MLM at Craft Shows and Handmade Events = Bad for Small Businesses

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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.

Photo by Mark Dalton from Pexels

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.

Photo by Surene Palvie from Pexels

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!

~ Una

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:

Cover Image by Dane Deaner on

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  1. Wow what a chock full of pathetic lies and whining up the wazoo. Anyone working a booth at an event regardless of their business must practice proper etiquette and when working, stay in their booths and promote & sell their products.
    Aside from that there are no shortage of individuals in direct sales/network marketing who earn a meaningful extra income by just retailing their products, no shortage at all. Of course earning a massive income in this profession which I have been in full time since 1990 and have practiced 100% stellar ethics and etiquette, requires a great deal of effort in building a sales/marketing team just as if I were to go after the big bucks in the insurance field for example.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the network marketing business model. As many informed individuals are aware, Warren Buffet owns 3-4 companies that utilize the proven power of person to person word of mouth advertising. Also several insurance outfits use the model and hey, ever hear of Keller Williams Realty??? yep, they use a network marketing/mlm business model as well.
    Trust me I’ve been dragged to a few arts and craft shows over the years, not the wisest bunch I’ve ever come across and no shortage of unethical folks that are found in any and all businesses.

    1. Aside from that there are no shortage of individuals in direct sales/network marketing who earn a meaningful extra income by just retailing their products, no shortage Aside from that there are no shortage of individuals in direct sales/network marketing who earn a meaningful extra income by just retailing their products, no shortage at all.

      A bare-faced lie, and the repetitious “no shortage, no shortage at all” shows how desperate a lie it is. The only way to make money in MLM is by recruiting others into the scheme. Every product sold by an MLM has a cheaper competitor of equal quality that does not have to build MLM commissions and admin into the price. Direct sales to customers outside the scheme are therefore virtually non-existent.

      Of course earning a massive income in this profession which I have been in full time since 1990 and have practiced 100% stellar ethics and etiquette, requires a great deal of effort in building a sales/marketing team just as if I were to go after the big bucks in the insurance field for example.

      The difference is that if I built up an insurance business with a sales and marketing team, everyone on my sales and marketing team would get paid a salary. If I was using the network marketing model, typically 99% of them would be paid virtually nothing, or lose money working for me.
      Nobody cares what Warren Buffet invests in. This is a blog about MLMs, not prudent investment.

      1. I SAID that retailing can make one a nice ‘extra income’

        Which is a lie as it is impossible to make extra income from retailing overpriced products with MLM commissions and admin built into the price. The only way to generate significant (> minimum wage) income from MLM is by recruiting.

        and for the larger financial earnings, then you build a sales team just like if one was building an insurance sales team.

        No, not “just like”. If I am building a sales team in a conventional insurance business, my insurance products will be competitively priced and all of my sales team will make money, as long as they’re competent salespeople. If I am recruiting people into an MLM scheme, 99% will be paid virtually nothing or will lose money.

        Btw Einstein, 99% of all insurance agents are on a commission only pay plan.

        Even if that’s true where you are, it’s irrelevant if they are not part of an MLM scheme. If they are selling insurance from a non-MLM company, the insurance will be competitively priced and they will have a reasonable hope of making commission. (They won’t hang around for long if they don’t.) If they are selling MLM insurance, the premiums will be twice as high as rival insurers because of the need to build in MLM commissions. This means that nobody will buy the insurance unless they are connected to the MLM scheme. And 99% of the agents will not make any money unless they recruit.

    2. About Warren Buffet. It makes good business sense to own an MLM. He wouldn’t have to pay wages or healthcare or training or any of the normal business expenses. He gets a free workforce that buy the products. These MLM CEOs are the winners. It is everyone who joins that loses.

  2. I make a very good income with my(mlm)business. People should worry about their selves and not what other people are doing. That’s what’s wrong with this world today! I work very hard at my business and no one is going to tell me it’s right or it’s wrong. I make 3 times more a year than I did at my job! And I do it all from my home I spend time with my kids my grandkids and we go on vacation 1 week a month. Try doing that at your job. I didn’t get there overnight it took some time to do it but now that I did all the hard work at the beginning it’s all paying off now. Retiring from Corporate America at 50 is awesome I love it!

    1. Stooooooooop lying. If your life is that great, you wouldn’t be on here looking at anti-mlm articles. You’d be laughing about how rich you are, over a Sex on the Beach cocktail, sunning it up in the Maldives! “People should worry about their selves and not what other people are doing” take a leaf out of your own book and fuck off!

      1. This a thousand times. Why oh why if MLM is so wonderful aren’t they on vacay sunning themselves on the best beaches in the world showing us pathetic craftspeople and artists what lowly trash we are working for a living? lol

    2. Hi granny,
      The point of the article is that these people who showcase handmade items at craft fairs are worrying about “their selves”.
      When MLMs have booths in a handmade craft events, people who would have shopped at these events don’t come back to the events because MLM items are not handmade.
      Why would anyone want to go back to a craft show when they see 20 high pressure booths selling non-handmade garbage?
      Your MLM “business” is actually hurting real local and small businesses.
      Maybe if you focused on the point of the article, rather than trying to brag about being able to take unpaid vacations you would understand why people don’t want MLMs in craft fairs.

      1. Then find more arts & crafts people to step up and either pay for more booths or start your own shows and keep things in your itty bitty circles.

    3. Lindsey, you are not retired from ‘Corporate America’. The company you work for is a big American corporation with a rich CEO at the top. You are bringing in money for the company on a commission only basis with no protections that employees would get.

      I am suspicious of your holiday each month. Do you work for an MLM that sells holidays? Are you a customer of the company, pouring your money into it and telling yourself it is an investment?

      Please keep a close eye on your income and expenses and watch that you don’t spend more than you earn.

    4. Did you make your product though? If the answer is no you do NOT belong at a handmade show or an arts & Crafts one (MLMs are neither an art form nor a craft). Period.

  3. Great article!
    This reminds me of the poisonous effect a certain MLM had on a local farmer’s market. I have to admit that I can’t prove anything(unlike MLMers who expect you to accept their lies as facts), but when there are three farmer’s markets in an area and the one that was open to MLM went under, it gets you thinking.
    I remember it well because this happened last summer. In the farmer’s market in town 1, no MLM in sight, it’s thriving, and everyone seems to be happy. The farmer’s market in town 2, again, it’s thriving and everyone is happy, there’s even live music and no MLM in sight. Now there’s the farmer’s market in town 3, where at first it seemed everything was just wonderful and it was thriving, but week after week attendance kept going down. Eventually it became a “ghost town” farmer’s market. The biggest difference between this town’s farmer’s market and the others was the presence of representatives from a big MLM health product company. Right in the middle of everything. And these representatives did not look happy. The organizers didn’t look happy either, and the same can be said for most of the sellers.
    Besides attendance going down, the number of booths also went down as a result: There were maybe 15 booths in the beginning, to maybe 6 when I last went by(rough estimates). And this event often had live music(he eventually disappeared as attendance fell).
    I don’t know if this MLM poisoned the reputation of the farmer’s market, but it does seem like a real possibility, especially when you consider that the other farmer’s markets just a few miles away didn’t suffer from the same problems.
    Regardless, we definitely need to get the word out that MLM has NOTHING in common with farmers, artists or craftspeople selling their products at markets and events.

    1. If you’re a customer who likes local produce and there’s three farmers’ markets within easy reach, are you going to go to the ones with genuine local businesses, or the one with MLM-bots blathering on about how you should join their scheme and how much money they make while trying to sell you absolute crap?

      If you’re a local business with three farmers’ markets within easy reach, are you going to go to the one where consumers want to go, or the one with MLM-bots blathering on about how you should join their scheme and how much money they make while rugby-tackling the increasingly small number of consumers who come anywhere near your stall?

      I know whether the MLM poisoned the reputation of your farmer’s market.

    1. Says the Avon rep. What’s wrong with actually opening your mind, and listening to the crux of the matter? MLMs are not small businesses. MLMs are harmful to genuine small businesses. Very simple.

  4. ooooooh looks like I totally hit a bossbabe and bossbro nerve with my article! Ha! Come at me MLMers! You guys DO NOT belong at our handcrafted fairs and local small business events.
    And I’ll tell you why you do what you do coming to our fairs and events: Because you know that an event stacked with nothing but MLM circle jerking results in ZERO customers every time. No one shows up for events they know are mostly MLM. You guys are envious of the real artists and craftspeople and think you can chip off of our customer base. No way in hell that will ever happen. You may be able to kill an event, but you cannot convince the customer base for the artists and handcrafters that your dumb MLM garbage is worth their wallets! HA HA HA

  5. As a photographer who offered my work on the art fair circuit for about 12 years, I agree that products or services offered by MLM companies should not be allowed at shows that restrict exhibitors to those that produce what they offer.
    Almost{St everything this writer says about MLM, however is not true.

    1. You know I looked at your website. I overlooked all of the MLM spam and just tried to judge your site and your motivation and talent based on everything else. Here’s what I think: Get out of MLM, you are too smart and too talented. Start a business making your own jewelry or something else you love. A business that is truly YOURS. You can do it. You don’t need this MLM crap and you are doomed to fail if you stay in it.

  6. Gosh, I just hope one of the MLM defenders will shut the argument down by posting their 1099 and outgoings and ingoings. Data is precise and makes great evidence. I pray a few of them will take this opportunity to put the argument to rest. Otherwise, well, I guess it’s a bit like puffery. Or lying. Definitely lying. Prove your making bank or shut up.

    1. Heather here again. I forgot to add that I’m a Christian, charity organizer, and all around humble saint.

  7. One notable difference between the pro-MLMers/MLM apologists and anti-MLMers is that this group actually lets all the comments stay. Even the vulgar ones. Even the rude ones. On the other hand, the MLM supporters can’t delete negative information fast enough when they control the medium it’s posted too. Even when it’s respectful and based on factual news – you know, like the MLMs own financial disclosure statement which inevitably shows that their sellers aren’t making much at all. Not a living wage. Not even minimum wage. Most lose money in fact.

    1. Exactly, Heather. Us critics of MLM can afford to have open forums that tolerate even the nastiest of MLM apologists because we have facts and logic on our side. Pro-MLM forums have to heavily censor views critical of MLM because MLM is a house of cards that can’t withstand even the slightest criticism. Inadvertently, the MLM apologists are doing our work for us; it can be highly instructive for lurkers who are on the fence about MLM seeing pro-MLM views and anti-MLM views juxtaposed as they are in the comments.

    2. Heather, I don’t think you realized there’s some major irony in your posts here

      “I hope someone will brag about how much (non-existent) income their making to shut all these people up”

      And in the same breath “I’m a humble Christian”

      Hypocritical much? If you were “humble” about this like you claim you wouldn’t be itching for someone to “prove us wrong” you wouldn’t be itching for someone to brag about their wealth. In fact if you were humble you’d probably see how greedy and egotistical the ones at the top of your pyramid actually are and would choose not to associate with them.

      Besides didn’t Jesus dislike the kings and Pharisees in part because they flaunted their wealth around and made temples little stores to sell their overpriced products? Just saying, he wasn’t opposed to flipping those scammers tables.

      Perhaps you should open up your mind and listen to others instead of wanting to shut them down, and maybe you should read the book you claim to follow, You should have some time since your not working a 9-5, because you clearly don’t understand what your faith is based around (I.e: maybe scamming others into a system to take their money for your own greed as you watch them flounder isn’t exactly, ya know, Christ-like)

  8. Krishna, you are confusing a hierarchy with a pyramid scheme. In a heirarchy, there are differening levels of skills and responsibilities. More skills, experience, and qualifications equals more responsibility and pay. In pyramid schemes/ MLM people have to recruit people to recruit people to recruit…. the people who bring in more people and are higher up earn more. The ones who always earn are the CEOs who actually own the company.

    Every self-employed person should be very familiar with this form, and judge their success from what the bottom line literally says:
    The ultimate proof of your business success is the bottom line on your Schedule C. Unfortunately, many mlmers don’t even know what that is.
    And by the way, as a Christian, I abhor how the Bible is used by these schemes to lure people in.
    Also by the way, “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.”
    Thank you. That is all. Cheers!

  10. I’m a (former) vendor of jewelry at craft fairs. Only all of the jewelry I sell is handmade by me and I only use glass, shell, or gemstones.
    When I compete with MLM jewelry that is often poor quality (lots of plastic, metals that turn your skin green, falls apart easily, etc), it makes my product look bad. Someone who sews clothes doesn’t want to be next to a table selling Lula Roe leggings that fall apart prior to the first wash.
    Also as a customer, I could care less about your faith (or lack thereof). In fact it might turn me away as a customer because I don’t like proselytizing.

  11. I concur with mlm police. The comments are the most enjoyable part.
    My favourite being someone trying to use religion to shill overpriced junk. Honorable mention to the guy who is sooooo professional, then calls someone who disagrees with him an inbred.
    Fab article.

  12. Sorry I’m late to the party, but found Poonique along with a lot of friends and we’ve been cackling over it.

    I do support my Mary Kay man. Because he is a MAN and indeed gay and we indeed in a gay-centric city in Southern California.

    The best example of how clueless MLM at any kind of paid-booth show is, is our local comic-con two years ago. Two Scentsy mommies set up a table at a con. A SF/fantasy/Comics/Anime pop-culture con. They looked like deer in the headlights every time we walked by them, and I don’t think they made a single sale, mostly because the TRULY handcrafted candle/oil/diffuser people who were about two tables down were marketing their products correctly to the audience (lots of dragons, etc) and were doing land-office business. But we all just crack up at the Scentsy mommies at totally the WRONG show for them and those booths ain’t cheap.

  13. As a business professional (20 years as a Controller and 10 as an HR Manager), along with 4 degrees in business, and working on my doctorate in business currently, I feel that I’m somewhat qualified to speak about what is and isn’t a “small business”. First of all to give a measured response, there are good points on both sides of the argument. I will comment that the majority of small businesses in the US fail within the first 5 years, so whether those are artisans or MLM’s, unless they understand how to run a profitable business the likelihood is they won’t succeed. In addition, pyramid schemes are illegal, and the majority of MLM’s are now set up as most traditional organizations are…Amazon, Target, etc where the masses of employees make barely above minimum wage and the CEO’s are compensated above what should be appropriate for any firm – traditional or MLM. In addition, at over 80% of events nationwide, MLM’s pay a higher rate to participate than artisans do, specifically because artisans wares are more labor intensive and supply heavy than MLM products are. While you may disagree or dispute anything I’ve written, I’ve devoted the past 2 years to research on MLM’s – both the positives and negatives for my dissertation, so my facts are exactly that and are based on well over 200 peer reviewed articles and interviews with 30 organizations.

    1. I’d be very interested to read the peer reviewed “articles” Wendy, perhaps you’d be prepared to share your list of 200 of articles? Many of us at the Coalition are very used to analysing academic studies and have come to our position about MLMs from many years of studying their operation and the outcomes for individuals signing up. We all have professional backgrounds which contribute to the skills we can apply to grappling with the many ways ways MLMs deceive.

      I’m afraid you need to talk to your doctoral supervisor if you have failed to understand the fundamental differences between MLM and, for example, Amazon. Your post shows all the basic misunderstands and I fear your internal bias my have got in the way of your research. If you are going to claim that you are in possession of “the facts” then we really need to see your sources.

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