, and that suaded me away. Then the whole scheme was found corrupt. Wow, I didn't even mention this one in my original post. So I clearly have a skewed view. In my limited experience, MLMs do tend to foster a kind of love of money, and a disturbing lens through which to see the world and other people--as personal wealth makers. I imagine if we were to get technical, things would get complicated: Obviously a network is important in doing business. Clearly quality products are important.

    But let's not lose sight of the entertainment value that MLMs provide. I love that I have had these funky stories with weird people all because of MLMs.

  3. What is a Ponzi scheme?

  4. Charles Ponzi found that you could buy french stamps for less than face value here in the US. He came up with the idea to buy a bunch of stamps and take them to France and sell them pocketing the difference. He promised people he would double their money in only 90 days. It turned out that the cost to transfer the stamps to France was the amount the stamps were discounted. But he still had investors giving him money. Person A gives him $10,000, then he takes person B's $10,000 to pay off person A. Person C sees person A and wants in. He takes person C's money and pays off person B, etc. So he really has no product he just is using other people's money to pay the investors.
    It was the first Pyramid Scheme! These are now illegal so you will never hear people call them such, so will actually turn the pyramid upside down to prove that its not a pyramid. Google "ponzi scheme" to learn more.
    Ponzi later sold people land in Florida that was swampy and underwater. He was a crook, and people will now refer to cheating investments as Ponzi Schemes.

  5. Rachel8:48 AM

    Paul and I have been approached more than once about Amway, which by the way has changed their name but use the whole "doin' diamonds" thing and so are still easy to recognize. I agree that making money off your friends isn't inherantly bad, mostly because because I sit at home all day and watch Paul's sweet cash fall into my lap. Actually I don't agree with that at all. I think the whole idea behind these companies is "What can I get from you and how fast can I get it. And if you can't give me what I want you will probably never hear from me again." We lived in a ward recently with a couple of very gung ho marketeers. They not only stole two hours of our lives and then threatended to take over our Thanksgiving weekened and steal from 3 of my brothers. But also, without remorse of any kind they call telling me they have an emergency and need my to watch thier 6 boys. Two of wich were 4 and 1/2 and still in diapers. It turned out that they were off to a convetion in Florida. NOT COOL! It's not just the way they view money but everything and everyone around them.
    Why do Mormons get so caught up in this?
    Is Ponzi who people refer to when they say they have some swampland in Florida to sell?

  6. Rachel, yes Charles Ponzi is the where that reference came from. Quickstar is now the name of Amway. If I might quote my dad "Don't walk away, run!"

  7. rachel7:38 AM

    We did! But I am still curious as to why mormons seem to get caught up in this stuff so easily? Maybe they are just a cross cut of society in general but it feels like something more.

  8. I agree, it seems like too many MLM's are based out of Provo. I think part of it because mormies tend to want to have a parent at home, and hey if you can work at home, and live in this HUGE house, WOW! I also like how on the ward rosters it says it should only be used for church purposes.
    Also, mormies stick together, I think more than other organizations. Church lifestyle just fits the profile of someone who wants to do Amwayesque stuff.

    Homer: "I know I've had get rich quick schemes before Marge, but I am sure to get rich off this scheme, and quick!"

  9. rachel9:33 AM

    At first I thought you were quoting Homer the greek philosopher. . . Is hould have know better.

  10. Some (possibly) good things about MLMs:

    The friend who had the slick idea was our neighbor. We didn't talk much, he wasn't a very social person at the time. This MLM he is involved in has really opened him up to other people. It is both greatly pleasing and disturbing. I loved talking with him, and we talked more than we ever had before. But this all got re-configured when I saw the situation as manipulative. But I can imagine this manipulative aspect subsiding--maybe he decides to stop doing the MLM, or he gives up on me as a potential down-line man, or I no longer sense I'm being used--and he retains this new vibrant, social personality.

  11. I think that's the whole point. They are not inherently bad. But when the focus changes from selling some product to "I want to make money even if it mean manipulating you" then its bad. But that is true of business in general. If someone tries to sell me something I do not want or need I get angry. I struggle selling things I do not believe in for that very reason. MLM's are okay for some, but if I want you join so that it helps me, something is wrong.

  12. So that's why everyone should be in the business of a product they can stand behind, like, for example, snow cones.

  13. Dood, my lack of salesmanship is more alive than ever with these snow cones. When someone comes up and wants one I am great, but I feel dirty soliciting people to buy when they probably don't like sno cones. I guess any time you make the customer or potential customer uncomfortable for your own gain that is what I dislike. I try not to make things too uncomfortable around the sno shack. I frankly if someone wants a sno cone I sell the best you can get. They really are good. I can promise you I would not be selling them if I thought they were nasty. People can read me like a book.

  14. So when is the Bean Society Reunion going to take place? I'm not going to commit to it now, but I might, might, be able to get BYU's trombone professor and the trombone section from the Utah Symphony in gorilla suits to play something really cool.

  15. Jeff, that sounds exciting if not promising. As you well know, some of the most meaningful moments in my life were conducted with trombone-playing gorillas in the background.

    I have been working on a website for the Bean Society, as I'm sure dozens of members also have. There is clearly an eagerness for a reunion. And given the current world climate, I think you will agree that we and the world needs this reunion.

    For starters:
    Black tie
    Possibly Waldorf Astoria
    trombone-playing gorillas
    Other ideas?

  16. We could have a guest speaker come. An insanely wealthy guy who can get us all whipped up into a frenzy about selling Tahitian Noni Juice and natural male enhancement pills--you know, stuff we already buy--direct from the central distribution warehouse instead of the middleman.

    Also a seminar on carbon reclamation. We have to end global warming this week. I can't afford an air conditioner.

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