Facts, opinions, and the real story behind Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Proof that 99% Lose Money in MLM

Robert FitzPatrick of Pyramid Scheme Alert has conducted extensive research on multi-level marketing companies (MLMs). The research can be difficult with companies like Mary Kay, which are privately owned and therefore don’t release hardly any information about the dismal earnings of the sales force. (Who would want to admit the financial truth unless forced to? And don’t you think that if consultants were doing so well in Mary Kay across the board, that the company would be out there touting these statistics left and right?)

On the other hand, certain companies using MLM models that are similar to Mary Kay’s way of doing business, have released public information about their representatives. Robert studied figures for Amway (Quixtar), Nuskin, Nikken, Melaleuca, Reliv, Arbonne, Free Life International and Cyberwize.com. The study is a bit old, but it’s still valid and the findings are very important.

From his research, Robert compiled figures on a “per 10,000 representatives” basis for each company, in order to allow comparisons to be made between the companies. This research has revealed that 99% of sales representatives in these MLM companies suffer significant financial losses. The research further revealed that on average, no net income is earned by MLM distributors from door-to-door retail sales (direct selling of products).

The research was complicated ever so slightly by the fact that the MLMs generally report figures for only active participants. Naturally, this excludes all participants from throughout the year who may have also failed. Robert determined that if all participants over a five-year period were to be included in the calculations of earnings, the failure rates would be even more devastating.

The success stories in MLM systems lie within a very small group of people, positioned year-after-year on the type of the pyramid. Those people with high earnings are included in a company’s figures each year, while “failures” from years past aren’t reflected in the current year’s statistics.

Here are some of Robert’s general comments on MLM, based upon his years of research into multi-level marketing and direct sales companies:

  • Another element of maintaining the MLM myth of legitimacy and a viable income opportunity is based on the claim that, regardless how it operates, MLM is still “legal.” As a legal enterprise, “success” in the business is then said to be the result of “hard work” and “following the system” recommended by the organizers — as would occur in legal businesses. Failure rates and financial losses among those recruited into MLM — regardless of their scale — are then treated as an outcome of normal business risks and markets forces or the fault of the individuals who lose.
  • The big numbers, which are cited by the scheme’s promoter as providing “extraordinary income potential,” are based on overrides from the deepest level of the “downline.” Only a tiny few can ever recruit to this level. This is mathematically predetermined from the start by the MLM structure and pay plan. The pay plan itself dooms the vast majority to financial losses, not factors of “hard work” or “following the plan.”
  • The trick of the scheme is to cover up this reality and to convince each and every enrollee that he/she can succeed by building this large and deep downline. Recruits are told that the program is a formula for wealth that “anyone can do.”
  • Though virtually none of the “sales representatives” ever earns a profit or has any “customers,” a pyramid scheme can be made to appear as a “sales company.” This is because each new recruit makes a purchase of products and the commissions are all based on the purchases of products by other recruits. There may be virtually no end-users, just a long chain of “distributors.”
  • Such a scheme can never stop recruiting. It can never stabilize since it has no true customer base. For as long as the scheme operates and expands, the opportunity for recruiting declines, thereby further reducing the opportunity for income. Profit in such a scheme is not true profit but only a transfer of money from the latest recruits to the earlier ones.
  • Yet, the laundering of money through product purchases can camouflage the entire operation as a “sales company” based on “products” — not fees. The product sales in a recruitment scheme are induced by the false promises of income tied to ongoing inventory purchases. No purchase may be required to join the scheme, but monthly purchases are required to “qualify” for the unlimited income” opportunity.
  • Even as millions of consumers are solicited into MLM and then quit after losing money, most do not understand why they lost. They are shown the luxurious lifestyles of the top promoters and are told that “anyone can do it.” The promoters convince them that they personally “failed” and that it was “their own fault.” Most have no idea of the sheer scale of people joining, losing and then quitting. They are led to believe that they are unusual in their “failure.” Consequently, they not only do not complain to the government authorities but they do not even warn friends or relatives to stay out of MLM. Shame and disappointment are covered up with silence. The recruitment program continues largely unabated.
  • As has been previously illustrated, the massive failure rates among those who invest in MLMs have almost nothing to do with the individual recruit. These multi-billion-dollar consumer losses are due to the pyramid business model. Retailing is unfeasible and the recruitment-based income plan is designed so that most will lose. It cannot be otherwise. For a few to win, basic mathematics requires all others to lose. “Anyone” cannot do it.

And here are some of the numbers that come out of Patrick’s research in this study:

  • A statistical review of twenty-one (21) MLM companies representing 5 million sales people and “projected” retail sales of $10 billion reveals that even if retail sales are assumed to be occurring, the average MLM sales person is not earning a net profit from retail sales.
  • Yet, even using the MLM industry’s own restrictive method of accounting, analysis of available data reveals that more than 99% of all “active” consumers who invest money and time in multilevel marketing never earn a profit. Some lose hundreds, others thousands of dollars.
  • MLM companies sought to make the figures appear more favorable by limiting the calculations only to the sales representatives who stay “active” for a year, or only counting those that are active during one selected month or several months.
  • The income numbers are not “profits.” The costs of doing business (buying inventory, car expenses, phone charges, purchase of marketing materials, training seminars, etc.) are not deducted, nor are taxes. Actual net income, where any exists, would be much lower than the numbers presented.
  • A review of the payouts of six of the larger and best-known multi-level marketing companies and one other more recently formed MLM reveals that more than 99% of all distributors do not earn a profit from company rebates [commissions].
  • The actual retail sales levels of the vast majority of MLMs is exemplified by Amway/Quixtar, the oldest and largest of all multi-level marketing companies. Amway was compelled by government order to provide its retail sales data. It disclosed that less than 20% of its products are purchased by anyone other than its own sales representatives.

So there you have it. Almost none of the participants in MLMs are making a profit from product sales. Almost none of the participants in MLMs are making a profit from commissions. If you read the actual report, you may be sickened at the grossly huge amounts of income paid to a teeny-tiny fraction of one percent at the top of the pyramid. It’s sick. Really.

Especially when you again consider that those at the top aren’t really making profits, they are just being paid money by the lower levels of the pyramid. Those lower level people are paying their money for an opportunity to potentially be at the top some day. Some may say they’re paying money in return for products that they could/should sell at a profit, however the fact is that almost no one turns a profit from product sales. So they are in essence just paying money to the pyramid-toppers.

Probably the most common argument I hear against these facts is “Mary Kay is different”. NEWSFLASH! Mary Kay is not different from the companies in the study. Mary Kay bases its business on the exact same chain of endless recruitment, minimal retail sales, and loading new recruits with inventory packages.

MLM is MLM is MLM… You can dress it up and give things different names, but it’s all the same scam. And that, my folks, is why nearly everyone who participates in Mary Kay loses money. Anyone who can’t see Mary Kay written all over the above research has her eyes closed.


  1. Char

    “MLM is MLM is MLM… You can dress it up and give things different names, but it’s all the same scam.” —

    Yep. And the best way I’ve found to convey that, thus far, I’ve posted a few times. It is what personally clicked for me after a few years of researching different “MLMs” (ugh). Here it is again for new readers:

    MLM stands for multi-level marketing. Note the “ing”. MLM-ing is a method and not a company. Saying “An MLM” or “MLMs” falsely suggests something individual, or different. No, there is only one definition of the act/method known as multi-level marketing.

    ANY company that uses the MLMing method will produce the same result. For context, let’s replace MLMing with another “ing” method word like, ummm, “scamming”. If I join a scamming company and am unhappy, should I join another scamming company? After all, they are not hiding the fact that they are a scamming company. Who cares if they have a different name or product; they are still, as advertised, a company using the scamming method. (Some companies do try to hide that they are an MLM company, like Mary Kay and dual marketing, lol. All the more scuzzy if you ask me.)

    MLMing, or MLM, is an inherently flawed method. See article.

    I try to avoid the initialisms of “MLMs” or “an MLM” to make very clear that it’s a method. Instead, use just “MLM” or MLMing, but even I break my own rule sometimes. Unfortunately, the shortcut of “an MLM” has become the norm. This has served the MLM companies well, as it has confused participants into thinking the company is offering something different, or that they are different.

    People shouldn’t be researching “MLMs”, but rather the method known as multi-level marketing. Then, any company that uses that method is already included in the research. I don’t avoid “an MLM”, I avoid MLM!

    *This explanation worked for me, but YMMV. I think it’s particularly useful for those who have tried different MLMing companies, numerous times. Moral of the story: you’re not changing a thing. “Ing” words like: scamming, cheating, singing, crying, killing, are always the same act/method regardless of where you do it.

  2. Cindylu

    Yes MLM no matter who or what are a lost cause. Any attempts to change or influence them have no chance of succeeding. Sadly the level of deception is extensive. MK knows what to say and do to con those women (Consultants and Directors) into believing. Convince them with flattery, the opportunity for financial gain and a caring company. The mean spirited way this is done through meetings, conferences and a tacky Seminar further hides the truth. Women want to believe. No one wants to admit they’ve been taken advantage of. There seems to be a lot of narcissism within this mlm. Those at the top blame those below for not working hard enough. Those who don’t make it are simply numbers to be discarded. As to numbers it’s high time that all mlm’s be investigated.

  3. Cindylu

    Can anyone tell me the story of when Mary Kay went Private? What was happening before that and why did MK decide to go Private? It would be interesting to find out what was really going on when MK was Public. (Not the companies reasoning but the real reason).

    1. Lazy Gardens

      She went public with a BIG media coverage, but when sales fell, she didn’t like the oversight of the corporate structure telling her to cut expenses and act like a real business does when sales fall.

      So they managed to buy back all the shares and get family control again.

  4. NayMKWay

    This really sums up the situation in MLM:

    “A  statistical review of twenty-one (21) MLM companies representing 5 million sales people and ‘projected’ retail sales of $10 billion reveals that even if retail sales are assumed to be occurring, the average MLM sales person is not earning a net profit from retail sales.”

    5 million sales people…$10 billion in retail sales. That’s a paltry $2,000 annually per recruit. It is mathematically impossible for the average pyramid member to earn even a living wage, let alone achieve the lavish lifestyle paraded before them.

    And yet when the mathematical inevitability takes place—as it must—and the victim recruit is forced to leave in order to recoup some of their losses by getting a real job, it’s all their fault. Why, they weren’t willing to “put in the effort,” or they were “too negative,” or they “treated this ‘opportunity’ like a get-rich-quick scheme.”

    No, it’s never the company’s fault for coercing them to spend their money on a lie. After all, no one put a gun to their head, right?

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