The Anti-MLM Coalition recently received a message from Una (not her real name). As an event organiser and genuine small business owner, it infuriates her to see MLM sellers brand themselves as such — so much so, that’s she’s asked us if she can get it all off her chest. Naturally, we are happy to oblige.
Before reading Una’s article, please remind yourself that all views presented here are those of the authors, and simply reflect their own opinions and personal experiences. Your own personal experiences with MLM companies may differ, negatively or positively.
We’ll now hand over to Una.
[Una:] Thank you!
Regardless of what an MLMer might tell you, MLMs are not small businesses. MLMers do not design, create, or market their products. MLMers do not own trademarks, copyrights, formulations, or any other intellectual property. MLMers are not artists, creators, or makers. Most MLMers don’t have business insurance, business licensing, or any of the other responsibilities associated with small business.
At best, MLMers are a low-paid contract sales force.
Occasionally, real small business people may hang MLM off of their existing small business — and usually to the detriment of that business (such as hairdressers that sling Mary Kay on the side, or directly to their real customers)…until they figure out that this was a bad decision that results in the loss of business, not improvement of business.
MLM is not a wholesale business-to-business vendor relationship either. MLMers are not paying wholesale prices, they are paying marked-up retail prices and then marking those prices up further to sell directly to the public. No one really makes money just selling the products, which is why the rare 1% of MLMers that are making money are making that from recruiting downlines to make retail purchases underneath them.
You are not “supporting moms who are trying to feed their kids” when you purchase MLM products. You are not “supporting seniors who are trying to stretch their pensions” when you purchase MLM products. You are not “supporting small businesses” when you purchase MLM products. You are supporting big corporations, and big business, and the 1% at the top of the pyramid when you purchase MLM products.
This is all very relevant to you if you are a small business person who handcrafts for a living, because MLM booths have, for many years, been a formidable presence at craft shows and hand-made events.
“What?!?!”, you say. “You mean that just because a fair or event is advertised as ‘handcrafted‘ or ‘‘local small business’, that doesn’t mean it’s true?”
That is exactly what I am saying!
So how does this happen?
There are a number of ways that MLM ends up in our handcrafted fairs and small business events. Quite often, but not always, the organizer of a fair or event will have an association with MLMs themselves — friends involved in MLM, or the organizer themselves will be involved.
Another way is that the organizer doesn’t really understand what MLM is, and may genuinely believe that these are small businesses. The organizer may also simply not care and is looking at the bottom line in regards to filling booth space just to keep the event going. Regardless of what the reasons are behind why an organizer would allow MLMs into handcrafted and local small business events — it’s bad for small business. But, it’s also bad for the lifespan of the event.
When a fair or event advertised as handcrafts or local small business ends up with a lot of MLM, eventually these fairs and events will lose traffic and cease to exist. This is because the patrons tire of seeing the same MLM vendors all of the time, instead of the crafts and small business they are actually seeking.
If the organizer of the event refuses to serve the customer base, those customers will not return to the event. An artisan who handcrafts or the local small business person who invests in booth fees that cannot be recouped will stop coming too, leaving the MLMers to circle jerk with one another. At this point, patrons stop coming altogether and the event ceases to exist.
Some event organizers may not allow a complete MLM takeover, because they understand this will eventually kill the event altogether. They may try for a ‘happy medium’ that — in their estimation — fulfils their need to fill booth space and keep the event going by allowing in a select few MLMers, and making sure the rest of the booths are actually are small business or handcrafts. This is a tactic I’ve seen at many farmers markets, in particular, but it also is a tactic used at events advertised as small business handcrafted fairs.
This ‘happy medium’ strategy, while it can keep a fair or event from collapsing entirely, can create disgruntled customers who are expecting a totally local and handcrafted event. It also really rankles the best of the handcrafters, because our experience in these kinds of events is that MLMers from the other booths will approach our tables and booths and pester us to trade products with them or attempt to pitch us. I’ve spoken with a number of handcrafters who complain that MLMers will brazenly stand outside of the handcrafted booths, and attempt to pester customers walking by or into our booths. Not all handcrafters have the personalities needed to shoo these pests away or firmly tell them NO.
But, if you are a crafter or small business who finds yourself at one of these ‘happy medium’ fairs or events, you have every right to protect your business interests by setting firm boundaries about what can or cannot go around the booth area that you have paid for. You may need to develop these skills if you show your work at these kinds of events, because otherwise it can cost you both money and reputation too if a customer thinks that you are associated in any way with MLM.
Many handcrafters are now discovering the #AntiMLMmovement, and Timeless Vie‘s MLM-Free Network. In fact, I was relieved to recently find a Facebook group of like-minded individuals, No MLM Allowed. Advocates for MLM-free Craft Fairs and Markets.
Many of us see this as another tool to help save our local small businesses. Distributing factual information about MLMs in the form of a free small flyer or card in your booth for customers to pick up and take with them is a wonderful idea to begin educating the patrons attending the fairs and events that you are at. Many of us also sell our wares online and include a page on our websites about MLM, and information resources to guide consumers is another positive strategy to support small business.
Whenever possible, encourage event organizers to avoid including MLM in events altogether. But be aware that open opposition to MLM may get you banned from an event, especially if the organizer is an MLMer or is supporting friends and family in MLM schemes.
I would personally avoid confronting an organizer — but if a fair or event was not profitable for me, I would decline to come back. An organizer may want to know why that is. Tell them the truth. The event is not profitable for you as small business handcrafter — and if they can figure out a way to make this a more profitable event for the handcrafted business owners, you would like to hear about what they have in mind. If the new business plan doesn’t involve excluding MLM, then their event is not for you.
If you are a craftsperson or local small business in need of support in the sea of MLM that is sure to invade many of our local fairs and events in the spring and summer, consider joining hands with other craftspeople and small business owners of like-mind, to strategize together about events and fairs!
Thank you to Una for sharing your opinion piece with us. BotWatch has also provided a handy Complaint Letter Template to help articulate concerns about the presence of MLMs at such events.
For those interested in further reading about why MLM is not a small business, take a look at this selection, initially noted in Elle Beau’s article You’re About to Lose Your Younique Presenter Status? It’s Really Not Your Fault:
- Dear MLM Rep: You Are Not a Small Business Owner by Sammiches & Psych Meds
- Why MLM is NOT a Business by Lazy Man & Money
- 3 Obvious Reasons You’re Not an Entrepreneur if You Work for a MLM by Anyman Fitness