In the bustling world of multi-level marketing (MLM), Arbonne has made its mark. However, there’s been a cloud of controversy hovering over the company, leading many to question: is Arbonne a pyramid scheme? Pyramid schemes, after all, are illegal in several countries including the USA, UK, and Australia. They’re often orchestrated by individuals aiming to make money for themselves, with no real benefit for the participants.
In 2017, a lawsuit was filed against Arbonne by Cynthia and Michael Dagnall, alleging that the company was a pyramid scheme. While this lawsuit was eventually dismissed in 2018, it’s left a lingering question in many people’s minds. It’s worth noting that while MLMs are legal and often sell physical products, their recruiting structure can sometimes blur the line, making them appear like pyramid schemes.
It’s crucial to understand that pyramid schemes are not only illegal but also unsustainable. They make it impossible for everyone involved to make a profit. While Arbonne is not a pyramid scheme per se, it’s possible for MLMs to operate as a “pyramid scheme in disguise.” So, let’s delve deeper into this topic and shed some light on the truth behind Arbonne.
Understanding Pyramid Schemes and MLMs
In order to elucidate the ongoing debate about whether Arbonne falls under the category of a pyramid scheme, we first need to enrich our understanding of pyramid schemes and Multi-Level Marketing, commonly known as MLM.
Characteristics of Pyramid Schemes
A pyramid scheme is a fraudulent profit-generating model where the main source of income comes from recruiting new members.
It’s this revenue from new recruits that makes these schemes inherently unsustainable and almost guaranteed to fail.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in many countries due to their unsustainable business model, which often leads to financial losses for a majority of participants. Some examples of well-known pyramid schemes include Ponzi schemes, BurnLounge, and Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing.
Typically, pyramid schemes thrive on persuasive marketing pitches, promising potential members a chance to make money quickly and easily with very little details of what is truly involved.
Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Explained
Multi-level marketing (MLM) companies operate differently. MLMs are direct sales organizations operating on a dual model, meaning members are expected to both sell products and recruit others into the business. This model has led some observers to compare MLMs to pyramid schemes. However, there are very distinct differences between the two.
How MLMs Operate
In MLMs, salespeople receive a cut of their recruits’ profits, creating an incentive to attract more and more people to the company. Additionally, MLM members regularly purchase products for themselves to meet their sales targets. Despite this, an estimated 99 percent of MLM participants operate at an insignificant or zero net profit.
Moreover, the rise of technology and social media has provided MLMs with new tools to expand their reach. Participants can now target potential recruits on a massive scale and showcase the enticing lifestyle their profits could supposedly provide.
Differences Between MLMs and Pyramid Schemes
Unlike pyramid schemes, MLMs place a noteworthy emphasis on selling products and are considered more ethical and legitimate due to their sustainable business models. Furthermore, MLMs like Arbonne have physical products while pyramid schemes do not. But remember, just because a company operates on an MLM model and has physical products doesn’t guarantee it’s not operating as a “pyramid scheme in disguise.”
For instance, if less than 50% of the profits come from product sales and the focus is more on recruiting new members, that could be a sign of a pyramid scheme hidden within an MLM structure. A 2018 poll among 1050 MLM distributors discovered that most of them were making less than a dollar an hour, while 32% acquired credit card debt to finance their MLM involvements.
Understanding these distinctions is essential, as no one wants to align themselves with a scam.
Arbonne: An Overview
Diving into the depths of Arbonne, I’ll paint a clearer picture of the company. From its inception to growth and even controversy, let’s explore what truly sets it apart in the MLM industry.
Company History and Growth
Arbonne was born back in 1975, thanks to the passion of Norwegian entrepreneur Petter Mørck for botanically-based skincare products. A move to the United States in 1980 marked an expansion period for Arbonne, with its headquarters now residing in Irvine, California. Named after its founder, the company was initially steered by Rita Davenport, its first president from 1999 to 2011.
In its journey, Arbonne experienced growth changes from changing hands, starting off with a shift in 2004 when Levland, Inc. became the holding company. Fast forward to 2005, Arbonne and Levland were both purchased by established private equity firm Harvest Partners, who renamed their acquisition, Natural Products Group, LLC.
On February 2018, Groupe Rocher brought both Arbonne and Nature’s Gate under its umbrella of brands. Two years later, Arbonne achieved the B Corporation certification, reflecting its social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
Controversies haven’t escaped Arbonne. From lawsuits to the bankruptcy of its parent company, Natural Products Group LLC in 2010, the company faced its fair share of storms. Yet, it still enjoys enormous commercial success and continues to grow, with a footprint in several countries including the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Australia.
Products and Services Offered
One thing is clear about Arbonne: it believes in the power of high-quality ingredients. The company offers a wide range of health and beauty products, encompassing skincare, cosmetics, and nutrition supplements. Here’s a glance at what people can find in Arbonne’s product catalogue:
- Skincare: Facial cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and treatments.
- Bath & Body: Essential oils, hand wash, lotions, lip balms, and masks.
- Makeup: Eyeliner, makeup primer, mascara, lipstick, and more.
- Nutrition: Protein shakes, energy sticks, snack bars, immunity boosters.
- Hair: Shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays, hair serums.
Arbonne’s mission to transform lives via pure, botanically-based ingredients in scientifically tested products sets it apart. It’s a tall order in an industry filled with countless brands and similar product offerings. Yet, Arbonne continues to thrive, attributing its success to the commitment to quality.
Allegations and Concerns Surrounding Arbonne
Arbonne, a renowned multi-level marketing company, has over the years faced mounting concerns and allegations questioning the legitimacy of its operational model, treatment of consultants, and overall practices.
Consumer and Employee Testimonies
Promises vs. Reality
A recurring sentiment expressed online pinpoints a stark contrast between the glittering promises made by Arbonne and the hard reality faced by many of its representatives. Core promises offered by the company such as working flexibility and access to financial success within a short span, have been met with skepticism. One Glassdoor user review noted how Arbonne colleagues navigated difficult company dynamics, hinting at broader problems within the company’s structure.
Financial Implications and Losses
Arbonne’s business model has been criticized for allegedly driving some of its representatives into substantial debt. A damning case study from the FTC suggested that nearly 99% of people who get involved in MLM schemes either break even or lose money. In the context of Arbonne, this claim suggests serious questions about its business model’s sustainability for those who engage with the company as representatives.
Legal Scrutiny and Investigations
On the legal front, Arbonne has had its share of lawsuits and investigations. A notable class-action lawsuit was filed in May 2017, alleging that Arbonne essentially operates as a pyramid scheme. In this disputed model, consultants reportedly earn money primarily by recruiting others to join rather than selling the company’s products.
Concerns have also been raised about Arbonne consultants’ alleged encouragement to target vulnerable individuals, such as single mothers and persons with disabilities. These practices have reportedly caused significant stress on personal relationships, leading to a negative impact on the overall customer experience with Arbonne.
In light of these allegations, Arbonne continues to defend its business model and its track record spanning over 37 years. The company denies claims suggesting any illegality or impropriety in its operations and remains committed to its botanically-based products and supporting entrepreneurs seeking success.
At last, it’s essential to note that while the voices of discontent are loud and rightly demand attention, many Arbonne representatives and customers are satisfied with the company, its products, and the opportunities it provides.
The MLM Landscape: Broader Context
Popularity and Growth of MLMs
The advent of social media has given an entirely new dimension to multi-level marketing or MLM businesses like Arbonne. Platforms such as Instagram have become avenues for MLM representatives, who are chiefly female, to paint an aspirational lifestyle supposedly financed by network marketing profits. MLM culture firmly aligns itself with the surge of hustle culture, marked by working multiple jobs and ascended by the rise of gig work. Being a part of an MLM franchise started to represent a lifestyle choice, where working overtime was seen as aspirational.
Historically, MLM businesses like Tupperware and Avon have seen resounding success over several decades. Nowadays, a new generation of MLM businesses is thriving from the backdrop of a pandemic where people are encouraged to support small and struggling local ‘business owners’. Driven by a neoliberal veneration for entrepreneurship, the MLM industry is dancing to the tunes of the ‘own business, own rules’ rhythm. Statistically, there’s always a brighter side to being a direct owner, with an average individual having a 38% higher chance of making a profit from any small business – but it’s critical to consider the risks too.
Vulnerable Targets and Recruitment Strategies
Emotional Manipulation and Pressure Tactics
It’s important to recognize and discuss the recruitment strategies employed by MLM companies. Generally, new consultants are trained to target their own acquaintances for recruitment, often prioritizing expansion over sales. The belief that anyone opposing the MLM model is not supportive can lead to strain and sometimes sever relationships with friends and family.
Certain instances suggest that MLM consultants are even trained to target individuals in vulnerable circumstances. This is a tactic that is being condemned by critics and warrants a higher degree of scrutiny from regulatory bodies. A method often perceived and reported as manipulative, some investigators and media outlets have equated such activities to cult tactics.
Financial Incentives and Promises
Propagating the lure of financial freedom and passive income, MLMs typically sell the picture of a luxurious lifestyle. However, the reality is often starkly different from these promises. According to AARP Foundation, around 47% of all MLM distributors lose their money, and 27% do not even make a penny.
Achieving profit and success in an MLM business is usually restricted to those in the higher tiers of the business hierarchy – often those who were early recruits. On a sobering note, a 2018 poll among 1050 MLM distributors revealed that the majority earn merely 70 cents an hour, with 60% earning less than $500 in sales over the past five years. If you’re considering joining an MLM, it’s vital to be aware of these realities.
Arbonne’s Response and Actions
As we delve deeper into Arbonne’s way of dealing with these issues, we’ll discuss their stance on the allegations and the measures they’ve taken to ensure transparency and ethics.
Company’s Stance on Allegations
In the midst of accusations and legal challenges, Arbonne maintains a staunch defense of their operational model. Despite facing lawsuits alleging the company as a pyramid scheme, Arbonne remains unfazed and continues to support entrepreneurs with the opportunities to build successful businesses selling botanically based products. This goes hand in hand with the comments made by Arbonne’s National Vice President in a leaked message stating that they should “let things blow over” as “Haters gonna hate”, drawing criticism for an apparent lack of responsibility.
Measures Taken for Transparency and Ethics
Arbonne has taken initiatives to assure strict compliance with ethical standards. The company is committed to maintaining a Business Ethics Standards Team that ensures consultants adhere to their policies. This team:
- Conducts regular training sessions
- Continuously monitors business practices
- Takes immediate action against questionable activities
Arbonne also advocates for transparency and encourages reporting of any unethical or improper behavior. They have demonstrated commitment to investigating any complaint received, emphasizing their mission to uphold the highest standards of integrity.
An impressive feat of Arbonne’s commitment to ethical practices and transparency can be seen in their B Corporation certification. A B Corporation, or Benefit Corporation, is a type of for-profit corporate entity that includes positive impacts on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals.
Another glimpse at Arbonne’s efforts to maintain transparency can be found in their use of social media data at the individual consultant level. With minimal input from sales teams and minimal interference in day-to-day activities, they’ve tailored social strategies to determine the true effectiveness of each consultant’s performance. This step aids in personal growth and adds a layer of fairness to the consultant’s evaluation.
In the face of adversity, Arbonne attempts to maintain a strong front and show continuous commitment to ethical business practices. However, the effectiveness of these measures and whether they align with the realities experienced by representatives remains under scrutiny. This ongoing dialogue invites us to keep our eyes open for future developments in MLM models and practices.
Conclusion: Evaluating the Legitimacy of Arbonne
After looking at all the facts, it’s clear that Arbonne’s legitimacy isn’t black and white. Yes, they’ve faced allegations and legal challenges. But they’ve also taken steps to maintain transparency and uphold ethical standards. They’ve got a Business Ethics Standards Team in place and encourage reporting of unethical behavior. They’ve even obtained a B Corporation certification.
But the question remains: is Arbonne a pyramid scheme? That’s a tough call. While they do use social media data to evaluate consultant performance, the effectiveness of these measures and how they align with the experiences of representatives is still up for debate.
So, is Arbonne a scam or a legitimate business opportunity? I’ll leave that for you to decide. What I can say is this: if you’re considering joining Arbonne or any MLM, do your homework. Understand the business model, the compensation plan, and the products. And remember, success in any business requires hard work, dedication, and a bit of luck.