I’m comforted to know I’m not the only one to get bamboozled by MLM schemes.
Many followers have been kind enough to contact me to share their experiences with MLMs – previously, a lady called Emily was kind enough to share her Ann Summers fiasco with me.
Now, UK-based follower Jessi [not her real name] has asked for her Arbonne story to be shared with you all.
It is so important for more people to speak out – you could help someone else from losing money, friends and dignity (and eventually bring about the demise of MLM – here’s to hoping!). Your anonymity is always guaranteed.
From an emotional perspective, I found this particular story difficult to read. Although we were a part of different MLMs, our experiences were painfully similar – as you know from my blog, I have been brutally honest with what I dealt with, but I found it difficult to know this lady had been through the same. However, Jessi has told her story in a powerful way, and it deserves its place in the anti-MLM movement.
Read her not quite fairy-tale below. Memes added by yours truly. 😉
[Jessi:] After stumbling across Elle’s brilliant documentary of her #Poonique story (and finding myself nodding along in agreement/horror at the similarities to my own Arbonne experience), I felt compelled to write down my own story to share with you all.
Thankfully I was only involved for a few months and managed to escape relatively drama-free, only kicking myself for wasting a lot of money on overpriced “miracle” products, and of course a few embarrassing attempts to get people to buy things. Having read other stories of people getting preyed upon whilst really vulnerable and losing money, friendship, and going through a lot of stress, I just feel so disgusted that the MLM train is allowed to choo-choo on, causing so much destruction in its path.
So, on to my experience…
A friend I had worked with years ago (Aspen) got in touch asking to meet up for a catch-up as it had been a while (this wasn’t unusual as we were good friends, but general uselessness meant we’d only get round to seeing each other once or twice a year). I’d just moved to a new area and I was keen to reconnect with old friends, as previously I’d been living quite far away.
We met up, we chatted, and she thumbed into the conversation the “new business opportunity” she’d become involved with – a cosmetics company that I’d never heard of, called Arbonne.
Apparently it had been around for 30+ years, making these amazing premium products that didn’t contain any of the nasties that you get in mainstream brands. She’d set up her own business to sell these items directly, and because they weren’t being stocked via a shop or website, the commission from her sales were going directly to her!
Aspen had only been working her business for a few weeks but she’d already made “a few hundred quid”. However, the most amazing thing was that our other former colleague, Aimee (who I vaguely remembered from a different department), had been doing it a few more months than her and was already making £500 a month! More excitingly, this was was paying for the mortgage on her new house!
Aspen explained about how networking marketing was going to be the future of business, due to the rise of social media – the way it was pitched, some of it made sense to be honest. She had a presentation that was fairly slick and made it all seem pretty straightforward and easy to understand.
She showed me the business plan, structure and how it all worked.
“Don’t worry though, hun, it is NOT A PYRAMID SCHEME. I know it might look like a pyramid, but all companies are structured like a pyramid anyway aren’t they hun! There’s always a person at the top!”
She certainly made it sound like easy money – it was only taking a couple of hours a week up of her time and was only around £60-ish to register as an Independent Arbonne Consultant. She thought it would be great for us to work together and both get our fancy white Mercedes to swan around in by the end of the year.
I must admit, I was sceptical, and mentioned that I really didn’t have a lot of spare time due to current work commitments (working away a lot during the week), and other personal bits and bobs that would always have to come first before this if I was to even get involved.
“That’s fine, honestly hun, you can put as much or as little time into it as you like, and really think about all the time in the evening you just sit there watching TV or messing around on the internet – if you replace that time with doing this, it won’t even have an impact!”
I mentioned that I really don’t have that kind of spare time, so for me, there really isn’t this concept of sitting watching TV all evening, but was assured, it wasn’t a problem regardless.
I also mentioned that I really wasn’t comfortable with trying to make my friends buy things from me, but that wasn’t a problem either – I just needed to think of a couple of like-minded people to join the team with me and “it’d all sort itself out”.
As it was only £60-ish to set up, I thought, “screw it, may as well give it a bash – I easily waste that on a few cocktails on a night out, so not really a hardship if it goes nowhere”. Famous last words.
I told my husband about it, and he denounced it as all complete bollocks and how it was convenient that Aspen had got in touch “just to try and get me to spend money on something” (which I fiercely defended her on) but, it was my choice.
My husband didn’t know this part, but to start my Arbonne “business” actually cost me about £120, as Aspen advised buying the “amaaaazing Seasource Detox spa set”.
Aspen was insistent that if I added on the Spa set, I’d qualify to get a free brush set too, and that it was really great quality – easily worth £120 on its own, apparently! Fair enough, I thought, as I could do with some decent makeup brushes (managing to forget I’d never ever spend £120 on make up brushes in one hit!)
As soon as my sign-up was complete, I was immediately added to a couple of WhatsApp groups (one being for our wider group/area and one being for Aspen’s Dream Team), all being welcomed by random huns excited to meet me, alongside loads of pictures of inspirational quotes. Erm…WAHEY?
It all sounded a bit forced and overly enthusiastic, but I tried to keep my #negferret-y ways to a minimum and to give this a chance.
Aspen advised me to let her know when my welcome pack had arrived as “then we could place the initial order” as I’d “need to have a bit of stock”. I was a bit surprised as I’d been told I only needed to spend £60 to get going (and I’d already spent double that)…but thought, oh well, I guess it does make sense.
Aspen came round a few days later, saying she’d help me put through an order similar to her own initial order, so I “had a good range of stock”. She recommended buying a couple of the “RE9 sets“, as “this is a miracle anti-aging product that was a best seller and I would be lending people this all over the place to try out and I’d be wanting to use it myself too to get myself some beautiful skin, hun!”
Aspen insisted I also needed a set of the For Men products…
The Baby Care products…
(“Honestly hun, I can’t believe people would use something with parabens on delicate baby skin!”)
And then a whole host of Makeup & Cosmetics products: foundation in various shades, assorted eyeshadows, lipsticks, a couple of mascaras, etc etc.
In my defence, she came round when I was HORRIFICALLY hungover, so I just let her crack on without really taking much notice of what she was doing…until the end, when she “just needed me to put my card details in”. I had an inkling this could get pricy and prepared myself for around £300.
I looked at the price on the screen: £850. EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY QUID. WTF?!
Now, one thing I have taken from this experience is that Today-Jessi would have just laughed, told her NOT A CHANCE and sent her on her merry way. Alas, Arbonne-Jessi wasn’t that assertive, especially after Aspen’s following justification.
“This is soooo cheap really for starting up a business, normally you’d have to invest thousands of pounds, hun! I’ve spent the same and I’ve nearly made it all back! Just put it on your credit card and you’ll get it paid off quickly – these are super premium products and are going to change your life! Also, this will put you into qualification for District Manager level so you’ll soon be earning loads of money!”
I couldn’t really put up a fight, and my main thought was that if she’d spent that kind of money, and I trusted her as a long-time friend, then I should give it a chance.
I didn’t tell my husband what I’d spent, he’d have turned grey.
Aspen was keen for me to have an “Arbonne Welcome Party” which sounded cringe as fuck. She wanted me to find somewhere local to host it, and to invite all my friends along so I could share with them details of this fantastic opportunity I’d just got involved in.
She’d also get the super-successful Aimee and the team down and I could meet them all. I tried to push back on it as I couldn’t imagine anything more awful, but I eventually went ahead with it.
It was a disaster. Only four of my friends could make it, and it was only down to me having it in the local pub and offering to buy them all a drink “if they could spare 30 minutes and I’d be indebted to them forever“, etc.
I really glossed over what the whole thing was as I didn’t want them to think I was trying to make them buy anything. I met Aimee and she just seemed like a bit of a snobby bellend – I just immediately thought I wasn’t going to get on her with as I wasn’t buying the fake smile, but Aspen assured me that she “really was lovely and she just comes across a bit funny sometimes”.
My parents and husband came as well, and I could just tell they thought it was a pile of shite. This just made me feel a bit defensive, as them thinking it was stupid was suggesting that I was stupid by proxy. It was excruciating, and I was glad when it was over.
My order arrived not long after, and to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement! For starters, £850 doesn’t get you very much in Arbonne. I looked through the individual prices (as I had just left Aspen to her own devices when I was hungover) and the RE9 set (which was 4/5 small bottles of various moisturising products you had to use in a specific order to ‘Maintain Youth’) was £100+ and the Shampoo & Conditioner set that was going to stop any colour fade was about £75. Jeez. This stuff had better be good.
I tried out some of the makeup and it wasn’t anything to get excited about, especially since it was supposed to be ‘premium’ and I’d always been a high street L’Oreal/Max Factor type of girl. But, I guess at least I “wasn’t spreading cancer across my face” anymore, as Aspen so charmingly put it.
Next thing I knew, Aspen was in touch suggesting we pencil in some weekly meet ups (perhaps Thursday nights), and we “may as well have them at my house, or at a local venue and we could keep inviting my friends to it so we can show them the products”. Hadn’t I already done my attempt at getting my friends to attend a meeting?!
Also, that I should try and keep Tuesday nights free as “we all go and meet up at Aimee’s house (45 minutes away from me) for training and motivation”. There was also a monthly regional training at a golf club about an hour away (which you had to pay £5 a pop to attend!) and 1-2 opportunity meetings a week “which are good to take prospects to as you can meet the local Arbonne God™ who is earning £150k a month”.
Hmm. Starting to sound a lot more than 2 hours a week commitment here.
At my first regional training session I got a applauded for being a District Manager in qualification so soon after signing up, which baffled me as it was just the result of me spaffing a load of my own money on products!
Also, it never clicked at the time, but a lot of the spin about Arbonne was this insistence that once you’ve done the hard work you can “sit back and enjoy this residual income just rolling in”.
“I get paid whilst I’m asleep, whereas you people in normal jobs just get paid for the hours you work!”
It was only a few months in, that I realised that the people saying this were running 3/4 opportunity nights a month, despite claiming to earn massive amounts of money. So, even when you’re right at the top you’ve got to keep the relentless slog going, as you are always at risk of a layer of your (not) pyramid scheme going under, and losing a massive chunk of income each month.
My poor husband was getting a bit annoyed at me too, either being away with work, or trying to squeeze in Arbonne meetings whenever I was home with the added cult-like crap I was starting to spin out of my gob.
I was definitely employing the “fake it until you make it” mentality in my head, in respect of the whole business approach, but the Arbonne lot clearly didn’t think I was trying hard enough, and I couldn’t get any friends or family interested in even buying a £10 eyeshadow. This was becoming a very expensive disaster.
Aspen suggested that it would be a good idea to hold some make up parties at my house, and invite my friends over. I decided to go for it, on the premise that it was just about some nibbles, fizz and messing about with makeup. Naturally I spent a fortune on subsequent fizz and nibbles and, whilst everyone enjoyed having a little makeover, no one wanted to spend £30 on a foundation or £15 on a lipstick.
My friends were all similar in their makeup habits as me; they weren’t arsed about using high-end stuff, but also didn’t have the money to spend on expensive products, so I really didn’t want to push it.
Aspen mentioned that I really should have got my laptop out and tried to get them to buy straight away through the party-link she’d set up for me, but there was NO WAY I was going to do that to my friends, it just seemed so wrong.
Aspen suggested that in order to widen my circle, it might be worth getting some Arbonne-branded leaflets printed (£50) and leafletting the area to advertise my makeup party services. This was in the days before all the Facebook Buy & Sell groups had exploded, and for that I am thankful! At least I didn’t have to go spouting shit all over selling groups, and the leafletting remained anonymous (and also fruitless as no one ever got in touch).
Also, she suggested that I should get in touch with local makeup artists and see if I could meet up with them to show them the products. I strongly felt like this wasn’t what I’d signed up for, but did it nonetheless. I had £1000 to try and claw back didn’t I?! Again, no luck there.
Also, it had become clear that I needed to spend at least £60 a month (plus £6.00 P&P) to maintain my consultant status.
“It’s okay though hun, just spend what you’d normally spend on cosmetics on Arbonne products instead!”
I really don’t spend £60 a month on cosmetics, but I cracked on as I guess I could do with buying myself a wider range of eyeshadows, and perhaps a couple more lipsticks.
I’d completely run out of friends to even try and attempt to tap up to buy products or join the cult. My mum signed up as a Preferred Customer (£20) and bought a moisturiser (out of awkward family obligation I imagine) which made me about £3 commission. A friend of mine agreed to have a party at her house, so I trudged over to hers with all my stock, and managed to persuade one of her friends to buy a foundation. I had taken my laptop so we did the sale straight away – Aspen was really pleased at my progress.
Me, less so. I worked out that in 4 months I’d taken £15, and wasted HOURS AND HOURS if not adding up into weeks of my time to earn a MEASLY £15. So my earning rate per hour on all this was about .00001p. (As a side note, this may have changed but back then Arbonne just paid you by cheque, and I never actually got round to paying the cheque in!).
I also managed to persuade a friend’s daughter, Marcella, to join up. She lived about 1.5 hours away from me so I had to do a fair amount of journeying back and forth to get her to commit. She wanted to know how much I’d been making and I straight out lied and told her I was making £200 a month at the moment, all off pretty much zero effort!
I was ashamed of myself, but equally, I was desperate, this could be my turning point! She had another friend who was keen too, but needed to wait until payday to join. I got Marcella to sign up and order a couple of bits taking her initial spend to about £100. I followed the approach that had been put on me, and told her to get in touch when she had her products, and to think about a venue to do her Arbonne Welcome Party. The contact tailed off though, and I just couldn’t keep trying to flog the dead horse. She also had about £200 worth of my products so overall that was a loss.
At this point I seriously couldn’t. be. arsed. anymore.
I was annoyed at myself as I couldn’t really see that there was anything else that I could do, without seriously pushing and running friendships. I occasionally looped round the friends who’d said “maybe in a couple of months” but they had all seen how expensive the products were now and just couldn’t be bothered.
I was frustrated at my friends and family for not supporting me, as it wasn’t like I hadn’t tried hard enough, but I think this was really just a deflection of the frustration at myself for getting involved in it all in the first place.
Back in the hun-team, thinking about it, there really hadn’t been many new members since I’d joined. Aimee just seemed to rub me up the wrong way, and also her upline, Millicent, was equally as irritating (but again, she wasn’t going to go back to her J.O.B. after her maternity leave as she was making sooooooo much money from Arbonne).
Quite a few people had left, but Aspen assured me it was because they just weren’t the right type of people, or they were just taking a short break, or their dog had recently become ill, so they needed to take time out for a while.
I dreamed of sacking it all off myself, it was just becoming such a chore and I couldn’t be bothered trying anymore, but I did feel a bit mean on Aspen, as I was now her only Arbonner downline left (she’d had four of us at one point but had now lost the rest to sickly canines).
Millicent, Aimee and Aspen decided it was time to stage an intervention with me, as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere. Realistically they probably could see all their tranches of minimal income slipping away, so thought it was worth a crack with me again.
I went and met up with them and they tried to discuss some new ideas for how I could get people signed-up or buying from me. One suggestion was that I “needed to put myself out there more” and instead of emailing people about the opportunity, I “needed to start cold-calling people from the phone book”. I also really needed to “commit more time to this if I wanted it to work”. And realistically, I needed to stop putting so much focus on my (full-time, well-paid, salaried) job as “Arbonne is the future and should be my focus”.
Sat there in front of Millicent and Aimee getting patronised massively about my failings was the absolute final straw. I told them that I absolutely was NOT cold-calling people, I actually enjoy my job, and I didn’t really even need to do that due to the large passive income I make from other investments (not strictly true unless I wanted to live off dust, but I just wanted to remove the smug smiles from their faces).
They looked at me sympathetically – like I was the idiot – and just told me to “perhaps take a breather for a bit, hun”.
From that point I just didn’t bother with anything at all, and Aspen clearly knew not to push me anymore. I was still in all the WhatsApp groups, as I was just too fascinated/full of hate for the whole thing. I just liked watching the car crash/crap that was being spewed, and enjoyed slagging it off to myself internally.
Aimee abruptly decided to leave the hun-hood which surprised me massively – wasn’t she making £500 a month? Millicent took over our group and merged us all with her own group, but one arm of Aimee’s “successful” downlines also decided to pack it all in too, so there were only a few people left.
Eventually they decided they needed to set up a new WhatsApp group for “people that are still in” and to shout YAY if you were, and that was the end of that. My occasional Arbonne entertainment feature was no more.
Aspen and I would speak occasionally and she’d maintain that she was still plodding along a bit with Arbonne, but her focus now was “completing her training as a nurse and getting a full time job instead of doing agency cover shifts”. She also expressed disappointment that Aimee hadn’t been in touch at all since she packed in Arbonne, as she had thought they were friends first and foremost – perhaps that truly wasn’t the case.
I felt that she desperately didn’t want to admit it had all been a massive waste of time, financially and emotionally. Also, I knew that Aspen’s initial £1k+ investment had been borrowed from family, so she probably really needed to try and claw it back where she could, somehow.
My friendship with Aspen did eventually recover, but it took 2 years for us to even speak about Arbonne again (we’d generally just meet up for dinner/lunch and not mention the elephant in the room!) and she did admit she’d been hoodwinked too and felt terribly bad about it all. She admitted that she bumped into Aimee at a function a year or so later and she’d tried to make a funny joke about “how silly it had all been that we were all so into Arbonne and it was all just a load of rubbish, wasn’t it, hehehehe hun!” and that had really annoyed her, as she had believed in it all and she’d never have got herself or me involved if she knew then what she knew now.
So, my regrets from the whole experience? Not listening to my gut feelings right at the start when I felt that it all wasn’t quite right. I hadn’t heard of MLM at all, and a bit of research could have potentially helped me out (although admittedly, there were not very many negative articles about MLMs on the web 3+ years ago. I did extensive Googling to back up my general thoughts and feelings when I’d left, but I struggled to find negative stuff about Arbonne – the bots were clearly working hard on making sure there were only good things on the net).
I do regret wasting so much money (I think probably around £1500 in total), but I am very fortunate in that although I don’t think anyone can afford to just “lose £1500”, it didn’t make me bankrupt or anything (I really don’t mean that in an arrogant way – just more that although I had suffered a financial loss, the impact certainly wasn’t as terrible as it has been to other people involved with MLMs, and I am very grateful for that.)
In the spirit of not making this all 100% negative, I can take away some good points from all of this. In general, I do think that it made my focus/outlook on trying to achieve things in life slightly more positive. I am less inclined now to focus on negative things and think about how I can make things good/be successful, rather than be a sad donkey that things aren’t going my way. I do attribute that a bit to the general attitude that was being forced upon me during the Arbonne days.
I’m definitely more of a “OK, how do we get this fixed?” person now, rather than “Oh, it’s broken, I give up” which has helped me progress in my actual job. I’d like to think though it probably was always inside me, but I’ve helped form that mindset myself from that exposure. I am more confident about standing up for myself and saying NO if I don’t want to do something. However, I have never and will never post a motivational phrase with a sunset backdrop on Facebook, huns.
I’m also very lucky that due to being so crap at pushing sales, that my friendships went unscathed, my parents kindly stopped asking how it was going, and my husband was just pleased to have his non-bot wife back.
So, that’s my Arbonne story. It’s much longer than I intended, but that was incredibly cathartic typing it all out, and I hope that it’s useful for others in a similar situation. I consider myself to be an intelligent, successful person and I managed to get drawn into the murky MLM world, but I’ve come out the other side and if I ever hear a sniff of anyone considering getting involved I try my best to present my story in a factual way to try and get people to think about what they may be getting themselves into.
Thanks to Elle for letting me have my soapbox moment. x
You are most welcome. I would like to thank Jessi for sharing her experiences with me, and giving me permission to publish her tale on my blog.
If you like what I do and wish to support my anti-MLM mission (and turn my #Poonique story into a detailed novella), please consider becoming my Patreon.
If you have a MLM experience you would like to share, feel free to drop me a line below. Your anonymity is always guaranteed.
Don’t forget to join the MLM fight on social media – if you’re on Twitter, please give @ElleBeauBlog a follow (and help me get the #Poonique hashtag trending again!). Alternatively, join in the discussion with Elle Beau, the Anti-Blogger on Facebook. I am also on Instagram now – look for @ellebeaublog!
Please, also check out the good work of the people of Bot Watch, Juice Plus/MLM Lies Exposed and Timeless Vie. They work tirelessly to expose the truth and lies of the MLM industry, so anyone considering this line of work can make a fair, informed decision . In fact, I now have a Recommended Reading page for Anti-MLM writers and interesting lifestyle bloggers I think you will enjoy, such as Chammy in Real Life and my very first Patreon, @YourOlly.
For something a little different to pyramid schemes, I would also recommend a look at what Bad Psychics are up to. Award-winning and seen-on-TV, they have worked to expose false claims made by psychics, mediums and the paranormal since 2003.