Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Haunted by Amway

Being self-employed, I find work by networking with other business people wherever I go. But the last thing I expected was to be approached for a business opportunity 3500 miles from home!

I am in Toronto a couple of times a year on family visits and am always on the lookout for programmers to work for me. But on this occasion, instead of a programmer, I got a business proposal. In fact, it was a proposal that was originally presented to me ten years ago. It took a while till I clicked as the guy speaking to me took about an hour to get to the point. When it takes this long you start wondering..."Am I too slow to understand what they're saying? or is it that they're too scared to spell it out?" Anyway, as the meeting wore on, the letters that began to materialise were

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Amway is a multilevel marketing scheme where someone sponsors you to distribute the company's range of products. You then sell a few of these products but the main thrust of your business is to sponsor new business associates who also distribute the products. Once your business associates in turn start sponsoring new distributors you finally start making money.

The guy trying to recruit me was promoting the sister company / parent company of Amway: Quixtar and Alticor. In fact he claimed that Quixtar / Alticor was the largest e-commerce operation in the world. Doing a quick search on the internet, I couldn't find any facts to back it up. Unfortunately most of what I did find on Amway / Quixtar / Alticor was a set of results that speak for themselves:

1. There is which as the name suggests is written by an ex-Amway distributor and lists all the lawsuits Amway have launched against "dissidents" who have spoken out against the system.
2. There is the Skepdic's Dictionary which lists itself as "A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions".
3. Finally, Amway: The Untold Story is packed with facts, opinions and articles critical of the Amway experience.

There are numerous other sites that I could mention but there is too little space here. What I will say is that most of what I've read is true:

a) At meetings, they spend about an hour telling you about how you can change your lifestyle, get rich, go on constant vacations (together with other Amway couples), destroy your alarm clock so you never have to get up for work again, but it takes them ages to get round to telling you about the actual business opportunity.
b) The meetings do have a very religious, almost cult like feel to them and everyone you meet has "seen the light". You have to dress smartly (double breasted suit) as though you are going to a house of worship, and everyone toes the party line. (Even in a house of worship you find a few religious scpetics!) There is definitely an atmosphere in the meetings that there are the "Amway" people who have seen the light, and there are the rest of us.
c) You are encouraged to spend more time with the Amway crowd and less time with commoners. Amway is extremely family oriented with the vast majority of the senior and direct distributors being couples. As with many religions, marriage is an ideal because as a couple, you can reinforce each others beliefs.
d) The regular meetings are very expensive and their prohibitive cost can only be explained by the fact that someone somewhere is making a very handsome profit.
e) There are a few very wealthy people who are making money from the network, most of the distributors have aspirations without ever getting there.
f) At Amway meetings, they claim that it isn't a "get rich quick" scheme, but it certainly is a "get rich scheme". And as with all the "get rich schemes", you have to offer a good product that people want if you want to make money. The people I sold Amway products to later confided that the products were awful and only bought them because they felt sorry for me.

There are several other observations I made about Amway which didn't make sense: The fact that you can only buy products from your "upline", that is the guy who sponsors you. In my case, it meant travelling 15 miles to the other side of London when I could have bought from his distributor who lived less than a mile away. The fact that most of your business revolves around finding new sponsor new sponsor new distributors....makes you wonder whether anyone actually sells anything. The products themselves are hardly even mentioned. And then there is the constant pressure to buy books tapes and go to meetings week in week out. Before long, it all costs a fortune.

I was in Amway for two years but most of the time I was inactive: None of my friends were convinced by the presentations, I didn't have any answers to their questions, and finally, the sums just didn't add up. I didn't lose a lot of money as I wasn't prepared to buy all the books and go to all the meetings. Although Amway sell their plan as "running your business", the distributors I met had a very strong "employee mentality". My observations were that they deferred towards a strong hierarcy rather than make their own decisions, they wanted to give up working (which is why they wanted to make money quickly), and they had little interest in Entepreneurship.

Whereas most successful businessmen have a unique idea, they work hard, and they keep going, long after they've "made it". Not because they have to but because they want to.