Arts & Features Writer
While many multilevel marketing companies reinforce ‘pyramid scheme’ reputation, some local women achieve success and independence through the industry, disproving negative stigma.
Social media mogul and Asheville native, Marni Stockhausen quit her full-time job, moved out of her ex in-law’s basement and now lives a successful life working in the top 1% of the network marketing company, Younique Corporate. After initially declining to join the business, the 26-year-old influencer said she finally overcame hesitation and preconceived notions about network marketing or ‘pyramid schemes,’ joining the company in 2017.
“I was scarred from Mary Kay parties where they’d be like ‘Can we just have a party?’ And I’m like, ‘I would rather jump into the Pacific Ocean with cuts all over my body and cinder blocks tied to my feet. That’s how much I want to come to your party.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing that, I’m not putting people through that, that’s not me,’” she said.
Stockhausen said her desire to transform her life outweighed her fears and limitations.
“For a while I was smoking a pack of cigs a day, drinking box wine on the porch of a shitty ass apartment for like two years, and then I was like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to buy nice things,’” the young entrepreneur said.
As a charismatic, fresh face on social media, Stockhausen quickly acquired followers and built her business by sharing her lifestyle, magnetic personality and Younique makeup products with her fanbase. She said she never approaches others about the company, attracting her followers organically.
Stockhausen’s social media strategy proves successful, as she now shares her lifestyle and products with more than 30 thousand Instagram followers.
“I don’t really bring it up, I just let them come across it. I’ll have people come up to me at TJ Maxx and be like ‘Hey have you ever heard of Mary Kay?’ and I’ll be like ‘I don’t know, have you ever heard of George Washington?’” she said. “All you do is post pictures. Post a selfie and you’re doing your job.”
Rachel Kaplan, 35, also approached the network marketing industry hesitantly. She now credits her financial and personal freedom to the vegan skincare and wellness company, Arbonne.
“I didn’t know too much about network marketing at all. I had the same stigma everyone else did, which was ‘Is it a pyramid scheme?’ I was kind of terrified of the idea of selling to my family and friends and I was also really busy at the time I heard about this opportunity,” Kaplan said.
Before joining Arbonne, she lived paycheck-to-paycheck working at a monotonous retail job, teaching 15 yoga classes a week and attending night school to achieve a nutrition degree while struggling to pay her bills in New York City. In 2013, a client at the retail store approached her about Arbonne, enticing Kaplan to learn more.
“What I was drawn to was the woman who introduced it to me, Leah Wagner Leonard,” she said. “She was my age, had her shit together, had her finances in order and was able to focus on her passion which was acting. She didn’t seem stressed out or like she was burning the candle at both ends, and I was feeling like that. I was super stressed about money and never felt like I was living to my fullest potential.”
Arbonne district manager sponsored by Kaplan, Jordan Reyes said Leonard proves sincere, genuine and caring toward her team. However, many professionals representing a company rarely display the stressful aspects and pressure the industry brings.
“For those of us working our way up, you kind of have to fake it until you make it. People aren’t going to want to hear that I’ve reached district manager three times and I’ve been doing this business for three years and I’m still at the bottom. People don’t want to hear that because they’re like ‘If it’s not working for you then it’s not going to work for me.’ So you do have to kind of fake it. And they put pressure on you because if you show that side, it’ll turn people away,” Reyes said.
Kaplan said after researching Arbonne and network marketing, she realized she wanted to buy the products anyway and found the business model brilliant. The company’s ingredient and lifestyle philosophy aligned with her dream to help others achieve their best, healthiest lives. Kaplan became an Arbonne consultant in 2013– a decision she said changed her path for the best.
“We moved from New York City to Asheville and bought a house because of my Arbonne business. And honestly, I get to decide how I’m going to live my life.”
Kaplan consistently reaps success simply by sharing products she believes in. Her Arbonne business provides residual income, allowing her freedom to train for marathons, teach less yoga classes and organize wilderness retreats to help others discover their authentic selves.
“Network marketing is word of mouth marketing,” Kaplan said. “How often are you recommending a movie, or a restaurant or a hairdresser? We recommend services and products all the time to our friends and family. Things that we trust, things that we use and love, we’re going to recommend those out. That’s actually selling. When you recommend a movie, you’re actually selling that movie. Now the question is, are those producers and directors of that movie sending you a commission check? No.”
Isagenix representative of five years and UNC Asheville alumna, Sara Kate Eubanks said she accumulated income by sharing nutrition products, while most consumers constantly recommend products and services with nothing in return.
“The grocery store doesn’t pay you to share, Earth Fare doesn’t pay you, Whole Foods doesn’t pay you and people get an Amazon Prime account thinking blueberries on sale is some kind of great deal. I get $200 worth in nutritional products every month. I’m not getting $200 from Whole Foods. It’s a win,” Eubanks said.
She said the network marketing industry welcomes those willing to work hard, practice self-discipline and grow personally to achieve success.
“Educate yourself about the industry, be willing to work hard. I think there’s a personality component to it, but most importantly there’s a mindset component. It’s the most important. I’ve always been growth driven but it threw me into growth like nothing else ever had before,” Eubanks said. “No one is going to show up to do the work but yourself. And you don’t have to do the work. And you can talk yourself out of doing the work and you can freak yourself out about what people think, or who you are, or what your beliefs are about yourself. So you really have to stretch yourself and grow yourself and shift your identities around yourself.”
Kaplan said network marketers face daily objection, but she hears ‘no’ as motivation rather than discouragement.
“There’s room for growth there. You get objections, you get no’s, you get hit a little bit, you get frustrated a little bit but there’s room for growth there. How can I learn from this experience? How do I grow?” she said.
Stockhausen also advocates a powerful mindset. She said she teaches her Younique team tips for handling rejection by adjusting thoughts and powering forward.
“I’ll say ‘Close your eyes and envision a triangle. What color is it?’ I’ll walk them through all these different things. I’ll say ‘If you can switch from a triangle to an orange circle, like that, why is it so hard for you to let the ‘no’ go?’ It’s all about your mindset. People get so hung up on that ‘no,’” she said.
Eubanks said most reputable network marketing companies do not scam employees, providing financial longevity and stability for hard workers. She still benefits from working hard in the industry although she no longer actively builds her Isagenix business and mainly enjoys the products herself. Thanks to her established client base, she remains on the payroll.
“If it’s such a fraud, why would I still be bringing in income when I’m not doing anything?” she said. “The human brain just goes to this negative place about everything, and the human brain wants to be skeptical about everything. It’s a primal protective thing. They just go to this place of distrust, but it doesn’t make any sense because if your friends were like ‘I just had the best cocktail at Little Jumbo,’ They’d be there in two seconds. What’s the difference?”
She speaks positively of network marketing, also acknowledging certain company’s downfalls which contribute the industry’s somewhat faulty repute. She said consumers and potential network marketing professionals must practice caution and research companies.
“There’s no scheme, those are illegal. That is a completely invalid perception. However, there are companies who are not as well run and people do need to make sure they’re choosing a company they can feel safe and secure about. The company you align with is important. You can’t just hop on any bandwagon and be successful,” Eubanks said. “With anything, there are good companies and there are bad companies. There are companies that overpromise and underdeliver and there have been a lot of companies who have let people down. Not in an illegal way, just in a structured way.”
Reyes said network marketing companies scam participants when consultant paychecks consist mostly of new members’ investment fees, or when companies deliver subpar products to high-paying customers.
“Lularoe, they have a lot of warehouses where their clothes are just sitting and they’re not made very well. You can buy a pair of Lularoe leggings and three weeks later they have holes in them. They’re sitting in a warehouse and they’re molding, and you have to sign up with like $5,000 down in an investment into that company to be a consultant. They have inventory so you literally have a closet full of Lularoe and then you have to resell it,” Reyes said. “My friend worked for Lularoe. And still two years later – this was right when I started my Arbonne business that she was getting out of Lularoe- she’s still posting things to her facebook trying to sell her products to get rid of her inventory from her initial sign up. She’s having a hard time getting rid of it.”
Kaplan said consumers should be skeptical of companies requesting significant financial sacrifice, but companies with positive repute may hold a set for everyone at the top of the pyramid.
“If you have to buy in with over a thousand dollars to start a business, it’s a red flag. In Arbonne, to start a business is $49. It’s a low-risk start,” she said. “Think about corporate America and how there’s a CEO of a company. You’ve got top management and you’ve got all the employees underneath. That to me seems like more of a pyramid scheme than what we do, because how likely is it for an employee to become a CEO of that company? Highly unlikely. In Arbonne and in network marketing, you are the CEO of your business and you can get to the top of the company.”
While Reyes enjoys her current Arbonne sponsor and district manager position, she said her previous sponsor exhibited selfish, shady behavior, benefiting herself rather than allowing Reyes to benefit from her efforts. She said she first felt alarmed when her sponsor demanded Reyes sign up a potential consultant as a client in order to reach a quota, receiving a monthly bonus from Reyes’ hard work.
Reyes reacted adversely to the gesture, deeming the sponsor’s actions ill-intentioned and unfair. She said she frowns upon riding coattails because achievements in the network marketing industry cultivate through grit and withstanding rejection. While Reyes says her job helps her grow and gain confidence, success may come with a price.
“I get ignored, I lose friendships sometimes because there is that bad vibe of multilevel marketing or being a pyramid scheme,” Reyes said. “The biggest thing is that network marketing attracts lazy people. They expect to sit on thir butt and do nothing exept talk to a few people on the phone and make thousands of dollars instantly. If you read through scam websites, those people didn’t do anything with their work. They signed up, didn’t do the work and then got mad that they didn’t make money.
Reyes realistically acknowledges downfalls of the industry, saying success may be achieved working with a reputable company and having endurance and an indestructable attitude.
Stockhausen said overcoming objections, stepping outside of her comfort zone and staying consistent in the network marketing industry- even in the wake of challenge- lifted financial burdens, allowing her to live a life of stability and opportunity.
“I’ve been broke,” she said. “If you think working hard and staying consistent is really hard, try being broke. That’s hard.”