NewsFox 13 Investigates


Multi-Level Mecca: Utahns who succeeded and failed at MLM efforts share their stories

Posted at 10:19 PM, Nov 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-12 00:19:29-05

These stories are parts 3 and 4 of Multi-Level Mecca, a series of investigative reports from Fox 13 News. Click here for parts 1 and 2.

SALT LAKE CITY -- While Utah may be home to more multi-level marketing companies than any other state, that doesn’t meant succeeding with an MLM is easy in the Beehive State.

In fact, there are factors that make it particularly difficult, including the presence of so many MLMs.

Related: Resources and research on Multi-Level Marketing

That’s one reason Nicole Lopez was determined to keep her family and friends out of her MLM life when she signed up with Herbalife, a nutrition MLM based in Los Angeles.

“I talked to people in Europe. I didn’t have to talk to my friends and family,” Lopez said.

Nicole joined the MLM world hoping to work from her modest condominium in Springville. Her little boy was a newborn, and she wanted to be home with him and the other children she hoped to have. At the same time, she knew that the family needed the second income she earned as an office manager.

Still, she didn’t want her personal life to turn into a series of potential sales meetings. She feared the same thing would happen to her that happened to Jon Taylor when he spent a year selling products for Utah’s largest MLM, Nu Skin.

“It was affecting all of our relationships, everybody within three feet of you is a prospect, and so people were avoiding us,” Taylor said, describing a conversation in which his wife demanded he stop.

Both Herbalife and Nu Skin provided FOX 13 with written statements saying their companies do not employ high-pressure tactics and abide by strict ethical guidelines.

For Nicole, though, the pressure felt intense. She had several people in what is called her “upline,” a term describing the distributors who benefit from Nicole’s sales and recruiting, in a growing “team.”

“It was an all or nothing thing for me because I thought, 'Either I'm going to do this fast and replace my income, or I'm going to have two jobs that I'm working,'" Lopez said.

Lopez found herself getting deeper in debt: A thousand dollars for a packet of sales leads, a couple thousand a month in product to sell so she could start making commission checks. Soon, she says she had $10,000 in credit card debt and had to get out.

One couple's success story

Parts 1 and 2 of our investigation go over some of the earnings numbers for major multi-level marketers. The clear conclusion is that most people don’t make a commission and a very few people advance to the highest levels that lead to incomes that might replace a good, full-time job.

Going into it with that in mind though, we found people who love their Multi-Level experience and feel like it rejuvenated their lives at home and work (which is largely at home.)

Exhibit 1: Laura and Spencer Pettit. The Pettits started using doTerra oils as a favor to friends who had just started as Wellness Advocates (doTerra’s term for independent distributors.)

"It took me months before I would even admit to people that I was doing multilevel marketing,” said Spencer, sitting next to his wife on a couch in the office building on doTerra’s expansive Pleasant Grove campus.

It may have taken months to admit it, but the Pettits also report it took just months to replace the income Spencer had been making as a marketing director with a local company.

The Pettits describe the change as a Godsend, giving them a career where they feel like they are helping people get healthier physically, spiritually and financially.

And Laura says the first life they saw transformed was their own.

“He worked 15, 16, 17 hours a day. He hardly saw our children,” Laura said.

But the Pettits make clear they work overtime, even if it is on their own schedule.

"Really, network marketing requires day in, day out commitment, just as if you put a shop in on Main Street,” Spencer said.

To do the job and be full-time parents, they home school their children, traveling together sometimes for weeks at a time so they can recruit new members of their doTerra “team” and support current members.

Along with looking at the Pettits, Part 4 asks the question, why Utah?

We put this question to every person we interviewed.

Dave Stirling praised the diversity of language training available with returned missionaries of the LDS Church.

MLM critic and author Jon Taylor talked about the trusting and close-knit communities fostered by the LDS Church. He’s a devout Mormon himself.

Nicole Lopez, the former Herbalife distributor, talked about the prevalence of stay at home mothers. Utah has more than any other state, sharing the distinction with Arizona according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Spencer and Laura Pettit talk about the “Green Jello Belt” of communities in the Intermountain West that foster entrepreneurial attitudes, a strong work ethic, and openness to natural products.

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