Heather Grace

I Joined a Multi-Level Marketing Company: My Experience with Arbonne

heather x arbonne.JPG

This is not a sponsored post, but it does contain links to my Arbonne shop . If you make a purchase from my shop, I will make a small commission.

I never thought the day would come when I would decide to join a multi-level marketing program. I have received countless messages from pushy people telling me what a great opportunity I could have with Arbonne. Every time I would I roll my eyes, delete the messages, and move on with my life.

Flash forward to today when I received my Arbonne Welcome Kit in the mail. No, I’m not quitting my day job. Read on for what drew me to Arbonne and why I decided to take the plunge.

What is Arbonne?

Arbonne was founded in 1980 and is an international multi-level marketing company with headquarters in California. They sell a range of products, including makeup, skincare, and nutrition. All products are 100% vegan and cruelty-free, contain no artificial flavours/sweeteners, and are free of a whole list of ingredients like phthalates and parabens. Arbonne is a certified B Corporation, which means they meet certain social sustainability and environmental performance standards. The company has a goal of becoming zero-waste by 2030.

Arbonne’s business model uses multi-level marketing. Every sales representative (called “Independent Consultants” in Arbonne-speak) makes a commission from any products that they sell. They can also have their own team of sales reps and earn a commission from the sales that those team members make.

Arbonne Box.JPEG

What drew me to Arbonne

I am going to focus on the Nutrition line, since that is what I have the most experience with and what got me hooked on the brand.

Recently I have become much pickier about the products I buy and who I buy them from. Especially if I am buying frequently, and especially if I am going to talk about it on the internet. On a basic level, I need things to taste good. Beyond that, I look for clean ingredients and also want the company I am buying from to make an effort to reduce waste.

I have been vegetarian since 2013, and in the last few years have leaned into a plant-based diet. Knowing that all of Arbonne’s products are certified vegan makes it so much easier for me to shop. They also have an extensive list of ingredients that are not found in any of their products – The NOT ALLOWED List™ . Some of these items seem a bit extraneous (good to know I will never find Clonazepam in any product, which is used for treating seizure disorders), but many of them are common allergens or may be linked to health. Better safe than sorry, right?

arbonnecycle envelope

As much as zero-waste is my goal as a consumer, I am also realistic. I was excited when I learned that the ArbonneCycle program had made its way to Canada. Most of Arbonne’s packaging can be put into your household recycling bin, but there are some components that can’t – that is where ArbonneCycle comes in. Arbonne will take back any hard-to-recycle pieces and turn them into new things, like park benches. You just have to order a free ArbonneCycle Recycling Envelope , stuff it with all of the eligible items you have, then ship it back to Arbonne using the pre-paid label included with the envelope.

Products I actually use

I use these two products every. single. day.

FeelFit Pea Protein Shake

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If you have ever tried vegan protein powder, you know just how real the struggle is to find one that is actually good . Most have an awful chalky texture and never seem to fully dissolve, and on top of that they tend to taste a bit like dirt. I have also come to realize that I just cannot stand the taste of sweeteners, from sucralose to stevia. I would find myself chugging protein shakes after workouts, just trying to get them down ASAP (not recommended, often would make me feel a bit sick).

Arbonne protein powders taste amazing. No joke. I use the vanilla flavour in my morning smoothies, and drink the chocolate flavour mixed in just water (can you believe it!). These protein powders contain cane sugar rather than stevia or other sweeteners. Initially I was hesitant about this (sugar in my protein? why?), but I had a light-bulb moment as a I realized that if it tasted good in its own, I could stop adding so many other things to my shake palatable.

BeWell Superfood Greens


Greens powders have become a safety-net product that I turn to every day. I am a firm believer that we can get all of our nutrients from eating whole foods, but I will be the first to admit that I am not always perfect when it comes to my diet. Adding a scoop of powder to my daily routine ensures that I am covering my bases when it comes to those important micronutrients.

Unfortunately, greens powders taste like dirt. I’ve tried a few brands, and usually have to go for a half-scoop in order to not taint the flavour of my smoothie. The BeWell Superfood Greens (previously called Arbonne Greens Balance) is the best I’ve tried. I won’t lie to you, it definitely has a grassy taste (unavoidable with all those green ingredients), but is overall not at all unpleasant. I add a whole scoop to my smoothie or my chocolate shake (in just water! I swear!) and it goes own easily.

Why I decided to become an Independent Consultant

Everyone involved with Arbonne will tell what an amazing business opportunity this can be. You can work from anywhere, set your own hours, and do as little or as much as you want to make your business grow (success, of course, +/- proportional to the amount of effort you put in). That’s not why I did it.

I did it for the discount.

Like I said, I use the protein powder and greens powder every day. My husband uses the protein powder every day. For two people, we are high-volume users of these products. I was already receiving a 20% discount as a “preferred client”, but as an Independent Consultant the discount jumps to 35%. All I had to do was pay a small fee to upgrade my account, which netted to zero when I factored in the additional discount on my first order. The decision was pretty easy for me.

Arbonne Welcome Kit.JPEG

Is it worth it to become an Independent Consultant?

To me, it is worth it. That is why I did it. The math is not completely straightforward, but for anyone who is considering becoming an Independent Consultant for the same reason I did (i.e., the discount) I think it is worth going through the breakdown.

There are three types of customer with Arbonne:

Client – Regular clients who pay full retail price.

Preferred Client – Registered clients who receive a discount.

Independent Consultant – Sales reps

*QV = Qualifying Volume. Explained in more detail below.Note: All numbers applicable in Canada, but should be around the same in other countries.

*QV = Qualifying Volume. Explained in more detail below.

Note: All numbers applicable in Canada, but should be around the same in other countries.

The factors to consider are the discount, shipping, taxes, and the annual fee. To figure out how “worth it” this is, I did my calculations based on how much I would have to order as an Independent Consultant in order to get free shipping.


One of the things that gets confusing is these “QV” points, which stands for Qualifying Volume. These are points attached to every product and is not quite dollar-for-dollar the same as retail price or the discounted price – it is somewhere in between the two. The good news is that when you add an item to your shopping bag, you can see the retail price, discounted price, and QVs for each item (I love that transparency!). Since my main products are the protein powder (QV: 77) and the greens powder (QV: 52), I would have to order 4 of each to have 516 QV and therefore hit the minimum 500 QV for free shipping.

Here is the breakdown for the same order of 4 x Greens Balance and 4 x Protein Powder:

Price difference breakdown for the same order (4 x Greens Balance and 4 x Protein Powder), depending on type of client.

Price difference breakdown for the same order (4 x Greens Balance and 4 x Protein Powder), depending on type of client.

tl;dr if you are a repeat customer, you will save money as an Independent Consultant. I expect this order to last me 4-5 months, which means that in a year I will save at least $150. If I decided not do a big order like this, the shipping cost for an Independent Consultant is $9.95 which means it would still be worthwhile to have the larger discount after a couple orders.

Is Arbonne a scam?

It is not a scam.

If you did want to do this for the business opportunity (and not just for the discount), it is very easy to get started. You pay a small fee to get set up ($59, or $24 if you are already a preferred client), which covers your Welcome Kit, a personal website, and other online resources. The Welcome Kit includes the full product catalog and the Arbonne “SuccessPlan” which outlines all of the nuances of their multi-level marketing model. The investment is minimal and you do not have to carry your own stock. You do not even have to buy anything yourself (apart from the registration fee) if you are not interested in the product.

It is not a scam, but it takes effort to actually make any money. This is essentially a sales job, and your compensation is directly linked to how much you are able to sell, how many Independent Consultants you are able to recruit to your team, and how motivated your team of Independent Consultants are to make sales.


I will admit that I dismissed Arbonne for a long time. But once I actually tried (and liked) their products and dug deeper into the company values, I realized that it was a pretty good fit for me.

I became an Independent Consultant to benefit from the discount. I promise that, as always, I will only recommend products I actually like. Oh, and I will never send you unsolicited requests to join my team :).

heather x arbonne 2.JPG

I Tried SmartSweets Candy: My Review (and Discount Code!)

Milestone run.

A Critical Look at Arbonne: Health Claims, Marketing and Value

arbonne business model

Arbonne proudly positions itself as a premier source of vegan, botanical-based wellness and beauty products. Founded way back in 1975, this veteran company leans on its Swiss heritage and sustainability credentials to justify its lofty prices.

With nearly 400k Instagram followers, Arbonne has clearly won over a passionate fanbase with its smells-like-a-luxury-spa image and uber clean ingredient lists.

The packaging drips with leaves, flowers and promises of uncompromising purity. And who wouldn‘t want skincare free from parabens, phthalates and 2000 other "no-no" additives? Not to mention cruelty and gluten free. Tick, tick, tick!

But as someone who‘s personally sampled my share of vendors with impressive manifestos – how much of Arbonne‘s hype holds up? Can their collection of teas, shakes and serums compete with more affordable drugstore options?

After testing several Arbonne bestsellers for 6 months as part of my health kick, I‘ll cut through the botanical beauty language to share an inside look warts and all!

Getting to Know Arbonne‘s Origins and Product Philosophy

Founded in Switzerland by a certified botanist named Peter Mørck, Arbonne‘s natural focus spawned from Europe‘s stringent beauty regulations. Mørck realized mainstream skincare and makeup relied on questionable chemical fillers unlikely to meet new EU standards.

Partnering with a renowned Polish chemist, he launched Arbonne in 1975 with a strict mandate – only premium botanical ingredients proven beneficial for skin and body.

No petroleum, mineral oils, artificial colors, synthetic preservatives or potential irritants. And absolutely no animal testing with sustainability top priority.

Fast forward 45 years and Arbonne‘s product filosophy has stayed remarkably consistent as its popularity exploded through viral marketing. Some highlights:

Sourced from biodynamic botanical gardens – not just farms growing ingredients. All products begin formulation from seed and soil.

Certified cruelty free and vegan – no ingredients or finished products tested on animals at any point.

No GMO ingredients – non-GMO verified status for all nutritional products. Some skincare items still undergoing conversion.

Carbon neutral facilities – net zero carbon and 100% renewable energy since 2017.

B-Corp certified – external validation meeting high standards of environmental/social responsibility. Required to make sustainability improvements.

Proprietary "Never List" – 2000+ ingredients banned from all formulations like phthalates due to toxicity concerns.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? But let‘s go beyond the seemingly bulletproof surface to see what lurks deeper in this company aiming for your wallet.

Understanding Arbonne‘s Network Marketing Hook

If you‘ve ever been pitched Arbonne at someone‘s home or added to a Facebook party – you‘re already familiar with their love of network marketing.

Known less affectionately as multi-level marketing (or MLM), this controversial sales tactic relies on existing customers to actively recruit new buyers. Pulling in friends/family by hosting events or spamming social media feeds.

As the one who signed you up, they also take an override commission from every dollar you spend. The more people underneath someone in their "downline", the higher their bonuses climb whether they made the sales or not.

This is how selling Arbonne differs wildly from typical retail work. No need to invest in products, maintain inventory or directly fulfill orders. Everything gets dropshipped while money trickles back up the pyramid to the top.

Sounds like a pretty sweet gig until you realize that according to Arbonne‘s own 2019 Income Disclosure Statement…

  • Top 1% of sellers each earned an average $513K
  • Top 10% of sellers each earned $13K
  • Bottom 51% of sellers each LOST $217…yes lost money!

With the average order around $85 and requirement to stay "active" by placing monthly personal orders – many consultants spend far more than they‘ll ever profit. Let‘s discuss further…

The Ugly Reality Behind Arbonne MLMs

Despite what you‘ll see on Instagram, the vast majority attempting to hawk Arbonne struggle badly. Some figures that should give pause:

As noted above, more than half lose money on this "opportunity" after personal purchase requirements to qualify for commissions and rewards.

The median annual income is $502 for Arbonne consultants. 85% earn less than minimum wage for their efforts.

To qualify for higher rewards like the famous Mercedes Benz, you need to continuously grow large downline teams purchasing monthly. Not easy retaining hundreds of people under you in a saturated market.

Constant social media posts and parties necessary for sales burns time and goodwill from friends asked repeatedly to "support your small business". Rejection hurts.

Quitting means no residual commissions and backlash from your upline counting on you for their rank advancement.

While Arbonne‘s not technically apyramid scheme since products do ship, the business structure heavily incentivizes recruiting over retail sales. Bringing in wide-eyed friends as consultants keeps the paychecks flowing upwards.

This reality behind the six-figure potential is why MLMs like Arbonne face no shortage of critics and ex-members warning to stay far away.

Analyzing Arbonne‘s Top Wellness Products

But what about the actual teas, shakes, supplements and creams themselves?

Does Arbonne walk the walk blending top notch vegan ingredients or is it all smoke and mirrors?

To find out, I committed to testing Arbonne‘s best selling products for 6 months as part of my recent health kick. Documenting the ingredient quality, effects, taste and overall value.

Here‘s my detailed take…

The Infamous Arbonne 30 Day Detox Tea

No wellness line would be complete without a cutesy teatox promising to erase bloat, blast fat and reset your body. Arbonne‘s rendition contains the usual suspects like peppermint, licorice, dandelion and fenugreek fiber to "gently cleanse" your system.

The Ingredient Pros:

Milk thistle and dandelion for plant compound antioxidant and bitters support

Ginger and peppermint to ease digestion

Licorice root to alleviate heartburn

Marshmallow root to soothe mouth and throat irritation

On paper, the formula seems thoughtfully crafted to aid digestion versus aggressively purging your system. Our digestive systems constantly filter toxins without fancy teas, but the extra bitters and botanicals supply proven assistance.

I found the ingredient list impressively transparent down to the exact mg per nutrient. Zero sneaky "proprietary blends" here.

The Ingredient Cons:

Fenugreek poses a risk of intestinal distress, diarrhea or spice allergy

Cassia cinnamon contains high coumarin levels toxic in excess unlike safer Ceylon cinnamon

Licorice can trigger headaches or fluid retention if over-consumed

While likely safe short term, I‘d personally avoid fenugreek and cassia cinnamon as daily ingredients. Those with diabetes or digestive issues proceed carefully.

The Steeped Reality:

Sipped intermittently, Arbonne‘s blend makes a pleasant evening ritual. The subtle peppermint and ginger offer therapeutic aromatherapy perfect before bed. Think less "detox", more moment of mindfulness.

It won‘t incinerate fat or unleash digestive demons…just don‘t expect magic beyond the aroma.

Arbonne Vegan Protein Shakes – Any Good?

Seeking a dairy and gluten free protein source packed with amino acids, I opted to try Arbonne‘s Vanilla Pea-Rice Protein Shake. Sweetened with cane sugar, it contains a hefty 20g of protein per scoop from pea, rice and cranberry extracts.

But how did it stack up mixing muscle recovery, taste and nutrition?

The Protein Pros:

Vegan protein blend from pea, rice and cranberry instead of just pea

Probiotics and enzymes may ease digestion

Only 160 calories and 7g sugar make a lighter option

Contains coconut oil MCTs for fatty acid energy

Sweetened with stevia and cane sugar, not artificial junk

I appreciate the multi source amino approach to fill more nutritional gaps than pea only. Enzymes and MCTs make for smoother nutrient absorption as well.

The Protein Cons:

$89 per bag only lasts a month if consuming daily

Contains "natural flavors" without detailing sourcing or safety testing

35mg added caffeine seems unnecessary

7g sugar not ideal for diabetics monitoring carbs closely

I‘d rank the amino profile a win overall but the natural flavors and price hurt its value. Plenty of cheaper grass fed whey/plant proteins exist if you don‘t require vegan.

The Shaken Truth:

Blended with almond milk and frozen berries, Arbonne‘s shake makes a delicious breakfast or afternoon treat. The amino combo leaves me feeling full and fueled sans dairy discomfort.

Is it the holy grail protein worth almost $100 a month? Probably not unless you need vegan + low sugar. Taste and texture earn high marks but the premium pricing falls short.

Arbonne Energy Fizz Sticks

When mid-day fatigue strikes, Arbonne‘s Energy Fizz Sticks provide a convenient alternative to that second coffee. Or third. Who‘s counting!

These portable powder packs promise "sustained energy and focus" thanks to green tea, CoQ10, B vitamins, ginseng and other stimulatory stars. Just add water, give a quick stir andBottoms up!

But do they really deliver?

The Energy Pros:

45mg natural caffeine plus ginseng adaptogen jolt

B12, B6, CoQ10 support energy metabolism

Tasty citrus flavor in convenient stick packs

100mg panax ginseng may benefit cognition

Only 15 calories, no artificial sweeteners

For an quick pick me up, this combo of amino acids, vitamins and gentle stimulants ticks all the right boxes. The B boost further aids cellular energy production.

The Energy Cons:

$65 for 30 tiny packs = $2+ per drink

Added sugar from cane syrup, stevia and dextrose spike blood sugar

"Natural flavors" sources are completely hidden

54.5mg cautions not exceed 200mg ginseng daily

I‘m not thrilled by the strong proprietary mystery element despite clean labeling elsewhere. The addition of 3 sugar sources also contradicts their health halo.

But how‘s the taste and energizing effect?

The Fizzing Truth:

The effervescent citrus Tang-like flavor proves dangerously addictive, fading quickly to avoid teeth staining or acidic aftertaste. Those flavored powdered drinks from childhood, reinvented.

Energy kicks in within 30 minutes, peaking around the 45 minute mark before slowly fading over 2 hours. Focus and alertness feel enhanced minus the caffeine spikes.

For an occasional mental rev up, they deliver as promised. But the hidden natural flavors and expensive caffeine tabs concern me long term.

Further Arbonne Product Reviews

In the name of due diligence, I further playtested…

Gut Health Digestion Plus Supplement – Gentle herbal formula did seem to ease occasional GI upset. But for $50 a month, seeking root cause or OTC remedy may serve you better.

PhytoSport Pre/Post Workout Fizz Sticks – Containing BCAAs and electrolyte minerals, tasted extremely artificial. May aid recovery but check amino profile first. At $90 for 30, pass.

RE9 Advanced Prepwork Gel Cleanser – Enjoyed the botanical orange scent and creamy lather of this non-foaming face wash. Hydrated without over drying but $40 feels steep when Cerave compares favorably at 1/4th the price.

Detox Body Cream – My partner loved the ginger orange whipped texture but found no reduction in cellulite or fat. Felt pampered from the experience for $60 but no miracles.

Makeup Primer, Foundation and Lip Gloss – Impressed by the silky texture, blendability and lasting wear time on my skin. Cruelty-free makeup done beautifully but why does it have to cost 2-4X normal prices?

Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of Buying Arbonne

If you‘ve made it this far, hopefully I‘ve empowered you to make an informed choice around ingesting, spraying or slathering this MLM darling.

Arbonne Pros:

Strict safety testing and quality control

Broad product range meeting many needs

Vegan, cruelty free, gluten free options

Some clinical proof supporting certain ingredients

Sustainability initiatives and packaging

Arbonne Cons:

Exorbitant pricing across the board

Proprietary blends and ambiguous sourcing

Multi level marketing model concerns

Limited income potential for most consultants

Failure to complete 3rd party purity verification

So in summary, are Arbonne‘s products complete garbage?

No, often they follow sensible clean formulas avoiding the worst chemical offenders without supporting clinical data. And for conditions like IBS or food sensitivities, the vegan angle fills an important gap.

But does that make them twice as beneficial than comparable vitamin brands or clean beauty offerings from Target?

I argue no as the premium pricing relates more to hype and very thinly distributed income qualifying perks. For the everyday retail customer not building teams under them, you ultimately pay huge markups that supplement facts seldom justify.

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Arbonne’s Makeover

Kari Hamanaka

The world of clean beauty and cruelty-free products maker Arbonne International LLC is an Instagrammable model for all things health and wellness. That’s evident from the light and bright social media posts of smiling independent consultants showing customers how to use, say, their TrueSmooth hair products, or offering guidance on the pressing question of how often one should exfoliate. Behind all the social selling is a 42-year-old direct selling machine generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually through its army of 500,000 independent consultants serving 1.3 million customers monthly. How to push Arbonne to the next level is what newly appointed CEO Tyler Whitehead is tasked with as he focuses on upping the multilevel market company’s digital game and international reach, while also expanding the company’s user base, most notably nabbing Gen Zers and younger. “Our objective is to really take Arbonne to the next frontier and I think for what we’re working on strategically is really just fitting very nicely with what we see in the environment today,” Whitehead told the Business Journal. “It’s leveraging virtual and digital frontiers, as well as the opportunity for us to expand geographically and demographically.” Plans over the next five years for those new physical frontiers will include Mexico and the rest of Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Whitehead is the most recent addition to Arbonne’s C-suite having joined in April as part of a major reset under parent Groupe Rocher of France, which acquired the business in 2018 on undisclosed terms. In 2019, Samir Khandhar joined as vice president of customer experience before being promoted to chief digital experience officer in March of this year. In January, Amy Humfleet joined as chief marketing officer. The trio now lead a major push to modernize the business and brand.

Real Talk The Arbonne business model is an old one going up against young-gun, digital direct-to-consumer beauty and wellness brands that have exploded in recent years with the backing of venture capital. Think Kopari ,  Glossier  and HUM Nutrition among many others that have built brands off the backs of digital social media networks. Arbonne uses its network of consultants to build communities of fans by selling products at in-person parties, meetings and, now, social commerce via digital selling tools and social media platforms. The one-to-one communication doesn’t change, but how that communication occurs has changed and will continue to evolve. “We used to say it’s a work-from-home business. Really, today, it’s a work-from-phone business and we’re just seeing that accelerate,” Whitehead said. There’s been a push of late to age down the categories and demographic to focus on millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha still in junior high or high school. Arbonne essentially works with two different groups. There are the independent consultants, who are mostly women between the ages of 30 to 35. And then there’s the product user base, those who are buying from those consultants, that range from the teens to those in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Moving forward, the products and categories Arbonne plays in will remain in place as Arbonne seeks to nab younger consumers. What’s different now is that it’s more about offering product information in a different way to accommodate how consumers want their information delivered, Whitehead said. “The product information, the product benefits, the types of personal experiences that our consultants share continue to evolve,” he said. “I would say there’s really two primary things that are happening. One is what may have been more in-depth information through a link and research, those are less front and center. Now, it’s the six seconds that they have for somebody who maybe notices a product or benefit that they might be interested in.”

Modernization Effort Arbonne already has the product with a brand built on clean, sustainable ingredients since its start in Switzerland in 1975. It’s now part of a larger company with a similar focus under Groupe Rocher, which began in 1959 with  Botanical Beauty and an eye on plant-based beauty. The group now consists of a portfolio of 10 brands, including Yves  Rocher , Petit  Bateau , Dr . Pierre  Ricaud , Flormar  and Daniel  Jouvance . The French company remains family owned with Bris Rocher , Rocher’s grandson, serving as the group’s CEO. Rocher noted at the time of Arbonne’s sale for an undisclosed price from Natural Products Group to Groupe Rocher in 2018: “This acquisition will be a real asset that will enable us to strengthen our positioning in the direct selling channel, which has seen an upturn over the past few years.” Arbonne at the time of the deal was a $550 million business and it’s reported to have grown in the three years since, alongside the rest of the direct selling industry. The Washington, D.C.-based Direct Selling Association , which recently appointed Whitehead to its board, said the industry generated U.S. retail sales of $40.1 billion in 2020, up 13.9% from the prior year with 7.7 million sellers. Wellness remains the long-standing top product category for the business model. Health and nutrition is about half of Arbonne’s overall revenue with the remainder comprised of beauty and personal care. Growth for the broader industry is expected this year, albeit at a slower than originally projected rate. New York research firm IBISWorld adjusted its projection for the industry’s U.S. growth to a 1.2% increase from 3.1% citing the competition coming from e-commerce and the lingering impact of COVID-19 restrictions on group gatherings in some places.

Web Revamp To capitalize on the expected growth, Arbonne kicked off what it’s calling a digital transformation this year. It is the culmination of about 18 months of work and included a website revamp with a personal shopper and recommended cart tools. That’s translated into improved SEO results, higher order conversions and faster webpage load times. “We went from a purely functional website that felt like it was rooted in the ’80s to, now, a much more engaging dynamic platform that reflects our premium brand,” said Digital Experience Chief Khandhar. The product pricing already speaks to that. Among Arbonne’s best sellers is a protein shake powder retailing for $79, a five-piece brightening set at $297, mascara for $30, makeup primer retailing for $44 and a $75 firming body cream. This year also saw the introduction of the Arbonne ContentKit app for consultants to customize their posts and share on social media. The app has seen about 30,000 downloads in the U.S., Arbonne’s largest market, since January, according to Khandhar. The acceleration of freelance work and the gig economy—also largely being driven by tech and digital—has helped Arbonne onboard consultants by pitching flexible work schedules to prospective sellers. “From a gig economy perspective, it is a macro trend where people have one, two, three opportunities going on at the same time, so it’s even more critical that we offer flexibility,” Whitehead said of how to grow the consultant base. “I think we’ll continue to see that accelerate as people’s desire for flexibility in where they work continues …. That has been an accelerant for our business and will continue into the future.” Now, the focus for next year turns to continuing to drive social commerce, product recommendations and ratings, continued improvement of the mobile app and selling tools that could potentially bundle product with the app or other digital experiences. Next year could also see the rollout of a subscription-based program. Ultimately, Khandhar pointed out that while a digital sweep is taking place, there’s also been a shift in the mindset of Arbonne’s employee base. “Digital transformation starts and ends with our people,” he said, adding the philosophy of testing and iterating is rooted in “being comfortable with less than perfect. You either succeed or you learn; it’s one or the other.”

The Human Element With so many plans set in motion, it will become increasingly important Arbonne’s brand remains clearly defined at a time when point of view and personality build brand equity. “It’s about really finding what we stand for and then allowing our consultants to relate to that and then relate that to others,” Whitehead said of Arbonne’s point of differentiation. “Our attraction continues to be around the integrity of our products as the original clean beauty company. Arbonne was founded 42 years ago with a very strict ingredient philosophy and that continues to be our touchstone.” It’s a philosophy that  has it standing out within Orange County’s robust beauty landscape, which is a diverse one made up of heritage makeup brands such as Too Faced Cosmetics in Irvine and Newport Beach-based Urban Decay , which will relocate to parent L’Oreal USA ’s West Coast headquarters in El Segundo next year. Independents like Manna Kadar Beauty Inc. in Irvine and Coloured Raine Cosmetics LLC in San Clemente are also growing fast. Then there’s the beauty companies with a direct selling model, with  SeneGence International Inc. of Foothill Ranch sitting at the top with an estimated $1 billion in sales as OC’s second-largest woman-owned business.

The Outlook Whitehead declined to provide a sales projection for the year, but is rosy in his outlook. “We’re coming off three very, very strong years in a row of growth through 2020 and we’re projecting to keep pace as we move forward. We feel like the digital acceleration will continue. Our products continue to accelerate,” Whitehead said. Even factoring in the impact of e-commerce behemoths such as Amazon , Whitehead posits Arbonne and others like it offer the human factor that doesn’t necessarily come through in a digital-only transactions. “I think in the future as opportunities for product are a click away on Amazon and other technology platforms, our ability to incorporate the personal touch and the personal recommendation and the experience value of being a part of the Arbonne community will continue to drive that competitive advantage,” the CEO said. And for the consultant end of the spectrum that management must also serve, Whitehead said there’s satisfaction for him in seeing how independent consultants grow their businesses through Arbonne.   He comes at it from a multi-lens perspective. Whitehead practiced law early in his career, serving as the outside counsel for nutrition and personal care company Nu Skin Enterprises Inc . before moving in-house and working there for nearly two decades first as general counsel and then later into sales and other aspects of the business. “The attraction to join a company was really the relationship with the consultants. It was the opportunity to provide a support system and a business for those that may not have the ability to start a business without capital or without some type of business experience. That’s what I loved about the industry and, really, what I love about Arbonne is because I see enormous talent that can be unlocked with some simple support,” Whitehead said of what drew him into the industry. “The incredible thing about a business like Arbonne is that it has that curated collection of humans that come together and enjoy the products and share in a way that is two or three steps more deep than a transaction.” 

C-Suite Refresh Meet the three recent hires helping drive big change at Arbonne

Samir Khandhar joins as vice president of customer experience; promoted to chief digital experience officer in March 2021.

Areas of responsibility :   e-commerce, loyalty, user experience, customer retention management, insights

Resumé:  most recently served as associate partner, CX and digital transformation at Monitor Deloitte

January 2021

Amy Humfleet named CMO.

Responsibilities: global management of Arbonne brand

Resumé:  Vice president of Santa Monica-based Beautycounter; previously worked at Aveda, Diamond Products, Dial and Kao Brands.

Tyler Whitehead named CEO.

Resumé:  president of the West Region for Nu Skin Enterprises Inc.; ran global business in 36 countries; also held titles of vice president of sales and operations for the Americas and vice president and general counsel  

Areas of focus: digital, international expansion, growing customer base

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arbonne business model

California , United States

December 2019

Personal care products


United Kingdom,

United States

Since 1980 Arbonne International, LLC, has created personal care, beauty and wellness products crafted with premium plant-based ingredients grounded in science and clinical research. Arbonne’s healthy living product philosophy and entrepreneurial business opportunity foster a positive mindset that helps individuals and communities flourish. The brand core values are empowerment, transparency, and sustainability, with the idea that everyone can flourish by being good to themselves, their community, and the planet. Arbonne products are available at arbonne.com or through an extensive network of Arbonne Independent Consultants across the world. Arbonne is a privately held company and is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. For more information, please visit www.Arbonne.com.

Overall B Impact Score

Governance 16.8.

Governance evaluates a company's overall mission, engagement around its social/environmental impact, ethics, and transparency. This section also evaluates the ability of a company to protect their mission and formally consider stakeholders in decision making through their corporate structure (e.g. benefit corporation) or corporate governing documents.

What is this?   A company with an Impact Business Model is intentionally designed to create a specific positive outcome for one of its stakeholders - such as workers, community, environment, or customers.

Workers 25.9

Workers evaluates a company’s contributions to its employees’ financial security, health & safety, wellness, career development, and engagement & satisfaction. In addition, this section recognizes business models designed to benefit workers, such as companies that are at least 40% owned by non-executive employees and those that have workforce development programs to support individuals with barriers to employment.

Community 22.9

Community evaluates a company’s engagement with and impact on the communities in which it operates, hires from, and sources from. Topics include diversity, equity & inclusion, economic impact, civic engagement, charitable giving, and supply chain management. In addition, this section recognizes business models that are designed to address specific community-oriented problems, such as poverty alleviation through fair trade sourcing or distribution via microenterprises, producer cooperative models, locally focused economic development, and formal charitable giving commitments.

Environment 44.9

Environment evaluates a company’s overall environmental management practices as well as its impact on the air, climate, water, land, and biodiversity. This includes the direct impact of a company’s operations and, when applicable its supply chain and distribution channels. This section also recognizes companies with environmentally innovative production processes and those that sell products or services that have a positive environmental impact. Some examples might include products and services that create renewable energy, reduce consumption or waste, conserve land or wildlife, provide less toxic alternatives to the market, or educate people about environmental problems.

Customers 9.2

Customers evaluates a company’s stewardship of its customers through the quality of its products and services, ethical marketing, data privacy and security, and feedback channels. In addition, this section recognizes products or services that are designed to address a particular social problem for or through its customers, such as health or educational products, arts & media products, serving underserved customers/clients, and services that improve the social impact of other businesses or organizations.

Previous Overall B Impact Scores

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The Spinoff

One Question Quiz

Business November 27, 2018

Inside arbonne, the multi level marketing scheme taking over your facebook feed.


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After an attempt to recruit her as an Arbonne rep, Holly Bagge delves into the dark art of direct selling and what it takes to earn a white Mercedes.

“What would you do with an extra $5,000 per month?” she asks us, scrolling through slides of beaming women and infographics on her iPad.

My friend and I look at each other in surprise, internally raising our eyebrows. “Uhhh travel, give to charity, buy a llama farm…,” we mumble.

I never expected to be pitched a business venture – which sounded a lot like a pyramid scheme – while sitting in a Wellington café with a woman I had only just met.

“So, what exactly is it that you do?” I ask, sipping my Americano.

With a wide smile, she answers my question as if reading from a script.

“Toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner are things we buy all the time and will continue to spend money on for the rest of our lives, right?”

“Uhhh, yup.”

“But we don’t get any money back from our purchases, right?”

“No, I guess not”.

“We give money to brands that spend huge amounts of money on marketing and we don’t get anything back,” she says.

She tells us she runs her own business through Arbonne, a long-standing, vegan-certified cosmetics and healthcare brand with a Swiss heritage.

We ended up in this Newtown café because my friend, a masseuse, had told me that her client Cheryl worked great hours, earned a decent income, and could tell her (and whoever else might be interested) how to do the same.

Cheryl tells us she’s an independent consultant for Arbonne, and rather than buying products in the supermarket, she purchases all of her products online from Arbonne at a reduced rate, receiving a commission.

Then, she tells others to do the same: Sign up as consultants, purchase all cosmetic/healthcare products from Arbonne henceforth, and share the concept.

The great thing about it, she says, is that she receives a commission from the sales of all those she’s recruited and from those they recruit in turn. And all she had to do is catch up for coffee with people for 6-10 hours per week, telling them how it works.

There are five different levels you can reach within the company depending on sales and the number of people you recruit, she informs us.

And when you make it to Regional Vice President, you get a Mercedes-Benz (we later find out you get money towards renting one, which can only be white and you have to keep your sales high to hold onto it).

She’s already doing amazingly after eight months, she says, and her sister has also decided to join Arbonne instead of studying, as she could easily earn the cost of her student loan in the time it took to get a qualification.

Cheryl finishes up by inviting us to an information evening which will be run by two successful consultants who’ve flown over from Australia.

We thank Cheryl and walk home feeling perplexed. My friend is particularly confused by the fact Cheryl has tried to get massages from her at a reduced price, despite her already low rate.

Thinking it all sounds far too good to be true, I look up Arbonne online when I get home.

Its website is teeming with dead-eyed stock image smiles and success stories of the few who’ve reached the top levels in the business.

I have to scroll past all of this to get to the disclaimer at the bottom of the page saying the testimonials are for “illustrative purposes” and that Arbonne makes no guarantees regarding income.

What concerns me more is discovering a lawsuit accusing Arbonne of being a pyramid scheme.

I t turns out that Arbonne ,which launched in New Zealand in 2016, is an international multi-level marketing (MLM) company.

If you’re not sure what MLMs are, chances are you’ve probably come across one before. Think Mary Kay Cosmetics, Avon, Amway, Tupperware NZ, Isagenix. The list is seemingly endless .

Victoria University associate professor and head of school of marketing and international business Val Hooper says multi-level marketing is a version of direct selling, where someone takes ownership of products and sells directly to the public.

“They buy the product at a reduced rate. But often the products available though schemes are expensive anyway compared to what’s on the supermarket shelf. And then – if you are one person – you recruit further marketers and you get a commission on what your recruits sell.”

Cheryl sends me Arbonne New Zealand’s business folder, a dense 31-page document breaking down the process of joining and containing an endless list of Arbonne’s business jargon and buzz words. It costs $121 to sign up as a consultant, it says. Consultants need to buy about $250 worth of product each month to earn commission and they need to pay a small fee to renew their membership each year.

As Hooper has pointed out, the products aren’t cheap either. A bottle of Arbonne shampoo at the consultants’ discounted rate is $24.70. There are also recommended start orders in the business folder, beginning at $1,559.15.

If you’re lucky to get into the business early, your chances of getting a substantial network, and therefore more money, are much higher, Hooper says.

The 2017 average earnings for Arbonne consultants in Australia (the New Zealand figures aren’t available) show only a small percentage of Arbonne reps are at the top, while over 60 percent are at the first level as Independent Consultants.

And this doesn’t paint the full picture. The figures only include the earnings of consultants who were active. So, if a consultant didn’t earn that month, they weren’t counted – meaning the average earnings for the total number of consultants is likely to be lower. It also doesn’t include the amount the consultants personally invested in products and fees.

Despite trumpeting the success of its consultants, Arbonne filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.  The company has now been turned around, and reported nearly $600 million in revenue last year.

The MLM industry is huge, and according to the Direct Selling Association, 18.6 million people were involved in direct selling (MLMs) in the United States alone in 2017.

MLMs are legal in New Zealand, but have been banned in some places, including mainland China.

There has been plenty of coverage of the problems with MLMs. A report looking at the business models of 350 MLMs (including Arbonne), published on the Federal Trade Commission’s website shows 99 percent of people who join MLMs lose money.

In 2016 Netflix released the  documentary  Betting on Zero which investigated the allegation that MLM company Herbalife was a pyramid scheme.

John Oliver also slammed MLMs on his talk show calling them “fucking awful” and describing them as exhibiting cult-like behaviour and preying on lower socio-economic groups.

There’s even a dedicated podcast called The Dream critiquing multi-level marketing.

And Arbonne itself has been the subject of spoof videos .

In comparison, pyramid schemes are banned in New Zealand (and many other countries) and are defined by commercial law bible Gault on Commercial Law as “primarily a chance to buy or sell an investment opportunity… It is one likely to be unfair to many participants, because earning a reasonable reward involves recruiting others and new participants are unlikely to be able to recruit enough people.”

Hooper says pyramid schemes tend to be less about selling products and more about giving money, with the promise of receiving a huge return on your investment.

“In other words, you recruit two people who then recruit two people, et cetera, and then they send money to the top person in the pyramid. If you break it down and you have eight people, they will all send, say, $5,000 to the top person who then gets $40,000.”

But the model normally fails before most people receive payment and it only serves those at the top.

Arbonne has been accused of being an illegal pyramid scheme and was sued last year along with five of its top representatives by Texas couple Cynthia and Michael Dagnall. The couple ended up reaching a settlement with Arbonne, however.

The Dagnalls claimed they had collectively spent $2,840 yet only received $30.00 from the company, and that the only people who had made money were a very few at the top of the alleged pyramid.

A rmed with this background research, I gather my masseuse mate and another friend and go to the information evening to find out more about Arbonne’s intentions in New Zealand.

We are greeted by Cheryl and a coterie of other high-heeled women. A meagre spread of Supreme Cheese Doritos, hummus and cheap sugary wine (containing traces of animal products, which doesn’t seem to align with Arbonne’s vegan standpoint) is laid out on a table.

The Arbonne consultants have paid a $5 fee to attend the event, presumably because it offers the opportunity to recruit. A show of hands confirms the crowd is about 90 percent consultants.

The speakers are Sandra, a Regional Vice President, and Janet, an Executive Area Manager, both wearing tapered, drop-crotch pleather pants (presumably more in line with the organisation’s vegan principles than the real thing).

Sandra, according to Cheryl, has received her white Mercedes and is doing exceptionally well.

arbonne business model

Throughout the talk Sandra asks us: “Who could do with more time? More money? Who wants to travel more?” and tells us we can achieve these things by simply putting away “pockets of time” to work on our Arbonne business.

She continues with a script that could have been plucked right out of Cheryl’s mouth, then tells us what we can expect to earn at each level in the business.

We can achieve each level in a matter of months, she claims, despite a table on the slides she refers to saying it could take years. She also claims she is earning significantly more at each level than the table shows. At the first level, her highest monthly pay cheque was $1,850, she says.

At the third level (Regional Vice President) the average income is $6,000 per month and it takes about two years but you can get there in three months, based on time and effort, according to Sandra. “There are plenty of people in New Zealand that are already at that level. It’s completely up to you.”

The average income at the top level is around $17,500 per month, normally taking four years, but it’s possible in six months, she says. “Not many people have but if you want to go out there and do that, that’s up to you.”

There’s an air of being let in on some huge secret that will change our lives forever. This strange presentation to the mostly converted is emotive and confidently argued, and we can see how tempting it could be to join.

The thing is, Sandra probably is on big money. She seems to genuinely care for Arbonne and even tears up a little towards the end of her talk.

The consultants I meet all seem like nice people. Cheryl wants to give to charity when she makes it big. And considering that Arbonne has only been in New Zealand for about two years, perhaps these are the consultants lucky enough to be making a decent buck.

But even if Sandra’s income claims are genuine, often people in MLMs won’t be making what they say they are, Hooper says.

“There will be some who do and these are the people used as poster boys, but for every one of them there are a hundred who have bombed out.”

M LMs are dangerous, Hooper believes. “They tend to target people who might not know better. For instance, I have never seen recruitment at a university. It’s not to say that students don’t get pulled in but if it were such a meritorious type of initiative you’d think they’d go to universities and get more relevantly informed employees, like business students.”

It’s also common for MLM members to become alienated from friends and family, Hooper says. “They’ll all be willing and kind in the beginning, then they start to avoid you.”

I get in touch with Arbonne and inquire about some of Sandra and Cheryl’s claims.

According to an Arbonne spokesperson there are currently just 12 people at the third level of Regional Vice President in New Zealand, out of around 3,500 consultants.

Sandra has also claimed that Arbonne is an asset, and if she dies her family will “be sorted for the rest of their lives”.

“It’s no different than if you owned 10 properties down the front of Oriental Bay, and they’re bringing you residual income month after month in rent, that’ll go in your will,” she says.

When asked about this, the spokesperson says that as per the Arbonne Independent Consultant Policies and Procedures, upon death a consultant at the rank of Area Manager or above can pass on their business interests and “Successline” to an heir or beneficiary.  “As with any Independent Consultant, the amount of success that heir could realize would be directly correlated to the amount of time and effort they put into the business.”

So, not exactly money piling up in your account forever.

I also ask how Arbonne’s operating model is different from a pyramid scheme.

Arbonne’s business folder states: “Participants in legitimate network marketing or direct selling companies earn money through the sale of products to end-consumers, not by signing up people.”

Yet, Arbonne reps push the recruiting part of the job heavily, and the consultants I spoke to urge prospective recruits to purchase the products themselves and then recruit others to do the same, saying you can earn far more this way.

On this same page of its business folder, Arbonne suggests getting together a “100-person list” to build your network and create a “Successline”.

However this is simply a “getting started” activity, it says. “Arbonne does not pay commissions solely for recruiting other distributors… Conversely, a pyramid scheme is illegal and is not based on product sales to consumers; Arbonne does not operate such a scheme.”

Arbonne is a member of the Direct Selling Association and meets its requirements, which offer some protection to consultants such as a low starting fee and a buyback policy to guard against inventory overloading.

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Arbonne also says it has a Business Ethics Standards Team (BEST) which conducts regular training sessions with consultants.

Working for an MLM may well be a good side hustle for someone who wants to earn a bit of extra money, but anyone getting involved shouldn’t expect to soar to the top. In fact, Arbonne says the majority of reps only work part-time for the company.

MLMs are not illegal, provided they don’t sell harmful products, Hooper says. “(But) before becoming involved I would get someone to look at the feasibility of an ongoing business venture very carefully. Unless you’re at the top and at the start, your chances of benefiting from that multi-level structure are small.”

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Arbonne Business Review

Arbonne Business Review – What’s In It For You

Welcome to my in-depth Arbonne business review.

Check out if joining this health and beauty direct selling company is a viable business opportunity for you or if you should look elsewhere.

Arbonne is a company that offers ‘botanically based personal care and nutrition products’ and has been around for nearly 35 years.

They promote healthy living from the inside and outside; with their skincare and beauty products (for the outside) and nutrition products for a healthy inside.

Looking for a business that doesn’t involve selling or recruiting? Read how I earn around $1000/ month in passive income.

Let’s get started with these ten facts about the Arbonne business opportunity.

Without further ado, here we go.

Arbonne Business Review – 10 Things You Should Know

#1 some background info about arbonne.

The founder of Arbonne is Petter Morck who comes originally from Norway. With a group of scientists, he developed the idea of skincare products that are based purely on botanical principles in Switzerland in 1975.

He immigrated to the United States and eventually established Arbonne in 1980 as a direct selling company with 19 products available.

A lot has happened since then.  Arbonne not only extended their product range extensively but also operates now globally in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Poland, and the UK.

They have over 200 000 active consultants and around 2 300 000 Preferred Clients (more about it later).

#2 The Things That Arbonne Stands For

arbonne and what it stands for

One of the most important things to me is that Arbonne claims to be cruelty-free and don’t test their products on animals, unlike Mary Kay cosmetics for instance.

On their website, it says: ‘Since the company was founded in 1980, Arbonne has had a strict policy against testing on animals, and our formulas have never contained animal products or by-products. Arbonne is recognized by PETA ((People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for this.”

So to be clear, Arbonne products are vegan free and cruelty-free.

#3 A Little Bit About The Products

arbonne products

Arbonne claims that all their products are pure, without nasty chemicals, and without animal products or animal by-products.

Arbonne what is not in the products

The list of what is NOT in the products is really impressive. I do like their approach to producing natural products. This is great news for vegans or people who are allergic to gluten.

Thumps up for Arbonne!

I have seen a few negative reviews about Arbonne products online. Some customers complain about allergic reactions and the likes.

As with any cosmetic or skincare product, it is essential to test it before you use it.

#4 How To Become An Independent Arbonne Consultant

The whole process is pretty easy and straightforward.

You pay $49 for the Welcome kit and sign a form that you agree with the terms and conditions to become an Independent Arbonne consultant.

It gives you a free (duplicate) e-commerce website, free apps for a business on-the-go, access to a social marketing library, and access to a knowledge library for business and product information.

By the way, you don’t need to pay a monthly fee for the website.

After twelve months, you need to pay a renewal fee of $29.

#5 What Is In The Starter Kit

Well, for $49 there is not that much in the starter kit. It contains a few catalogs, samples of the RE9 line, business materials like flyers, order forms, and a copy of the success aka compensation plan.

So you need to invest some money to order products you could use for yourself (to test them) and also products for your presentations so people can smell them, feel them, and try them out.

The products are expensive therefore it is essential that your potential new customer can check a fairly good variety of products.

Arbonne offers different packs, e.g. skincare pack or a makeup pack.

You may need to decide if you’d rather invest in skincare, nutritional, or makeup products. You are looking at spending around $200 to $300 for one of these packs.

The saying goes that if you build a business you need to invest in your business. It is important to remember though not to get carried away and spend too much when you start off.

My advice is to ask your sponsor if they could help you out with some of the products. Maybe you could borrow some.

#6 How To Sell Arbonne Products

The main way of selling Arbonne products is via the good old home party, also called a group presentation.

It does make sense because as I said before, potential new customers need to try the products before they are going to spend a whole lot of money.

The trouble with the party plan is that it can be difficult to find people who are willing to host a party. Even though the hostess rewards can be intriguing.

Everyone seems to be busy nowadays and there is a lot of effort involved in getting the girls around. Also, once the party goes ahead it doesn’t mean you get lots of sales or new recruits.

On top of that, it takes a few hours for the consultant to drive to the party, setting it up, holding the presentation, taking orders, cleaning up, and driving back home.

I am missing here the modern touch with Arbonne. How about having virtual parties like Younique has introduced to their marketing strategy?

There needs to be a balance, I guess.

Before you join Arbonne, you need to ask yourself: Do you feel confident in holding presentations and speaking in front of an audience? Do you feel confident ringing people and asking them to hold a party, or for a sale?

I don’t know how much training Arbonne offers to their consultants to learn sales techniques and the likes.

But speaking from my own experience with a (different) direct selling company, it takes a lot of self-discipline and resilience to make money with this kind of business.

#7 Show Me The Money, Honey

Let’s talk about the success plan also known as the compensation plan.

arbonne success/compensation plan

As you can see in the screenshot, there are four ways you can earn money with Arbonne. The commission payments are pretty average with 35% on the personal product sales.

If you sign up a preferred client ( more about it later) you only get 15% on the suggested retail price (SRP).

To me, it is not clear why Arbonne has a suggested retail price. Surely, you don’t want to lower or increase the price.

Anyhow, back to the money side. The compensation plan is fairly easy to read. On top of the 35%, a consultant can earn overrides on their team sales and cash bonuses.

For instance, a consultant can earn a $25 cash bonus when a preferred client orders an Ultimate Value pack for $200 once they sign up.

To maintain the status of the rank as an Independent Consultant, you need to have $1200 PQV (Personal Qualifying Volume) in a year.

Keen to read the full compensation plan? Click here for more information.

Please note, you only get a Mercedes Benz cash bonus once you have reached at least Regional Vice President.

And of course, you need certain requirements, as outlined in the compensation plan. If you don’t, you won’t get the car bonus.

#8 Climbing Up The Ladder

I have noticed that Arbonne doesn’t have a so-called fast start program in their compensation plan. A fast start program usually offers extra incentives for new consultants to make lots of sales and find new team members.

I have seen ‘Fast Start’ bonuses   with Younique or Limelight, for instance.

I think there are two sides to it. A fast start can give you great momentum in building your business. But it can also put a lot of pressure on a person.

Here are the ranks you can achieve by reaching certain sales volumes and recruiting new consultants.

  • Everyone starts as an Independent Consultant.
  • District Manager
  • Executive District Manager
  • Area Manager
  • Executive Area Manager
  • Regional Vice President (now the car bonus kicks in)
  • Executive Regional Vice President
  • National Vice President
  • Executive National Vice President

It is a long way to reach the top and only a few will make to Executive National Vice President.

A lot depends not only on the number of sales you are accumulating and the numbers of people you are recruiting.

It is about if you can maintain your rank which is connected to the sales volume of your team. There are so many variables which you can’t always influence. It is quite frankly beyond your control.

#9 What Is A Preferred Client

Arbonne is talking a lot about their preferred client program. Not only can an Independent Consultant earn a cash bonus when the client spends a certain amount of money.

Preferred clients are also so keen on the product that many of them become Consultants themselves.

It costs $20 to sign up for the preferred client program that entitles them to 20% off the SRP (suggested retail price) for a whole year.

If they spend more then $150 they will also get a complimentary product of their choice.

Once the year is up, they have to pay a renewal fee of 15%.

Just to be clear, there is no need to do an auto-ship order, if the client doesn’t want to. No strings attached!

#10 Happiness All Around?

There are lots of positives with Arbonne and their business opportunity. They are accredited with the Better Business Bureau with an A+ rating.

Arbonne is also a member of the DSA, the Direct Selling Association.

The customer service seems efficient and friendly and the 45-day money back guarantee on the products is pretty spot-on.

A huge plus for me is the fact that the products are all vegan and cruelty-free.

But before you join, make sure you have tested the products yourself and have a think about who would be happy to buy these products from you.

Otherwise, you may end up with lots of products, no one wants to purchase from you.

It is easy to understand why Arbonne has been around for 35 years. It is a solid company with only a few negative reviews.

The biggest drawcard for me is the fact that the products are not tested on animals and are plant-based without any nasty chemicals

The best way to sell the products is via home parties or group presentations.

But as I mentioned before this can be a challenging process.

Let’s face it, who wants to be the ‘Hostess with the Mostest’ nowadays – the thought of inviting friends, organizing snacks and drinks and cleaning up afterward can be daunting for many.

So it is much easier to convince people to hold a virtual party and get some Hostess rewards as a ‘Thank you.’

I am missing the modern touch here with Arbonne. It would be good to give a consultant different options.

Personally myself, I have found direct selling/MLM to be a tough business where you have to learn to deal with rejection, objections, sometimes no sales at all, and lots of party cancellations.

It takes a strong mindset to overcome these obstacles and to build a successful business in the industry.

Have you noticed that most MLM companies are mainly targeting women as potential recruits? Women join these companies for so many different reasons.

In Arbonne case, I was quite surprised to see a few men amongst the consultants.

When I started my direct selling business I was looking for something different than ‘just’ being defined as a mom. The thought of being part of a sisterhood was appealing to me and also getting out of the house and meeting new people.

Even though I am a self-confident person, not reaching my goals, like not enough sales and recruiting left me quite frustrated at times and doubting myself.

The truth is ‘the overwhelming majority of MLM participants (most sources estimated to be over 99.25% of all MLM participants) participate at either an insignificant or nil net profit.’ (source Wikipedia)

If you do love the products and feel they are worth the money, then, by all means, go for it. I don’t think there is a huge risk to lose money since the start-up costs are low and no additional fee applies.

Just be aware that you need to purchase products as well as business aids and samples which can be quite expensive.

To build a substantial income, you’ll need to put in full-time hours for sure.

Want to build a business that doesn’t require network marketing skills and will earn you passive income for years to come? Please read more about  my #1 recommended business model.

Is There A Better Business Model?

Even though Arbonne makes it pretty easy to sell the product, the products are expensive.

But considering the quality of the ingredients and the fact that they don’t contain nasty chemicals may make it easy to find a buying audience.

I still think there are better business models out there than selling and recruiting.

I had been a consultant with a direct selling company for over three years so I speak from experience when I say it takes a lot of hard work to be successful with the MLM business model.

The initial enthusiasm rubs off pretty quickly if other people don’t share the same love for the product you are trying to sell.

I’ve learned that selling stuff to people is not my strong point even though I loved the products.

Ringing potential customers, dealing with return and refunds, traveling for hours to do presentations without sometimes getting any sales was tough going.

I know of people who were super successful but they were working consistently for around 40 hours or more a week.

Well, looking back I’d say it was a huge learning curve but not what I was looking for in an ideal business. In reality, the hours weren’t exactly flexible, instead, I had to work in the evening and on weekends.

For the past three years, I have been building my online business that doesn’t involve recruiting or calling people at all. Now I can work whenever and wherever I want to work with only a laptop and an internet connection.

I have to be honest though: my recommended business model is not for everyone. It takes at least 6 to 12 months of consistent work to see the first results aka earning money.

If you are able to invest between 10 and 20 hours of work a week then you will surely succeed.

Once you get the foundation right, you will earn passive income for years to come. All it takes is good training, consistent work, and taking action!

I am now earning around $1000/month in passive income with little effort.

Ready to take the leap and start a legit business that doesn’t involve recruiting or selling ? Sign up here for free!

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Hi guys and gals, it is great to see you. I am passionate about affiliate marketing and I am here to help you to succeed in the vastness of the internet/online world. If I am not busy developing my websites, you can find me at the beach with my kids and the dog, cooking yummy meals or relaxing with a book.

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Demystifying arbonne: why it’s not a pyramid scheme.

Is Arbonne a pyramid scheme? It is a question that may come up before, during or after your personal journey or experience sharing the products (as an Independent Consultant). I did quite a bit of reading and wanted to share my personal thoughts based on researching.

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion and debate surrounding multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. Arbonne, a health & wellness brand, is sometimes mentioned in these conversations. Some critics may claim that Arbonne operates as a pyramid scheme. However, it’s important to understand that Arbonne operates within legal and ethical boundaries, and there are distinct differences between MLMs and pyramid schemes.

What is a Pyramid Scheme? A pyramid scheme is an illegal business model that primarily focuses on recruiting new members rather than selling actual products or services. Participants at the top of the pyramid profit from the fees paid by those they recruit. As the pyramid expands, it becomes unsustainable, and most members end up losing money.

Arbonne’s Business Model: Arbonne, on the other hand, operates as a legitimate MLM company. In MLMs, participants earn commissions not only from their own sales but also from the sales of the those they’ve recruited. This is a legal and well-established business model that allows individuals to build their own businesses. Based on experience working in both the private and public sector (I have also been an entrepreneur owning my own business) unless you are the boss, at the end of the day you are working for somebody else in a corporate structure. I see MLMs as no different than any other job/employment.

Product-Centric Focus: One key distinction between a pyramid scheme and an MLM is the emphasis on actual product sales. Arbonne places a strong emphasis on high-quality, vegan-certified products in the health, wellness, and skincare. The proof is in the pudding so to speak as the company has been around over 40 years now. Consultants are encouraged to sell these products directly to consumers, and commissions are earned based on these sales. They are also a very sustainable company achieving B-Corp status which is HUGE.

No Inventory Loading: Arbonne discourages inventory loading, which is a practice often associated with pyramid schemes. Inventory loading involves pressuring participants to purchase large amounts of product, which can lead to financial strain and unsold inventory. In contrast, Arbonne consultants are advised to order products as they are needed for customers, reducing the risk of excess inventory. I have worked for this company for years and have not lost money myself. If I do buy product it is for personal use, no different than if I were to go buy other hygiene products at a drug store, chain store, beauty market etc.

Training and Support: Arbonne provides comprehensive training and support for its consultants. This includes resources on product knowledge, sales techniques, and business development. Consultants are encouraged to build their businesses in a sustainable and ethical manner, with a focus on building genuine relationships with customers. It has a low start-up cost and is very turnkey offering a website etc. if you sign up.

Compliance and Regulation: Arbonne is committed to compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all the countries where it operates. This commitment ensures that the company operates within the bounds of the law and maintains a high level of ethical conduct. Feel free to check out their website for more details.

While the MLM industry can be controversial, it’s important to distinguish between legitimate companies like Arbonne and illegal pyramid schemes. Arbonne operates with a product-centric focus, provides extensive training and support, and emphasizes compliance with legal and regulatory standards. It is also an awesome community to be a part of.

Before joining any MLM company, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research and carefully consider whether the business model aligns with your personal values and goals. With the right approach and dedication, individuals can build successful businesses as Arbonne consultants. I also would like to acknowledge via this post that network marketing has taught me a ton of valuable skills and I believe that everyone in life has their own perspective and experience and it is important to make decisions based on facts and being properly informed.

If you are thinking of becoming a Consultant connect with me via emailing: [email protected] or read more here and sign-up: https://www.arbonne.com/ca/en/arb/JuliaGodden/join-us/independent-consultant

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Better Goods

Is Arbonne Greenwashing? Let’s Take a Closer Look

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Last Updated: March 1, 2021

arbonne business model

Arbonne heavily promotes their brand as a clean brand. From the packaging, to the marketing messaging, the company creates the image that their brand is pure, safe and natural. But is it true?

Let’s take a close look at Arbonne and see if they’re truly as clean as they say.

Arbonne’s ingredient policy states ( source ) :

All of our products are safe and nontoxic. We’re vigilant about the newest research regarding chemicals to ensure we’re being mindful and cautious from formulation and beyond. We proactively search for pure, clean botanical ingredients.

You’ll also find a section that looks like this:

arbonne business model

There is much more in their marketing that gives the impression that the brand is clean and non-toxic.

Green colors and plant imagery:

A common tactic for brands who want to portray themselves as clean is using the color green along with plant imagery on their products and marketing materials.

Browsing their website and products will show that their use of this tactic is in full effect.

Plant-Based Ingredients?

arbonne business model

This screenshot is taken from the Arbonne website . This would lead you to believe that their products are plant-based ingredients, but that’s simply just not true. Most of their products (if not all) contain many non-natural and non-plant-based ingredients. This is pure greenwashing.

The MLM business model

Arbonne is an MLM (multi-level marketing) business. This means that they’re essentially a pyramid scheme, relying on their “independent contractors” to recruit others into the system.

While Arbonne’s business model is outside the scope of this article, we believe that the MLM business model is unethical.

Strange Ingredients in Arbonne’s “Not Allowed” List

Arbonne maintains a list of ingredients they disallow in their products—about 682 in total. The strange thing about this list is that they include drugs, including:

  • 7 different types of amphetimines
  • 12 different types of benzodiazepines
  • 7 different types of steroids
  • 9 different types of opiods
  • radioactive substances

We feel as though including all of these illegal drugs (and radioactive substances) in their list of “banned substances” is greenwashing. Not only is this padding out the list to make it seem like they’re more strict than other brands, when it’s absurd that they’d include controlled substances in their products.

A Closer Look At An Arbonne Product

Let’s take a closer look at a specific Arbonne product to see how clean it really is.

RE9 Advanced Extra Moisture Restorative Cream SPF 20 Sunscreen

Active ingredients: Avobenzone 3.0%, Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 5.0%, Octocrylene 2.79%

This product is a chemical sunscreen, using four of the chemical sunscreen ingredients we recommend avoiding. This is because a 2020 study found that even a single application of these ingredients will absorb into the bloodstream, and the effect is accumulative.

Looking at the inactive ingredients, we have retinyl palmitate, which has been linked to skin tumors in studies on mice . We also see dimethicone (silicone) which feels good going on the skin, but can clog pores. Polysorbate-20 is an ingredient that can be contaminated with etylene oxdie and 1,4-dioxane, potentially harmful substances.

Needless to say, this is far from a clean and non-toxic product.

Arbonne Products Are Not Organic

Unfortunately, since Arbonne relies on 250,000+ independent reps around the world, a lot of misinformation gets spread.

One of the common claims is that Arbonne products are organic. That’s simply just not the case.

arbonne business model

This might stem from this claim the brand makes. Simply glancing at this might make you believe that their products are all certified non-GMO, but if you read the fine print, it says “A growing number of Arbonne Nutrition products are verified by the Non-GMO Project.” This clearly means that some of their products are certified, but certainly not all.

Other False Claims The Brand Makes

arbonne business model

This is another misleading statement. A simple example of this is the fact that their sunscreens use chemical sunscreen ingredients, known to cause damage to the coral reefs .

arbonne business model

Again, this is simply not true. According to the Arbonne website, geraniol is found in 21 of their products—a derivative of essential oils. While this may sound safe, the ingredient is labeled as one of “high concern” due to being a known consumer allergen and skin irritant. ( source )

The Verdict: Arbonne is a Greenwashing Brand

It’s no surprise that we consider Arbonne a greenwashing brand based on the above information. This is just the tip of the iceberg—Arbonne has a lot of different products and a line of health and nutrition products we didn’t even look at for this review.

We recommend avoiding Arbonne products for this reason. There are many brands out there that actually offer clean, non-toxic products and we believe Arbonne is simply using these false claims to mislead people into thinking their products are better than they really are.

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Tessie Hickey

Errrr… Arbonne has B Corp certification, which seems to be omitted from your review.

Tina Whitley

Aren’t there strict guidelines that have to be followed to become a B Corp?

Jan Boswell

Your bias against network marketing and your ignorance to suggest that an MLM company is “basically a pyramid scheme” is sickening. True bias and ignorance.

Better Goods

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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illustration of pink lipsticks in a pyramid against a blue background

'They have you in a cultish grip': the women losing thousands to online beauty schemes

It sounds too good to be true – earn money selling makeup on social media. And for many, it is. What really happens when you join a multi-level beauty business, asks Amelia Tait ?

W hen a Facebook friend told Lindsay about a “genius” business opportunity in January 2015, the Manchester-based NHS laboratory assistant was already struggling for money. She had spent the last two years caring for her elderly father, and the stress meant she frequently missed shifts at work. Unwell with chronic fatigue syndrome and struggling to pay the household bills, Lindsay was instantly curious about her friend’s offer.

“I hardly had any money coming in, and I was looking at everything, doing all the maths, and there just wasn’t enough,” Lindsay says now from the red brick terraced house where she lives alone with her dog, Freya. The Facebook friend – who Lindsay has never met, but added on social media because they were both fans of the musician Jean-Michel Jarre – told her she could earn between £50 and £500 a month if she signed up to a beauty sales business called Younique.

“I thought even if I make £100 a month, that’s something… I don’t have a big appetite, so my food only costs £20 a week at most, if I’m splurging out a bit,” Lindsay says. Though she is just 36 years old, she walks with a cane and has a full head of grey hair. Her illness – which is characterised by extreme tiredness and joint pain – means she struggles to maintain her home. Paint is peeling from the walls, and an old mattress sits in the hallway.

After receiving her monthly paycheck, Lindsay clicked on the link sent over by her Facebook friend and signed up to become a “Younique presenter”. Founded in September 2012 by an American brother-and-sister team, Younique is a direct sales beauty company. Presenters sign up via the website and purchase products that they then sell on, earning a cut of the profits. Though there is no membership fee, members must regularly buy stock to retain presenter status. Lindsay paid £69 for a starter kit, and then another £125 to become a “yellow status” presenter. Younique has eight different presenter statuses – whites, the people at the bottom, earn a 20% commission from their sales, while yellows, the next up in the scale, earn 25%.

This commissions-based model is somewhat similar to Avon, the 133-year-old company that recruits “Avon ladies” to sell beauty products door-to-door. Yet unlike Avon ladies, Younique presenters buy and sell through social media – usually Facebook. “We are the first direct sales company to market and sell almost exclusively through the use of social media,” Younique’s website reads , adding that its founders, Derek Maxfield and Melanie Huscroft, created the business to “uplift” their members. “Derek and Melanie firmly believe that all women [the company targets women] should feel valued, smart, and empowered through opportunities for personal growth and financial reward!” the website says. But in her three years as a Younique presenter, Lindsay lost roughly £3,000.

From 2015 to 2018, Lindsay spent £40 to £60 every month on stock to retain her yellow presenter status. Though she initially made some sales at the hospital where she worked, Lindsay was let go from the NHS in spring 2015 because of missed shifts caused by stress. She had been caring for her parents since 2011 – her mother passed away from cancer in 2012, while her father had Parkinson’s and suffered from three strokes before his death in 2018. Though she stopped making Younique sales after losing her job, Lindsay wanted to retain her presenter status because she was planning to go to university and hoped to be able to sell to fellow students. Meanwhile, Younique kept encouraging her to buy stock.

“They would email saying, ‘You’re in danger of your account being suspended’,” she says. “They were worded in such a way to tell you, ‘Oh, you only need to spend so much to keep yourself active.’” Lindsay says she didn’t notice how much money she was spending on stock because it was a slow “drip, drip, drip” of payments. “But then you look at it all together. I could have saved up, I could have done roof repairs on the house.” In 2015, Lindsay attended a Younique training session in Glasgow where she was told not to “come with excuses” about being unable to sell products. “It was made clear to me at that point, I had no get out clause for not making sales.” Unsold makeup now sits in Lindsay’s car, in her cupboards, and in a large plastic container in her living room.

Y ounique is not just a direct sales company – like Avon, it is also a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM). Multi-level marketing is a business strategy where revenue is generated from both product sales and the recruitment of new distributors. A Younique presenter can earn money by selling makeup, and also by persuading other women to join the company. Structurally, MLMs are akin to pyramid schemes – once someone signs up under you, you become their “upline” and take a portion of their earnings. If they sign up people beneath them, you also take a cut of those profits – a handful of people at the top get rich from thousands at the bottom.

Over the last five years, MLMs have become increasingly popular in Britain. The Direct Selling Association (DSA) , the only recognised UK trade body for the sector, estimates that roughly 400,000 people in the UK are involved in direct selling, although many do so on a casual basis. Forever Living allows women to sell aloe vera-based drinks, gels and beauty products; Arbonne consultants sell skincare; Herbalife representatives flog weight-loss products; Juice Plus reps sell diet drinks; Nu Skin offers creams. Haircare MLM Monat is currently recruiting “EU Founders”.

Social media means MLM presenters now sell to – and recruit from – the entire world. On Facebook, posts from uplines like Lindsay’s friend promise “rocking” sales, “instant” pay, and the chance to run “your own business”.

“The main distinction between MLMs and pyramid schemes is MLMs actually have a product,” says Daryl Koehn, a professor of business ethics at DePaul University in Chicago. “In pyramid schemes, you’re just selling the opportunity to make money.” Yet Koehn argues that even when MLMs have products, they become pyramid schemes if there is a high cost of entry or if presenters build up inventory they can’t sell.

In 2011, Jon M Taylor, an employee at the US Consumer Awareness Institute, compiled a short ebook on MLMs for the Federal Trade Commission. “After reading these chapters, the reader may wonder if it is appropriate to refer to MLM, with its inherent flaws, as a ‘business’ at all,” he wrote. “Some who are familiar with MLM’s abysmal statistics feel it is more appropriate to refer to virtually any MLM as a scam.”

In theory, anyone can sign up for an MLM. In practice, Koehn says the model appeals to “people who have fewer opportunities”. Like Lindsay, many people who join MLMs have disabilities, or poor health, and are unable to work full-time. Those who sign up are taught to target new and single mothers. “We were encouraged to pick on stay-at-home mums, people who had just lost a job,” says Rachel (not her real name), a former Forever Living “business owner” in her late 40s. She was recruited to Forever Living in 2016 as “a newly single mum very willing to try anything to make a living for my kids”, who were seven and nine at the time.

Rachel’s upline, a “trusted friend”, told her to write a list of everyone she knew and “profile” them, listing their aspirations and weaknesses. “You’re encouraged to find out what it was they really want in life and then use that to promise that [Forever Living] would fulfil their want,” she says. She was also given a recruiting script that included phrases such as “lifestyle-changing opportunity”, “control your own destiny”, and “earn in excess of £40k a year”. She was told to avoid the word “job”, partly because 9-5 jobs were presented as negative by the company, and partly, she believes, because Forever Living did not offer the consistent salary, paid holidays and sick pay that a traditional job would.

It took six months for doubts to emerge, when she realised that the praise she initially received from her upline (“You’re wonderful. You’re perfect for this job,”) was just a standard script used for all new recruits. Still, she stayed with Forever Living for nearly two more years.

“They said your business is a rollercoaster, you just have to stay on it while it goes up and down,” she explains, “But actually, it just went down, down, down.” Rachel’s uplines said her mindset was to blame when business was bad – linking her to seminars and success stories, and telling her that she had to attend online training sessions or she would fail. “There was a lot of emotional blackmail,” she says. “I would feel really guilty if I didn’t attend fortnightly meetings.” She says her upline encouraged her to “stay away” from people who criticised the company, including her own family. “They said if you don’t work on your mindset, your business will fail,” she says.

nail varnish pyramid

Rachel had joined the company just after splitting from her husband, and says that Forever Living provided a new world for her to inhabit. She was in multiple Facebook groups where women competed to sell products, shared advice and scripts, and formed friendships. She was told to be “a product of the product” by purchasing Forever Living products for personal use. “I put all of my passion and all of my time – oh my goodness, the amount of time,” she says now. “I totally gave up other things. And I wasn’t making any money.”

After quitting, she was devastated over the friendships she lost – many of her Forever Living colleagues blocked her on social media when she left the company, and the isolation meant she suffered a “mild depression”. She also still struggles with guilt from signing up a handful of women beneath her. “I have since apologised to them all. Some of them are still trying to offload products that they’ve got hanging around their house. I feel really awful. But I also think, I can’t stay guilty forever, because I was sucked in. I believed everything they said.”

Rachel felt trapped: “they have you in this grip, this cultish grip,” she says. “Cult” is a word that every woman I speak to for this piece uses to refer to their time in an MLM. Many sell “mindset training” sessions to their presenters. “Never let anyone tell you that you won’t succeed,” reads a slide from a presentation Rachel paid £30 to stream. “The greatest comeback is to SHOW them your success.”

Fiona, a single mother of two from Merseyside, lost more than £1,000 selling Arbonne cosmetics in 2016. She says her upline, a local woman who she met while working as a teaching assistant in a school, pressured her to “prey” on new mothers in soft play areas; after she convinced another single mother to join, she was told to pressure her into buying more products. “It didn’t feel right,” she says. Fiona’s upline also told her to take out a credit card to buy stock – she is still paying off the debt.

During her 10 months at Arbonne, she was encouraged to set an alarm for 6.40am so she could listen to a motivational talk given live by an upline. “It’s like brainwashing,” she says, explaining that, like Rachel, she was told to become a “product of the product” by buying Arbonne for herself. “It’s really easy to get drawn into it, particularly because at the time, as a single mum, I wasn’t seeing an awful lot of other people.”

Members are encouraged to influence others by inflating their success on social media. “There’s a lot of lies,” Lindsay says, “We were told if you’re going somewhere nice, post it with, ‘Thanks to Younique, I’m staying here.’” Rachel says people who were struggling would post pictures of cars, spas, and prosecco to appear as though their business was thriving. Fiona says people were even encouraged to post pictures of their children if they were home sick from school, adding captions like, “So grateful I have a home-based business which allows me to carry on working while I care for my kids.”

Despite the social media scripts and many motivational sessions, Rachel says she never received any financial training or advice from Forever Living. It was only after she did her second year’s tax return that she realised she hadn’t made a profit and decided to quit. “You’re not coached on how to manage your finances because if they did that, people would realise they weren’t making any money.”

A UK spokesperson for Forever Living says via email that the company offers financial training through an independent accountancy company intermittently throughout the year. “The Forever network has been built over 40 years through collaboration, support and family values,” they said.

“Forever does not condone pressure of any description, misrepresentation of lifestyle, the business opportunity or promises of income levels, the company has clearly defined escalation procedures to deal with any such allegations.” An online company policy handbook lists prohibited activities for Forever members, and refers to the DSA’s dispute handling service. The spokesperson adds that Forever representatives are “prohibited from placing orders until 75% of previous stock has been sold”. This is done on what the company call a “self-certifying” basis, ie the seller tells them they have sold or used at least this much stock.

When asked about Fiona’s experiences, an Arbonne spokesperson based in Northampton says via email that their sales plan is “not a pyramid scheme; it is a standard, legal sales strategy”. “Arbonne upholds the highest standards of integrity and we do not condone deceptive, unethical or illegal practices of any kind,” the spokesperson says. “Our Business Ethics Standards Team (BEST) conducts regular training sessions with Arbonne Independent Consultants, continuously monitors their business practices … and takes immediate action if questionable activities arise.” They add that any unethical or improper behaviour can be reported at BEST.Arbonne.com . Fiona says she was not made aware of this reporting procedure.

I f Lindsay was at the bottom of the Younique pyramid, then Lisa was at the top. The mother of three lives with her husband and children in a spacious semi-detached council house in a cul-de-sac outside of Halifax. A confident 36-year-old, she is immaculately put together, with sleek long black hair and stylish, minimal makeup. She first heard about Younique in 2014.

“Because I have three children, I needed a job that would fit around them,” she says from her living room – there are professional portraits of the children on the walls, a bookcase full of sports trophies, and, on the table, a felt pencil case her daughter recently made at school. Lisa joined Younique on the first day of its UK launch and went on to earn more than £60,000 before she quit in 2018.

“It was quite strange because I immediately had 38 people in my team,” she says, explaining she had recruited 12 of these people, and the other 26 were people they in turn signed on. “We’d all joined on the same day but suddenly I was in charge.”

While white and yellow Younique presenters only earn commission from their sales, after recruiting five women, members reach pink status. Pink status presenters earn 25% from their sales plus 3% commission from sales made by women beneath them. By the time she left Younique, Lisa had reached the highest level, black status, and had more than 3,000 people beneath her. She calculates that 95% of her money was earned from commission on other women’s sales.

“I made a lot of a money, a lot of money to me, and it meant I could stay at home with my kids,” she says, adding that she also felt a boost in confidence. “I went from not being able to pick up the phone to an unknown number to talking on stage in front of thousands of people.” Lisa frequently spoke at Younique training sessions and conventions.

Yet although Lisa feels Younique changed her life, her perspective shifted in 2018. Lisa says that during a Black Friday sales month in November, she slowly realised people felt pressured to buy stock they couldn’t sell. “The leaders would always say nobody’s forcing anybody to buy anything, but if you’re recruiting women who’ve lost a circle of friends because they’ve had children, or they haven’t got self-confidence, they’re going to buy to be part of a group.”

Kirsty, a 27-year-old from London, tells me: “I got suckered in to Younique due to the promise of ‘sisterhood’ being so strongly pushed on to me. I suffer with bipolar so I don’t really make a lot of friends that easily,” she says over the phone. A Facebook friend told her she would have access to a group chat of 300 people who supported each other. “That was appealing,” she tells me. Yet Kirsty quickly found the group chat “toxic”. “One woman said her husband was telling her to get a regular job because they were losing money, but the group was bizarre, telling her he was controlling and abusive,” she alleges. “It also got really bitchy – one girl wasn’t making enough sales and they made her feel bad in front of everyone.”

Ironically, while women are often drawn to MLMs to make friends, they often end up with fewer than when they started. “One of the issues with MLMs is that you’re told to target your friends and relatives,” says business professor Koehn. “People are trying to monetise social relationships.” Rachel lost friendships because she “pestered people every five minutes” to sign up for Forever Living. She was told that if someone said “no”, she should write their name in a book called “no for now” and ask them again in a month. “Because I was encouraged to pester people every five minutes to sign up, friendships disappeared.”

But alliances made within the business are also fragile – often falling apart once women quit. “Some people blocked me immediately,” says Lisa of her decision to leave. “We spoke every day and all of sudden, we can’t be friends.” Rachel was particularly affected when she quit. “That was the thing that really got me in the end,” she says. “I thought I’d made friends and then when I did leave, I had nobody.”

W hen so many women feel exploited by MLMs, why have these companies not been held to account? In America, clothing MLM LuLaRoe is currently being sued by Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, who says that “LuLaRoe tricked consumers into buying into its pyramid scheme with deceptive claims.” LulaRoe said in a statement that the claims are completely without merit and that the company will fight vigorously against them. In July 2017, the Chinese government shut down hundreds of multi-level marketing companies, which it described as “business cults”. Yet in the UK, no authorities are currently investigating them.

Mumsnet decided in 2017 not to allow MLMs to advertise on the parenting site. “We thought about it long and hard because we know that home-based, flexible opportunities are very popular,” says founder Justine Roberts, “but many Mumsnet users have posted about what they see as MLMs’ invidious marketing techniques and the effects on vulnerable individuals, and we came to the conclusion that business models based primarily on recruiting have too much potential to be exploitative.”

Elsewhere online, hundreds of ordinary people are now campaigning against MLMs on social media. “I think the authorities are doing an absolutely embarrassing job at regulating MLMs,” says John Evans, a 39-year-old from Sussex who runs the 11,000-member Facebook group MLM Lies Exposed . He was inspired to start the group after a friend tried to recruit him to an MLM. When Evans criticised the MLM model, his friend stopped speaking to him.

“MLMs are extremely clever at manipulating people. There’s lots of psychology involved,” Evans says. “The people who sign up lose money, but they’re not stupid. They’re victims.” Evans says he has seen countless horror stories in the five years he has run his Facebook page. “Some people are thousands of pounds down from these companies and they end up in the sunk cost fallacy where they just keep plugging away, keep desperately trying to dig themselves out of this financial hole,” he says.

Evans is particularly concerned when MLM reps make false medical claims about products on social media. A representative for Trading Standards explains MLMs become an issue for the body if a company breaches consumer protection regulations, by, for example, making misleading claims about products. In 2017, Trading Standards Cornwall shut down the business of former Miss England finalist, Charlotte Thomson, who had been selling weight-loss coffee Valentus, saying the product wasn’t licensed for the UK market. Thomson said she was “devastated” and stopped selling the product. To date, Trading Standards has not looked into any MLMs on a national level.

Evans and others would like to see MLMs better regulated to ensure companies are open and honest when recruiting presenters. A spokesperson for Younique said that Lindsay, Lisa, and Kirsty’s experiences “do not accurately reflect those of our hundreds of thousands of Younique presenters around the world, nor our organisation’s values more fundamentally”. The company says it does not permit presenters to make “improper claims” about earnings or products, and has a team of compliance officers to ensure all presenters abide by company expectations.

“Younique presenters are not required to build product inventories at all,” they go on. “Additionally, we aim to safeguard our presenters’ financial security by enabling unused products purchased by them within the prior year to be returned for a full refund should they wish to terminate their relationship with the business.”

Younique, Arbonne, and Forever Living are all members of The Direct Selling Association (DSA). I put the claims in this article to them, including accounts of uplines making false claims about earnings and pressuring downlines into buying stock, and the DSA says they are investigating the allegations. Susannah Schofield, director general of the DSA, warns that people should “beware of individuals making outlandish claims about direct selling being a chance to ‘get rich quick’ – anything that looks or sounds too good to be true probably is”. She adds that direct sales is “an effort-based” business. “And with anything in life, if it’s valuable you’ll have to work at it to achieve success. Most people working in direct selling are good at what they do, and find the extra few hundred pounds a month they make an extremely useful addition to their family’s income. There are not many ways of earning that sort of money from home, on a highly flexible basis.”

Lisa now works for another MLM, but only sells products and refuses to recruit unless someone approaches her directly and asks about the business. “‘It’s incredibly hard to get a job after being a stay-at-home mum for eight years, network marketer for four,” she says.

Lindsay works at McDonald’s, though struggles to get frequent shifts. She lost her Younique presenter status in July 2018 because she couldn’t afford to buy any more stock. She feels unable to sell the old stock she bought back to the company because it is scattered around her home. “I’m relieved that I got out, but I’m angry that I still see people recruiting,” she says. She now sells handmade fabric cushions and lavender bags on online marketplace Etsy, and is currently applying for Personal Independence Payments.

“It actually makes me angry with myself,” Lindsay says, when I ask about the money she lost. “I’m annoyed with the person that got me into it, but I should have done more research. I always thought I was too smart for that sort of thing and I got so completely taken in.”

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