My husband became a youth pastor when we were fresh out of college. His new job meant moving to a new state and settling into a church of around 400 people. I was invited to a direct sales (or multi-level-marking, MLM) party in our first month of living there. I was partially excited because I would get to know some ladies better, but I was also opposed to buying an overpriced tote bag. Insert a fellow pastor’s wife and her wise counsel. She told me she had a policy that she did not go to ANY party with a sales pitch. When she was young and in ministry she was invited to a party and declined the invite due to their tight budget. Her friend persisted and finally talked her into coming, assuring her it would be just fine if she did not buy anything. At that party, she overheard that same friend talking about how rude it was when people went to such gatherings and did not make a purchase. She decided at that moment that she was done with all direct sales. Her friendly advice saved me hundreds of dollars over the next eight years. I do not wear makeup, I have too many bags, my jewelry budget is roughly $10 a pop and I enjoy workout DVDs with a $10 price tag, so I am not really a good candidate for MLM anyways. But I realized that people thought I was a bit of jerk for not buying the obligatory products. (See all social media posts like the following, typos and all.)
As much as I love my friends and want to support their endeavors, there are many good reasons to abstain from direct sales parties.
1. My budget is tight
I know that most people start selling an MLM product to provide an extra income, so I can imagine that your money is tight too. Sure, many say they sell just because they love the product, but the tactic of many direct sales representatives is to reel you in with the offer to make money. I currently work two side jobs to add a little bit of financial stability to our home, so I completely understand why you would want the same. That said, my budget still does not have room for splurges. I think we can respect each other’s financial situations without hurting our friendship.
2. The markup is hard to swallow
Once I was tricked into going to a party. Yes, tricked. I was told the salesperson had to hold a certain number of parties to complete her training. We were just gathering for a brunch and letting someone give a sales pitch, but no one would be expected to buy anything. YEAH RIGHT! A friend and I rode together and we had both scoured the catalog for the cheapest item, but neither of us could swallow the $50 price tag for something we could pay $10 for at any drugstore. Part of my job as a stay-at-home mom is to steward our money wisely, and I just cannot swing that extra $40 when it is not necessary.
3. I worry about your finances too
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 99 percent of those who have an MLM lose money! So, my paying for overpriced goods could lead to a financial loss for you. The problem with MLMs is that they are very close to pyramid schemes. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a pyramid scheme is when a company “attempt(s) to make money solely by recruiting new participants into the program.” Many MLMs are not “technically” a pyramid scheme, but most give you more money for recruiting others into the company than for actually selling the product. Many consultants for LuLaRoe (an MLM that sells clothing, known for their leggings) told Quartz.com that their upfront investment of $5000 or more put them in debt. Many even claim their upline (those who recruited above them) encouraged them to stop paying bills and take out new credit cards to build their inventory. While I work hard to make sure my dollars count, I worry you may be swept up in these sketchy practices and end up losing money, because only one out of 100 actually makes a profit.
4. I don’t want to hurt our friendship
When I was engaged I got a phone call telling me I had won a three-day cruise, but I had to go to a sales presentation to claim it. No worries. I am pretty good at saying no (and since it was cookware that costs thousands of dollars it was exceptionally easy that day). However, they set up tables blocking the doors after the sales pitch. We were not allowed to leave until we had declined the cookware two times — after being reminded that these were honest guys just trying to put food on the table for their children. High-pressure sales situations just are not fun. Being the only one in the room who cannot buy makes me feel like a jerk, then I feel guilty, then I feel angry for being put into such a position, and then I remember that my FRIEND put me here. Is it really worth that strain to our relationship? I have a friend and a sister-in-law who have been awesome at this. Although they sell things, 95 percent of their social media posts are about their cute kids and five percent “I’m placing an order if you are interested.” They have never put me in secret groups (that I have to Google to figure out how to leave) or messaged me pretending to be interested in my life while trying to sell me something. I know that they sell and they know if I am interested I will contact them and we can still be friends. But many MLMers do not sell this way and end up losing friends.
5. If you are good at your job, you actually hurt yourself
Most MLMs give you the most profit by recruiting others. The problem (as is so beautifully illustrated here) is that you will eventually run out of people. If you get me to sell your product, we then are going after the same people to peddle our goods. If I branch out to my family and they want to join my team, that is another avenue I have tapped out for customers. We will end up running out of people and possibly ticking off our friends because their whole friend group is hitting them up for another sales party.
I hope you understand. I really love you, but I just cannot come to your direct sales party. We can still be friends, but please do not put me in an awkward spot by expecting me to buy your product. I promise to return the favor.