The following article is one of a two-part series discussing the pros and cons of multi-level marketing companies from the perspective of BYUH faculty and community members. The other article, which explains the negatives of MLMs, can be found here. This article addresses the positives of at least one of these companies, and the opinions expressed reflect that of those who expressed them and are in no way endorsed by the Ke Alaka‘i or BYU-Hawaii.
Elder M. Russell Ballard warned LDS members of speculation in get-rich quick schemes in his Oct. 2017 General Conference address.
"Do not listen to those who entice you with get-rich-quick schemes," said Ballard.
He lamented, "Our members have lost far too much money, so be careful."
Faculty from the Willes Center for International Entrepreneurship and community members disagreed on whether or not multi-level marketing companies, known as MLMs, are a scheme.
Community member Alohi Clah is a Wellness Advocate for dōTERRA, a network marketing company specializing in health and wellness through essential oils. She was quick to say she believes there is a distinct difference between MLMs and pyramid or Ponzi schemes.
"People should consider the definition of a pyramid scheme, which is there is no actual product being sold. I don't feel dōTERRA is a get-rich-quick scheme. You do have to do a lot of work to be one of the top distributors."
She said she loves her association with dōTERRA because she saw the product work for her family before she entered the business side.
"There have been a lot of people who have been bamboozled, my father being one of them. He was in a [MLM] company selling food storage. They opened the cans and there was sand in them. That was a really bad experience." She added he was living in Utah at the time.
"I know Utah is considered one of the best start up places for small businesses," said Clah. "There are a few reasons for that. There are so many languages spoken there and there are so many people that are trained in a way of selling. Return missionaries know how to sell and they're really good at it."
Clah said, "I see a lot of products out there with people who keep making [health] claims. People need to be more cautious with who they hitch their wagon to. There are a lot of people with health concerns, and they're looking for anything that will work and people just keep telling them this might work. You could go through a lot of money doing that."
Clah, who has been a Wellness Advocate since 2012, said working in network marketing has benefited through additional income with a flexible schedule.
"I like network marketing," said Clah. "It's a good niche for me. I'm a stay at home mom and I like to make friends and network with people."
Clah, a mother of seven, said she was first introduced to dōTERRA as a customer, and it was her experience with the products that interested her in the business side.
"The [health] benefits and the results had been so overwhelmingly positive that I was sharing it with a lot of people, and they were having the same benefits. I thought this is a good way for a stay at home mom to bring in a little more income."
Clah said her siblings were skeptical at first, primarily because of the experience her father had with the food storage MLM but said even her father continued to invest in network marketing companies after he was scammed.
Clah recounted how she attended other MLM meetings in the past. The people in charge would rave about the product and then at the end she would have to ask what they were selling.
"One thing I like is dōTERRA pushes the product, not the business. And the product is beneficial. It's not useless."
Clah stated she is not an expert and is careful about making claims.
"dōTERRA doesn't claim their products heal. We don’t diagnose, treat or heal any ailments. That's always been at the forefront. I understand there are some people that have made claims that got them into trouble with the FDA."
According to Deseret News, in 2014 the FDA warned dōTERRA to change their marketing after distributors were reported to be making claims that certain dōTERRA oils and products could cure or prevent the Ebola virus.
"My training has always been we don't make those claims," said Clah. "There are people in any company who will lie and cheat their way to make more money."
Earl questioned why companies would need network marketing to distribute their product, rather than selling straight to consumers.
Clah explained, "The main reason I've heard for dōTERRA is they wanted to make sure people were educated on how to use the oils. They didn’t just want people to buy them and then just have them sit on a shelf. "
Clah said she tries not to overload her friends and family with information about dōTERRA. She said she is not afraid to tell people what she does. She sells her essential oils to friends and at the Farmers Markets held on campus.
"I'm sure there are people that have been put off by me selling dōTERRA. That’s part of life. I’m not hurt by that," said Clah.
Although many of the people she has approached are not interested in her holistic solutions, Clah said she believes things are changing in the U.S. specifically.
"Americans are kind of behind on integrative health care. In China and Europe, you can go to a pharmacy and see holistic and pharmaceutical [products] right in the same store."
More people are turning to holistic products and integrative health solutions because of the price of medicine and health insurance, but Clah believes it has more to do with user dissatisfaction with pharmaceutical products, she said.
"I think in general there are people who just aren’t happy with the results they’re getting from pharmaceuticals. If people were getting the results they were expecting without side effects, then people wouldn’t be looking to holistic solutions."
CJ Stermetz, a former dōTERRA corporate employee majoring in finance at BYU at Provo, said during a phone interview dōTERRA is a great company to work for on the corporate side.
"They pay really well and they even have benefits," said Stermetz, who worked with distributors to maximize their commissions as an account manager.
"There are so many MLMs that are bad, especially the finance ones, but dōTERRA isn't one of them," said Stermetz.
Clah and Stermetz both said dōTERRA's humanitarian aid initiative, Healing Hands, is part of what makes the company so appealing to customers and potential business partners.