After The Spinoff delved into the dubious world of cosmetics and skincare brand Arbonne, two people came forward with very different stories. One says it’s misunderstood. The other says the cult-like organisation has nearly destroyed family relationships.
Lily has been a consultant for Arbonne for a little over a year. She got started in much the same way as everyone else does, after being approached by an acquaintance and asked to look into the business, she says.
“When I first got there and saw it was network marketing I went ‘ugh’ a little bit. Another friend had contacted me about a network marketing company before and I didn’t really understand what she was talking about and I just went ‘no, no’. But this was a much better presentation.”
The opportunity came at the right time and Arbonne’s promise of a self-owned business with low start-up costs was appealing, she says.
“I felt quite nervous because I thought, ‘I don’t want to sell, I don’t want to be salesy’ as I didn’t want to pester family and friends. I didn’t want to be one of those people that turn up at the barbecue where everyone’s like ‘Christ, here she comes’.”
This was one of the reasons she was slow getting started, and she’s only been trying hard for a few months, Lily says.
Her preferred way of operating is to build her business on social media and says the right way to go about it isn’t spamming people.
“If you look at my Facebook page, I don’t mention Arbonne at all. I will never have Arbonne on my page, I will never have a link, I’ll never mention my company or a product, I’ll never put a picture of a product, because that is what starts to annoy people, when they are bombarded.”
Lily says she does lots of live videos on Facebook but doesn’t talk about Arbonne directly. Instead, her focus is on growing an audience and only approaching people when it’s appropriate.
“I just say [in social media videos] ‘Five tips that you can use to help your skin’ and I’ll talk about all sorts of things you can do. This is growing an audience and then they might send me a message and only then will I say ‘What are you using at the moment?’. You’re not just throwing a line out and hoping you catch a fish. It’s building relationships.”
Lily also says she won’t show the business to anyone she thinks it won’t help or to anyone who isn’t going to work hard at it.
“Everyone you come across is not a potential business builder. Putting a link on your page, talking about products, it’s just bullshit. You have to actually help people and have the goal of helping the other person and not yourself. That’s the end result.”
Where multi-level marketing goes wrong is when a consultant goes rogue and decides to “do their own thing”, rather than duplicating what the person before them has done, she says.
Despite Arbonne’s claims you can be making thousands per month within a short timeframe, Lily has never come across an Arbonne consultant making that kind of money so quickly.
“The compensation slide and the presentation are very clear about what the average person makes in the first few months. And I think it’s $300 a month. So, that’s not much and that’s the average, so there are a lot of people making a hell of a lot less.”
Lily hasn’t made any significant money yet. “I will willingly say that. Nothing to speak of and that is because I wasn’t working my business. I was doing [other work], I got busy.”
However, she says this year she’s seen an improvement and hopes next year she can earn a full-time income.
“That’s my goal, and it’s hard to show up every day and tick off the things that you need to do and you don’t always feel like it. Most people don’t feel like getting up and going to work either. So many businesses fail.”
Consultants can be misled when they hear about those in Arbonne who appear to be making a lot, she says.
“Like, our team leader in Australia is making $10,000 a week, $40,000 a month – that’s phenomenal and it’s true. But I think people see that, and people who’ve worked their guts out tell people [about it]. And then people get stars in their eyes, but they don’t tell you that you have to work for it.”
Though Lily is generally happy with Arbonne’s business model, she says the $50 of product she needs to purchase each month to make a commission grinds her gears.
“You don’t have to, you can still be a consultant and spend zero dollars a month, you just won’t get paid on what someone else makes.”
It’s something she’s just accepted, she says. “At the end of the day, once you get to a low level like the first level that I’m nearly at, you get a bigger commission. So what you’re already purchasing, it kind of covers it.”
Arbonne’s website is full of stock images of successful women (and some men), and Lily agrees that the marketing is pretty cheesy.
“But how else are they going to do it? They want to show the lifestyle and what’s achievable and it is achievable doing it in small chunks per day, it genuinely is. But most people fail in network marketing, overwhelmingly, like 90-something percent don’t succeed and that’s because they don’t put in the work.”
Running a business isn’t easy and most people aren’t cut out for it, she believes. “I mean, I have a family where my grandfather had a business that I used to work in after school, and my aunties are in hospitality and they would get up at five in the morning and work seven days a week. It is hard and you should never give a presentation to an Arbonne prospect and tell them it’s going to be easy.”
Since Jessica’s sister became involved with Arbonne at the beginning of 2018, their relationship has become increasingly strained.
“She started going on about this great business opportunity. She’d been told she can be her own entrepreneur, CEO of her own business, that it gives her the freedom she wants.”
Ever since her sister has been trying to do two things, Jessica says. “Number one is sell us Arbonne products, constantly. And number two is trying to recruit close family and friends to join the multi-level marketing scheme as well.”
She eventually had to tell her sister to stop trying to sell product to her, Jessica says.
“It kind of got to the point where I said, ‘it’s great you’re doing what you’re doing and I’ll support you how I can, but I’m honestly not your target audience so please stop trying to recruit me or sell your products to me’.”
Jessica’s reluctance to become a consultant or buy product annoyed her sister. She claimed she cared for Jessica and only wanted the best for her.
“But I’m like, ‘no, you just want to recruit people and bring them into your scheme’,” Jessica says. “I don’t actually believe she does care and want the best for people but that’s how they try and sell it.”
While she and her sister haven’t always been incredibly close, they’ve been “sisterly close” and have always had each other’s backs, she says. But, her sister’s involvement with Arbonne has put pressure on family relationships.
“She doesn’t see me as supporting her dreams and career opportunities, because I’m not willing to sign up and I’m not willing to buy Arbonne product and because I don’t always want to talk about it non-stop like she does.”
After observing her sister and the Arbonne community for a while, Jessica’s view is that it has a cult-like following.
“If someone tells [a consultant] they’re not going to join or they’re not going to buy their products, they’re told they’re not supporting their journey or they’re not supporting their dreams.”
Her sister also makes out as if her life is perfect on social media, but what she posts on Facebook does not reflect her reality, she says.
“From what I’ve observed I know she’s struggled with car bills and that kind of thing. And her messaging changes quite a lot, sometimes she says it’s this amazing opportunity which can help you live a fulfilling life and do really well for yourself, and other times it’s promoted as just a side hustle that doesn’t have to be your main source of income.”
Jessica gets frustrated to see people falling for Arbonne and not looking at the business model objectively, such as the consultants who post on Facebook that they’re close to receiving one of Arbonne’s designated white Mercedes Benz cars, or share photos of people who have received theirs. “Other people don’t realise that Arbonne is giving them money to rent one, it’s not giving one to them.”
After an Arbonne bombardment on her Facebook feed she ended up unfollowing her sister on all social media, she says. “I was just sick of seeing all the constant updates about Arbonne and how it’s life-changing and amazing. And that’s unfortunate, because I do miss out on occasional family updates, but it’s just too frustrating.”
Though Jessica has steered clear of Arbonne, she can’t say the same for all of her family, and her sister has managed to recruit one relative.
“They are working together in their team and are talking to other family members about it. But otherwise, I’d say most of the family is quite sceptical about it. I don’t think many family members buy the products off of her.”
The growth of multi-level marketing and the fact that Arbonne has taken off in her small North Island town worries her, she says.
“Small towns have potentially more of a community than some of the bigger cities do. So, in that way it could be easier to spread compared to the bigger cities. I think you’re more likely to talk to your neighbours or be involved in community groups, or you know a lot more people.”
Jessica’s main wish for those considering joining Arbonne is to use their judgment before signing up.
“There are very few people at the top doing OK for themselves but really the winners at the end of the day are Arbonne themselves, who are recruiting so-called business owners.”
* Names have been changed in this story.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.