My mother had always spoken of Tupperware, Nutrimetics, Amway et al, in the same was as she did of church going. No real hatred or anything like that, just a scrunchy face that implied it wasn't for her. I asked her why and she explained, "They want to recruit people to sell stuff. It's kind of like a cult". I was 10 so I was unsure of what a cult was. For years I thought it had something to do with selling lipstick through Avon. When The Heaven's Gate Mass Suicide occurred a few years later, I realised I had misunderstood a little, as it had nothing to do with lipstick. Just brand new Nike sneakers.
So when my work friend asked me if I wanted to join Nutrimetics to make more money, at first I was afraid. Memories of the news stories of Heaven's gate's 39 deceased laying on bunk beds wearing brand new Nike sneakers flooded my mind. All I could hear in my head were warning bells screaming "CULT! CULT! CULT!" "Ummm," I said, "I dunno. What's it all about?"
Katie proceeded to tell me all about Nutrimetics. Suddenly a brochure appeared out of her bag and found its way into my hands. She flipped though to pictures of company cars, then to a bright red convertible that is "yours to keep!" Considering at the time I had a mangy while Subaru with a tree dent from when Lover-Man had a misunderstanding with nature, and a dent on the passenger door where a porta-loo fell onto the car (or was he pushed?) the convertible was most appealing. But wait there's more! The golden egg, a yearly trip overseas for you and your husband, for FREE. I was sold.
"But how do I make money" I asked.
Katie's eyes started shifting from side to side as she explained to me that "For every product you sell, you get paid a 20% commission!" Wow. I thought. That's not bad. As I was still thinking this through she started telling me all about the fun training nights you can attend to have drinks and socialise with the other ladies. This sounded quite fun. Living with boys it can be nice to get out and talk girls stuff occasionally. I was keen. She muttered something quickly about the joining kit, about what a good deal it is.
"Oh," I said "Do I have to pay to join?"
"Ah well yes and no" Katie answered. "You pay to purchase your kit, but the kit is for your use and also for you to use at your spa parties. So it's not really a joining fee, you get something for it"
Hmm. I was unsure. Obviously Katie could tell because suddenly she sprung to her feet announcing that she had her kit in the car and she'd just go grab to show me all the awesome products. As she went to fetch it and I watched the babies I got to wondering if it was more than a coincidence that she had organised to pop over and happened to have her catalogue and kit with her. Did she even want my company or was I just being headhunted? I decided I was surely being paranoid.
After sniffing and sampling all of the products, I started to get a little excited by the whole idea. And the comfy heated jelly neck warmer probably did the trick. I was sold. I signed my soul away for some skin care and a chance at a holiday. That was the just the beginning.
After I'd paid via credit card I called and asked Katie when my kit would arrive.
"Oh hi!" She said "Um I can book you in for your intro night now if you like"
"Ah, intro night?"
"Yeah it's an information night where you go and collect your kit and you learn all about Nutrimetics. How it all works and how to make the most of your opportunity."
"So it's out in Waikanae."
"Waikanae!?" I exclaimed.
"Ah, yeah" She said sheepishly.
"Bloody hell, that's an hours drive!"
"Oh sorry, didn't I tell you?"
So off I went to Waikanae to pick up my Nutrimetics kit. Before I was conned into joining Nutrimetics, I was a fair-weather driver. I was afraid to go far and afraid to go at night. If there is one thing that is good for someone who is not yet a confident driver, it is being forced to drive 170 kilometres at night in the pouring rain, and trying to find a house in the dark. After that night, I was never afraid of driving again! Once I finally got there I met Jane, my new team leader. A slim woman in her 40s with beautiful eyes. Jane was a Nutrimetics veteran. She'd been at it for nine years. She told the group of new inductees all about her career with the company. She told us about her relaxed lifestyle. She gets up late. Walks her dogs. Chills out. She only does a few parties a week and she makes a living. She's been on countless overseas trips. She has a company car and soon she will get her convertible. Wow we all thought. How do we get ours?
We were all given out our packs. It was exciting. Like Christmas! There were also intro night specials on offer too. when Jane asked me if I wanted to purchase anything, I declined.
She said "That's fine" in that way that it means that it's actually not. This made more sense when I was explained how the system actually works. As a Nutrimetics consultant, you make 20% from what you sell, if you recruit people you make money for what they sell and what you sell. If your recruits recruit people, you get money from them too. However if you don't sell enough, you don't meet target and for someone starting up that can mean you don't get as many free products for your kit. And if you don't sell the right products sometimes you wont even get your 20%. What makes the whole thing more "fun" is that you yourself front the money for the products. You buy them yourself, then you have to go and deliver them and chase up the money. It definitely is not as straight forward as Katie saying "For every product you sell, you get paid a 20% commission!" I was starting to think I had made a bit of a mistake. But when I got the products home and used them, they were actually kinda nice. I figured at least I have some nice skincare.
I decided what I needed was to get amongst it. I was going to a training evening. So what if the selling details were a little different to what I was lead to believe? I just had to work a little harder to make sure I hit the targets to first get my extra free products for my kit then to make enough money so I didn't get caught short and be unable to pay for the products I order on other people's behalf. I just needed to work it. I could do it! After all look at Jane. She'd been doing this for nine years. She'd gotten free travel!
I went out to my training evening. This time it was in the Hutt. Also a good drive away. I was getting good at driving in the dark! I got to the training place and headed in. Eager for a free drink and some chit chat. When I got in, I was met by a heavily made up, woman in her 50s sitting at a desk. "Hello Love" she cooed like a pigeon with emphysema. Her strong Nutri-perfume puffing at me as she spoke. "Got your five dollars there Love?" What the fuck? I thought. "That's okay, you can get cash out when you buy yourself a drink at the bar." Are you fucking kidding me? I drive all the way here and I have to pay to get in AND pay for my own drinks?! I mean bloody hell, am I not potentially making these people money? I was about to leave when I spotted Katie, or she spotted me. "Hi Babe! So glad you could make it!" she chortled. Now I couldn't leave. I felt bad. I got my glass of wine and paid my fee then headed over for training.
I'd been told by Katie and Jane that tonight's training was facial training. It was a chance to learn and be pampered. I am quite partial to being pampered so I was looking forward to it. I had visions of being given an elaborate facial. I was drooling with anticipation. So you can imagine how disappointed I was by what was to follow.
Our training tutors split us into pairs and told us to pick who was going first. I was teamed with a nice lady in her early 60s. She said I could go first. Now, I'm not sure what was worse. Tenderly massaging someone with severe chin stubble or having your face tenderly massaged by someone who has very recently had a fag outside and whose fingers STINK of cigarette smoke. "I want my five dollars back" I thought.
By this stage I was fuming. But there was more. Next was the meeting. A chance for people to share their tricks. And also a chance to commend achievements. To my surprise Katie was quite the achiever. Jane called her to the front of the stage and commended her for achieving such amazing targets for the month. I wondered what they were, but not for long.
Jane explained "Katie has outdone all of us with this month's recruitment incentive. She took on the challenge full force! Katie has recruited 10 new consultants in one month!" Applause erupted around me.
"So here I have a special bonus cheque for you, Katie. Well done!" Katie gushed with excitement and pride. Lightbulb. It all made sense. The hard sell. The phone call out of the blue to come and "Pop over for a catch up". She had planned this all along. I was a pawn in her game. And she made money off of me! What a fucking bitch. I almost left then but something stopped me. Jane had started on another speech about achievements. Then she called Sandra up to the stage. A woman of about 35, with long stringy hair and bright pink lipstick waddled up to meet Jane.
"Now Sandra has done something remarkable. In just four short months she has gone from consultant, to group leader to Executive Sales Manager! What an amazing achievement!" She presented Sandra with a certificate and a small gift.
"Well, I'll let Sandra say a few words" Sandra opened her mouth to speak, but words did not come out. Instead her bottom lip started to quiver.
She's not! I thought. But, she did.
She started to cry.
"You, you, can, have, a better life," she managed though bubbling sobs.
"I never thought I could do this."
That was all Sandra could manage. She erupted into a full blown ugly cry and Jane had to take over for her.
"Yes, it can be a very emotional time when you achieve your big goals, I know all too well myself." Jane babbled on, as Sandra, still sobbing, made her way back to her seat.
As the meeting ended, I was about to make a beeline for the door and vow never to come back. But something caught my eye. A stall of things to purchase with women clucking all around it. I was curious. What are they all looking at? I went over to investigate. What I found was a stall of "Consultant Products". Nutrimetics T-Shirts for $40.00 a pop. All to advertise the brand you are making money for! Nutrimetics diaries to book in all your appointments and "Make you look professional" according to the girl manning the stand. And the most surprising and angering products on offer? Nutrimetics sign up forms for your new recruits. You can't photocopy these, because they need to be done on green card. You have to buy them and they don't come cheap. The worst? Paper carry bags printed with the nutrimetcis branding, to put the products that you deliver to your customers in. When it comes to Nutrimetics, you don't get nothing for free.
I turned on my heel and headed for the door but something stopped me. I heard the sound of muted whispers that only women bitching can make. I stopped. My ears pricked up. Behind a screen at a small table was a bunch of older consultants, their heads bobbed low together in conspiracy. I edged closer and turned my mum hearing on.
"I know," one of them hissed "We could all make manager in four months too, if we were happy to go to old folks homes and trick old ladies into buying stuff!"
"Jane does it too!" another hissed.
"Apparently half of the old ducks don't even know what they're buying, they just hand over the money, poor dears."
"I know! Isn't it wrong!" Added the first lady.
"And what really annoys me," started a third "Is that miss nine years and counting didn't even make target this year to get the overseas trip! But she keeps telling all the new girls all about the trips, as if they are a sure thing when you're manager!"
"Yep," agreed lady number two, "It's all tricks. So is the company car. You know, you get the car when you become manager, but if you don't keep making target each month, you actually have to pay for the car yourself."
"Really? I didn't know that!"
They continued. I had heard enough.
I left that night disappointed. Disappointed in womankind. What has the world come to when women lie to each other and trick each other all to achieve, what exactly? A holiday? A car? Some sense of self worth? What a very clever business model. Take a whole bunch of women who have left a fulltime job, mostly to raise kids, and give them a chance to prove they can make something for themselves and make money from home, if they just work hard and do not take no for an answer. Even if it means selling to the point of evil. It's not their fault. They get sucked in by the ones before them. Once they realise the truth, it's too late. The only way is to keep going and lie to the new ones like you were lied to yourself. And keep lying, because the moment you stop lying, you lose. How very clever indeed is the company who relies not on the product to make the money, but the business model itself. It's not the products making the money for Nutrimetics, it's the women. They buy the products for themselves, for their spa kits, as prizes for their recruits. They are encouraged to use the products themselves as much as possible to 'get to know them'. The spa party experience was created in such a clever way to firstly increase sales, increase recruitment, insure more parties AND make sure each consultant who runs a party is using up as many products as possible by offering these free spa experiences. Clever. What's the cleverest thing that they do? Well, they hire a drop dead gorgeous man with an accent as Consultant Manager, to attend all the functions. There is nothing like a gorgeous young man in a room full of middle aged women to encourage productivity is there?
The next day I woke up and decided that Nutrimetics was not for me. I could not sell like that. I could not bully people into joining. I could not and would not go to old folks homes and trick old ladies into buying crap that they did not need. I was not that person. Nope. I would, instead write a rather incriminating blog post!
Later that day the phone rang. It was Jane asking how I liked the training session last night.
"Ahh," I started. "It was, er, interesting" I managed. See, I can't even lie.
"So how are you going with your welcome targets? I see you still need to sell - let's see - $150.00 worth of products to get your super awesome luggage set! How are you doing with that?" She bubbled.
"Got any parties booked?"
"No, not really I ah-"
"Well!" she said cutting me off, "I have the just the idea for you! Why don't you go door to door and sell those microdermabrasion kits? You can buy them for $20.00 at the moment as a recruitment incentive, just sell them for $25.00 and tell people that you are donating $5.00 from each sale to the Christchurch earthquake fund! Great idea huh?" I was shocked.
"You want me to use the Christchurch earthquake as way to meet target?"
"Mmm, hmmm." She said sweetly. She really had no idea.
"Look Jane, I have decided Nutrimetics isn't for me. If it is for you, that's fine, but shame on you." I slammed the phone down. I took a big breath out, then I marched downstairs and took a long hot shower, reluctantly using all of my fancy new Nutrimetics products. God damn it. They smelled so good.
As for Katie? Well when she heard that I'd left Nutrimetics I didn't hear from her again. After a month I unfriended her on Facebook. It felt pretty good.
Note: This article is written without prejudice.