Barefoot: Babe, what do you say, let’s go out tonight.
Miss Barefoot: How thoughtful of you! Have you reserved a table at a nice restaurant (note: secretly thinking ‘is this the night?’)
Barefoot: Eating out for dinner? Come on it’s cheaper to make it at home. Anyway, there’s a seminar on tonight called the ‘Massive Passive Cash Flow Generator evening’. I’ve booked it in your name because these guys seem to get hot under the collar if they notice my name on the door.
Miss Barefoot: I hate you.
Arriving at the venue in our 16-year-old car (another issue in our relationship), we find our way to the seminar where a slick spruiker is whipping the 200-plus crowd into a frenzy. The goal of the game he tells us is cash flow, and he has just the business that’s going to make us massive amounts of it.
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The unique cash-flow rich opportunity is called Mona Vie – a fruit juice that’s sold via multi-level marketing, a euphemism we’ll come to later. This however is no ordinary juice, it’s sourced from the deepest depths of the Amazon and has apparently been known to cure a variety of ills from psoriasis to arthritis and everything in between.
It’s so exclusive and revolutionary that the company has decided to bypass the lucrative distribution model of the major retailers and the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry to offer this opportunity directly to us, a group of hapless punters pulled off the street.
The speaker too is no ordinary salesman – he is a super spruiker, once claiming to ABC TV that he has a net worth of ‘about $100 million’. One wonders what a man worth nine figures is doing spending a glorious summer’s evening in a Melbourne pub pushing fruit juice to punters.
Still, to get the crowd on side he recounts a roaring tale of why he likes living in America – ‘when I drive down the street in Brisbane in my yellow Lamborghini with customised number plates people yell out and call me an idiot’. He tells the enraptured crowd he feels much happier living in America driving his black turbocharged Bentley where ‘people congratulate me’.
At this point Miss Barefoot, a pragmatic soul, has hit her BS limit. She rises from her chair (mid-seminar) and informs me that she will be resting her eyes in the hotel lobby until this ‘nonsense’ is over.
Multi-level marketing is sometimes referred to as network marketing (in much the same way that Posh Spice is now known as Victoria Beckham – a veiled attempt at credibility). It has been around for decades, with the big daddy being Amway (otherwise known by the acronym FTYF – flog to your friends). The modus operandi of these firms is for individuals to associate with a parent company and be paid based on their share of the sales they make, as well as the sales of those they recruit to the business.
The model resembles a pyramid scheme: pointy at the top (where the spruikers sit) and flat at the bottom (where the punters lie). The compensation diagram looks like a molecular structure and puts my friends in the financial planning industry to shame. There are so many commissions flowing in so many directions it’s hard to see at first glance how it all works.
Luckily super spruiker has many happy customers planted in the crowd who are only too happy to enthusiastically yell out how much money they have made having achieved giddying levels of salesman status. These are embellished with overblown titles such as ‘Star 500′, ‘Bronze executive’, all the way up to the much-revered ‘Blue Diamond Executive’.
If you earn these stripes the spruiker tells us the company will buy you a black SLK Mercedes, rare black diamonds for you and your wife, and fly you to Utah to visit the company – which of course would be a welcome respite from bashing around the burbs in a Commodore and enjoying fine dining at the local Chinese restaurant.
Interspersed with this grand vision of wealth are constant reminders that people are making ‘twenty grand US a month – part-time – hell the spruiker’s wife even made $US3000 last month’. Money for nothing. Passive income. Get rich. Live your dream.
It’s then time for the plastic sampling cups to be passed around to the crowd. Mona Vie, aka the magic juice, sure must be healthy because as a sommelier would say, it leaves a definite aftertaste. We’re told that the average family needs around three cases of Mona Vie each month. As in a dozen bottles a month.
Alarm bells should be now ringing for the crowd. The only households that I know who regularly polish off a dozen bottles each month are boozy university share houses – and they’re definitely not necking health tonic.
Towards the end of the two-hour spruiking session I sense we are being wound up for the final pitch – after all someone has to move the latest shipment of fools fluid, and their can’t be too many mortgage-paying families who have a lazy $540 a month spare for their three case quota.
Super spruiker springs into action: ‘Don’t evaluate, don’t question – I’ve done all the research’. Then for the piece de resistance, the final slide comes up:
“What would you do if your monthly income was suddenly the same as your old annual income?” (Well, firstly I would definitely be hiding from the authorities, and secondly, I sure as hell wouldn’t be selling fruit juice).
Doing the research
As I drove home to my suburban home with a tired Miss Barefoot, she was incensed, not least because we’d received a parking ticket as a fitting conclusion to a less than memorable evening. ‘Those people are idiots!’ she wailed. ‘Why can’t they see it’s a scam? Haven’t they heard of a little thing called the internet? It’s called research!’
So later than evening, as I lay the Barefoot bridesmaid to bed, I took her advice and did some research. I found a US consumer research report which analysed the sales figures of the two biggest multi-level organisations (Amway and Quixtar). The report found that 99 per cent of all salespeople in these two organisations earned less than $14 a week in rebate income.
As for Mona Vie, far from it being a revolution – much less unique – a quick five-minute search uncovered a dozen other miracle juices that are being sold via network marketing across the world. Many of these are available at a steep loss to the unwary commission agent – on ebay.
Tread your own path!