Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Avon Calling!

"Is this a pyramid thing?"

It wasn't the very first thing I asked - but it was one of the first.

"NO. It's not a pyramid scheme. She promised me it wasn't a pyramid scheme"

That was my really, really, really, really, really close friend answering me. I was going to make the choice to believe her. After all, I didn't go to her saying I need a job, I need money, I need a life. I had simply answered the question What's new? Part of what was new was that I was looking for work because I wanted to be a grown up and pay my bills, rather than be a kept man and let Pat pay all the bills. Even contributing a little would be better than being a complete and total freeloader. This was just conversational, though; it was just my girlfriend saying What's new? and me answering the question, honestly. Imagine my surprise, then, when she contacted me a few days later with news that she might have an opportunity for me. She had this close friend who was a part of Arbonne International and they needed men to promote their anti aging skin care line. Well. I didn't want to say the obvious. But someone had to - I was perfect for promoting an anti aging skin care line. Most often people think I am 28 or 32 but rarely believe me when I tell them I am 43. Why shouldn't I make money hawking an anti aging skin care line? Yes. I was interested in hearing more.

What followed was a series of emails and then phone calls from a woman who was so bright, so chipper, so cheery, so upbeat, so energetic, so positive minded that it all bordered on being truculent. I knew this was going to be a problem when I got the first email and there were caps and exclamation marks everywhere. It looked like a treasure map. Nevertheless, she was a good friend of my good friend and there was a potential for making money, so I listened to what she had to say. There was a lot of it, too. I listened. Then I asked.

"Is this a pyramid thing?"

"NO. It's not a pyramid scheme. I promise you it isn't a pyramid scheme"

Ok. I agreed to meet with her mentor. (I thought that was a weird word - not boss, not supervisor, not teacher... her mentor; what does that mean, in the business world?) The mentor was driving through New York next week on her way to a business thing in Delaware and could stop by. Ok. I made an appointment. Then I got off the phone and called Jen, my best friend and makeup artist for over a decade. Have you ever heard of Arbonne?

"Yeah, it's a big deal. Very expensive skin care and cosmetics. Been around forever. It's all the rage."

Ok. I trust Jen. She's one of those people whose names you put when you get a MySpace survey with the question Who do you trust with your life? Jen. If she says Arbonne is the shit, then I will listen. As long as it isn't a pyramid thing.

The day of the appointment arrived and this woman with whom I had exchanged maybe an email, maybe a phone call, maybe one of each, arrives with an associate. She was beautiful and well presented and she carried a briefcase and a gift bag. They sat on my sofa and began to talk. Each of them had a story. It took two hours to tell me everything they wanted to tell me.

Sorry; I said that wrong. I'll say it again.

It took TWO HOURS (!) for them to tell me everything they wanted to tell me!! A business meeting takes fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, forty five minutes. It does not take two hours! They each had a story about what they were doing before Arbonne. They each had a story about how they found Arbonne. They each had a story about how they got into Arbonne. They each had a story about how great Arbonne was for them. They each had a number.. a date...

"It took me 75 days to get my white Mercedes."

The white Mercedes is an incentive plan that is part of the program. After earning so much money you get a white Mercedes. I didn't quite understand it but it seemed to me that you have to buy it yourself when you reach a certain point in your marketing. There might be a discount. I'm not sure. By the time the white Mercedes came up, I had pretty much stopped listening. I'm not gonna lie. I had. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Flatline. No words penetrating. White Mercedes? Oh, ok. That's like the Mary Kay pink Cadillac. Gotcha.

"Is this a pyramid thing?"

"NO. It's not a pyramid scheme. I promise you it isn't a pyramid scheme"

I was four for four. Four times I had asked that question and four times I had been told NO. It is not a pyramid scheme. It is multi level marketing. What's that? It's how this program works. It's all explained in this literature. With that, she handed me a stack of literature that makes a volume of War and Peace look like People Magazine. Wow. The catalogue of merchandise is beautiful. They put a lot of money into the marketing of this product. With that, she handed me a gold bag full of samples. FREE STUFF!!!! Yay!!! I was really not paying attention now. I wanted to play with my free stuff. There were several boxes of tubes and pumps and sprays and cremes and scrubs. The boxes were pretty, the tubes and pumps and spray bottles were pretty. The lotions and cremes and scrubs smelled pretty. I couldn't wait to try them all and I knew Pat would be excited too.

"I'm going to Texas for a month. I will take this literature there and I will read it. I will try these products. I will get back to you when I am back in New York and let you know my decision."

I could not have been clearer about this.

That afternoon I got an email from truculent lady. WELL?!!!!! HOW did it GO???!!!! Did you just LOVE my mentor??!!!! She LOVED you and thinks you would be PERFECT for the Arbonne family!!!! Write back!!!!! Oy. Oy vey's mir. Whatever.

So I went to Texas and did my thing. Pat had begun trying the product and said it was good. So I tried it too. It was good. I'm not gonna lie. Shit's good. I even took some of it to Texas to try it while I was gone. On my second day there, having spent some good time with my kin, I sat down in the living room and got out Democracy In America... sorry, I mean, my literature on Arbonne International... and I began to read.

It was a beautiful and warm day in Texas. The sun radiated through the lace curtains, illuminating the red wood on the floors and walls. It was 11 am. At 11:03 am my dad walked into the room, passing on his way to his bedroom.

"Whatcha got there, son?"

Well, dad, I said, it's a possible business opportunity for me. And he stopped and sat on the arm of the loveseat (immediately) and asked to hear more. I began to tell him what I was reading and his face changed and became stone. Don't do this, son, he said and his voice had to air of absolute finality about it. So did his stone cold face. I looked at the clock. 11:04 He reached for the table and grabbed the main book of literature about Arbonne International. Instinctively, he opened to a page early in the reading. There was a diagram of how the program worked. It was an upside down triangle. It didn't have the three walls; it was just a series of rectangular boxes representing the system; but there it was: it was a pyramid.

"What are you boys doing?"

It was my mom, on her way to her bedroom with freshly folded laundry.

Dad is telling me why I shouldn't be a representative for Arbonne. When she asked me what that was I told her it was a skin care and make up line and you can sell it but you can also bring in other salespeople..DON'T DO IT. That was her interrupting me inside of fifteen seconds.

"In the seventies I was an Avon Lady and a Tupperware lady. You don't want to do this. You don't have the constitution for it. I'm telling you right now. Don't do it."

On the bright side: I had hundreds of dollars of free skin care and I didn't have to read James Michener's Hawaii. I took the literature and threw it away and I went into the Texas sun to enjoy my holiday. Until two days later when I began getting the emails from perky lady. What did I think of the literature? What did I think of the product? Had I decided to join the Arbonne family?

I wrote to her: my father, without whose consultation I make no business moves, and who was in big business (the name of the company, I will not put in print, but they are BIG) for twenty years and my mother, who was an Avon lady and a Tupperware lady, have both urged me (adamantly and with threat of bodily harm) to say no to Arbonne. I do love the product though.

She wrote back, saying it was cool and if I wanted to buy the product at a discount I could still join and just use the family discount and not worry about selling or anything. I told her I would think about it. When I got back to New York in November she was writing to say that I should join the family so that I could buy my friends Christmas presents cheaply. A week later she wrote to ask if I had done the procedures to join and was I enjoying the discounts. Finally I wrote back, saying leave me alone, Alex Forrest; just leave me alone.

I opened my email one day and saw one that Pat had forwarded to me. It was a reply he had gotten from some website called (something like) Pyramid Schemes Debunked dot com. He had written one sentence: What can you tell me about Arbonne International? What followed was a twenty plus paragraph breakdown of their copany and the way it works and how well it works for various people within the organization. It was all very clear, very straightforward and informative; but what I found most interesting was when the email said "if you want to know how well the Arbonne sales program works, go to Ebay and type in Arbonne and see how cheaply you can get the product that is being unloaded by members of the Arbonne organization who can't sell it." So I did.

Oh My God!! What you have to know is we are addicted to this shit. It is all botanical and it is citrus based and my skin feels amazing! It is also thirty and forty and fifty dollars an item. Not on Ebay. Every week I pick up Arbonne items for as little as five dollars and as much as twenty (it is very clear what the most popular items are) but at prices as much as half of what the company charges for them. Heavenly!

The only thing I don't love about the product is the way it is packaged. Almost everything is in pump packaging and the pump mechanism works, moving the creme up the bottle. When it gets to the top, the bottle is so top heavy and tall that a breeze will knock it over. I'm constantly picking bottles up off the floor and out of the trashcan. Thank God we always keep our toilet seat closed or we would have a real problem on our hands. It seems a small price to pay, though, when considering the kind of things I would be dealing with, had I not a father, a mother, a spouse and a humourous but honest website to protect me from becoming a glassy eyed drone talking about my white Mercedes.


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