I can almost hear the groans from through my computer or cell phone screen any time I mention to someone that I’m a consultant. For good reason, the multi-level marketing retail model can often make people shudder. It’s a stigma that has steered me away from companies both as a consumer and as a possible salesperson.
In my desperate search for something that might solve my skin issues, I caved and bought some Beautycounter products. I loved them. Fine, I thought. So they make great cleanser. But surely it’s still a pushy, sales-driven scheme to boost profits on the backs of thousands of mindless consultants. I wouldn’t succumb to their tactics.
From afar, I saw nothing different about how Beautycounter approached the direct sales model. Each rep sold product for commission. Each rep attempted to onboard other reps. I saw the company as a brand. I saw the company as a machine.
Then, a couple years ago, my husband came home with an interesting story from the Nantucket Project–a symposium of sorts where thought leaders gather to share groundbreaking ideas. He told me he had listened to a woman named Gregg talk about her company called Beautycounter. He said that she didn’t talk about sales or marketing, but about a mission. She was passionate and spoke about purpose. He said that she had created this company not for the sake of profits, but for getting cleaner, safer products into the hands of everyone.
So I did my research about this supposed problem Gregg was trying to solve. I quickly learned that our country has almost no laws (and very outdated ones, at that) that protect consumers from the chemicals we use in our home. All the stuff we use to clean our counters or freshen the air or moisturize our skin ends up on the shelf without any review or oversight. Companies are essentially free to sell us whatever they think smells and feels good enough to keep us buying more.
As it turned out, Gregg hadn’t created a company in Beautycounter, but a movement. Sure, direct retail boosted the bottom line, but I suddenly realized that Beautycounter put advocacy and education before sales. Gregg literally spent days at a time lobbying members of Congress. She wasn’t amassing an army of sales reps, but an army of advocates who could spread a message of how we could change the world for the better all while keeping our families safe.
Suddenly the whole MLM stigma fell to the side. Not only did I no longer see it as a roadblock, I began to see it as an important strategy in spreading the word about something I couldn’t believe I didn’t already know.
I was hooked. But I tried to take breath. Had I just fallen for some hippy-dippy BS? Was the unsafe chemicals message just a manipulative, pull-at-the-heartstrings attempt to lure me in?
The more I read and researched, the more concerned I became about the products I used every day. I learned that the European Union has banned 1,400 ingredients from use in consumer products. Meanwhile, the U.S. has banned 30. Research studies prove many of the ingredients U.S. companies can still use are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, infertility, and more. Meanwhile, I learned that Beautycounter had created a “Never List” composed of the 1,400 ingredients banned in the European Union, 600 banned in Canada, plus a few more that they have independently screened and identified as potentially dangerous.
Even after I believed in the Beautycounter message, I questioned the efficacy of the products themselves. I had been searching for cleaner products to help heal my skin woes, but nothing I came across even came close to measuring up to my favorite foundation that I’d been using for years.
To put it simply, the products worked. Yes, they’re expensive. But when I compared them to high-priced, “high-quality” products that you find in any department store or Sephora, they measured up. Except for the fact that the expensive products I used to buy from Sephora come laden with hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and known irritants. I didn’t realize this years ago when I thought that paying a lot of money for something meant that I was paying for both performance and safety. I never once considered that when I spent my hard-earned dollars on products from luxury brands that they could be contributing to my issues and potentially causing more devastating consequences after consistent use.
I ultimately recognized that Beautycounter not only made well-performing products, but that the company truly valued the importance of informing consumers. Through its now thousands of consultants, Beautycounter can more effectively champion its advocacy work, which aims to change the course of the cosmetics industry through stricter regulations.
As a consumer, I know that buying Beautycounter equates to voting with my dollars. As a consultant, I know that sharing this message will help others do the same.
Despite how I had felt about the MLM model, I realized that if Beautycounter sold product in stores like any other retailer, I could’ve walked right by and never have learned about the dangers we face as consumers for our families. I mean, when was the last time your makeup brand gave you something far more powerful than a great lip color?
How do you feel about direct retail? If the company is looking to make an impact beyond the bottom line, does that change your perspective?
Here is the talk that CEO & Founder, Gregg Renfrew, gave at the Nantucket Project in 2016:
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