October 13, 1996 in Nation/World

“Chasing The Dream” Amway Dealers Buy Into Promise Of Riches They Adopt Lifestyle, Absorb Culture, Memorize Message

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The neighborhood soap salesman doesn’t trudge door-to-door any longer.

In fact, a gung-ho Amway salesman - and most on the front line are men - isn’t really interested in selling soap.

Instead, he’s longing for the day when he brings his wife home from her job, tells his boss to shove it, and he and his family join Amway’s elite on white-sand vacation beaches.

To get there, he’ll turn off his television, alienate friends, give up vacations, softball and golf, and turn his finances inside out.

He’ll replace the Garth Brooks tapes in his car with recordings of speeches by men who made it big in Amway.

He’ll turn to men only slightly more successful than himself for advice on business, finances, wardrobe and sometimes even personal relationships.

If he has a wife - and to succeed in Amway, he almost certainly must - he’ll convince her to do the paperwork, dress pretty and host meetings.

If he’s Jewish, an atheist or a liberal, he’ll ignore the frequent references to the New Testament, the bashing of government regulations and his company’s close relationship to the Republican Party.

He’ll endure critics who call his quest cultlike.

Four or five nights a week he’ll come home from his day job, scrub up, shave with Amway toiletries and dress in the finest suit from the Amway catalog so he can “show the plan” to people who often would prefer visiting an orthodontist.

If those targets agree only to buy Amway’s soap or its thousands of other products, he’s failed.

He wants them to buy Amway itself. He wants them to contribute to his success as they chase their own.

He’ll do all that even though the chances of success are slim. While the best can make a living wage, the average income of an “active” distributor is $88 a month, according to company documents.

And that average wage doesn’t include the majority of distributors, who are considered inactive because they’ve given up or only joined to buy products at wholesale prices.

From their profits, distributors buy Amway products and gasoline for their nightly business excursions. They attend rallies, like the one drawing about 6,500 Amway distributors to Spokane this weekend, and buy motivational tapes, without which they are told they cannot succeed.

“It’s cut down on my activities, but it’s a choice I had to make … to bring my wife and myself home full time to our family,” said Paul Whitten of Airway Heights.

Just a year into the business, Whitten is still working at the state prison. But his wife, Mary, recently quit her job as a school bus driver.

Although he won’t say how much they earn with Amway, Whitten said it’s enough that they no longer need her income.

THE BEGINNINGS

Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos were only looking for a better way to sell soap in 1959 when they founded Amway - short for American Way. In the process, they invented multilevel marketing.

By convincing people to sell products from their homes, the co-founders reasoned, they could cut much of the overhead that plagues stores.

The company ensures a perpetual army of fresh recruits by giving distributors a share of the profits earned by people they bring into the fold. So, while salesmen for other companies jealously defend their territory, Amway distributors court newcomers and have a vested interest in seeing that they succeed.

“It’s very people-oriented,” said Carl Wilson, an Amway distributor before moving to Spokane from Guam last year. “You help other people achieve their goals and yours will come.”

The idea proved popular. There are 2.5 million Amway distributors in more than 60 countries, the company reports. They bought and sold $6.3 billion worth of products last year.

While Amway publications are filled with stories of doctors and lawyers giving up their practices, the company’s real fans are working-class people who feel it’s their only chance to be self-employed.

It costs about $50,000 to open a 7-Eleven store and $500,000 to open a McDonald’s restaurant. An Amway start-up kit costs about $130, comes with a sampling of products and requires no training.

“It’s a business I can get into for a very reasonable cost,” said Shirley Mack of Spokane, who joined Amway two months ago. “And I can go to the top if I want.”

“God didn’t make jobs, people did,” said Andrea Galbraith, who joined her husband’s Spokane business when they married a year ago and hopes to quit her office job soon. “Now there’s an alternative. Now there’s Amway.”

Nobody has benefited more than Van Andel and DeVos. Forbes magazine lists them among the 25 richest Americans, estimating their wealth at about $3.2 billion each. DeVos owns the Orlando Magic pro basketball team.

With success has come scrutiny. The Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation in 1969 to determine whether Amway was an illegal pyramid. Ten years later, the FTC concluded the business was legal, as long as its distributors sell products to at least 10 customers a month.

Distributors, who typically describe their occupation as “marketing,” often meet that requirement by selling to their friends and relatives, as well as other distributors they’ve recruited.

MOTIVATING THE MASSES

Everyone in Amway knows the odds of making it big are long. Yet those who immerse themselves in the Amway lifestyle are convinced they will become rich if they only work a little harder and believe a little more.

Encouraging them are people like Spokane’s Ron Puryear, one of the world’s most successful Amway distributors, who display their wealth in company publications and video tapes.

“Ron doesn’t buy those material things for Ron and (his wife) Georgia Lee,” a speaker told a cheering crowd in Spokane last April. “He buys them to show you that you can have them too.”

The Amway millionaires, not Amway itself, produce the tapes and arrange the rallies.

A typical group of Amway distributors has four large functions a year, including Free Enterprise Days, the event at the Spokane Arena this weekend. Admission ranges from $50 if participants arrange their own accommodations to $350 for a conference package.

Tapes cost from $5 to $10 each.

Distributors are not required to buy tapes or attend conferences, Amway officials say, but the Amway millionaires make it clear that no one succeeds without investing in motivation. They encourage distributors to have a new tape sent to their home each week.

The tapes “are magic, guys,” millionaire Joe Foglio told a Spokane Amway crowd in 1992.

Vicki Spaulding of Clayton, Wash., said her grown son bought a stack of tapes in the year he was an Amway distributor “and all they did was motivate him to buy more.”

The tapes and rally speeches offer more than just success stories or business tips. There’s personal advice, as well.

Amway distributors are urged to make their “upline direct” their closest friend and adviser. That’s the person who sponsored them into the business.

Speaking to a Spokane crowd on Mother’s Day 1992, Foglio offered this advice to married distributors whose sex life wasn’t satisfying: “Go to your upline direct and say, ‘Where can we get help?’ and they’ll get you some help.”

Wealthy distributors credit their wives with helping them achieve success. But women generally play a supportive and submissive role.

“You call our house, you get a bubbly, happy wife because I protect her and keep her totally, completely sheltered from all the things that don’t go the way we want them to in our business,” Spokane’s Dave Severn told a Portland crowd.

“I hated it. The women were to do all the bookkeeping only and the men were in sales,” said a Spokane woman whose husband was a distributor for seven months. She didn’t want her name used for fear of offending friends still in Amway.

Few single people make it big in Amway, if the company’s monthly magazine is any indication. Distributors get their pictures in Amagram when they hit benchmarks of success.

The pictures in four recent issues showed 27 single men, 24 single women and 499 couples.

“Of course, you single women can (run a distributorship) too. But you have the best hunting places for a good husband” at Amway functions, Peggy Britt, wife of millionaire Bill Britt, said at a convention.

RELATIONSHIPS LOST AND FOUND

Marcia Via of Ritzville joined her fiance’s distributorship in 1994. She took telephone orders and attended rallies, but was embarrassed about inviting friends to meetings and resented buying Amway products.

The couple split up earlier this year.

“Amway put a tremendous pressure on the relationship. I’m not going to say that it ended it, but it added tremendous pressure,” she said.

Chris Seymore of Spokane said her marriage suffered because she refused to support her husband’s Amway business.

On her birthday in January, Seymore’s husband agreed to drop out if he wasn’t making at least $50 a month by the end of May.

“He didn’t make a nickel,” and kept his promise, Seymore said.

Another Spokane woman, who talked on the condition of anonymity, said her husband joined Amway while he was temporarily out of work. When the layoff ended, he refused to return to his job, sensing that his new business was on the verge of success.

He gave up three months later, after losing about $6,000 in wages.

The Amway message is so seductive and presented so effectively that some scholars and former distributors say it is cultlike.

“It’s not a cult in that you live with the group on a commune, but it’s a very controlling group,” said Marcia Rudin, director of the International Cult Education Program.

“I’ve gotten complaints from people whose (loved ones) are deeply involved, who have left their jobs and do Amway all the time,” shunning friends and relatives, Rudin said.

Successful distributors speak disparagingly about jobs, but discourage people from quitting until they’re earning a steady income from Amway.

Amway’s most outspoken critics, including some past distributors, refer to the tapes and rallies as “brainwashing.”

Puryear, a born-again Christian, said such criticism reveals a double standard. Many companies hold motivational rallies, he noted, “yet people will observe that in Amway and call it a cult.”

The Amway faithful are lavish in their praise.

Some former distributors say they learned time management and professional conduct. Others formed the best friendships of their lives with people they met in the business.

Linda Lourey, a Spokane accountant, said she and her husband discovered God during a church service at an Amway conference while living in California.

Their newfound faith saved their marriage, she said. They dropped out of the business to start a mission for alcoholics and drug abusers.

Amway “was the way I found out that Christians aren’t weak,” Lourey said. “I was exposed to a lot of wealthy, strong Christians.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (2 color) Graphic: Amway sales

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IN THIS SERIES As thousands of Amway distributors look for inspiration in Spokane this weekend, The Spokesman-Review takes an indepth look at their business. Inside today: Conservative politics, Amway jargon and a look at the odds against distrbutors making enough money to quit their day jobs. Coming Monday: Their own jet airplane awaits them at Spokane International Airport. They’re building a 26,000-square-foot palace along the Spokane River in Post Falls. Ron and Georgia Lee Puryear are local examples of just how rich some people get in the Amway business.

2. AMWAY CORPORATION FOUNDERS Rich DeVos Title: Co-founder and former president of Amway Corporation. Personal: Born on March 4, 1926, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Married Helen Van Wesep of Grand Rapids in 1953. Four children. Education: Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Career: 1944-46: United States Air Force. 1949: Formed Ja-Ri Corporation with Jay Van Andel. 1959: Founded Amway Corporation with Van Andel. Past Finance Chairman, Republican National Comittee.

Jay Van Andel Title: Co-founder and senior chairman of Amway Corporation. Personal: Born on June 3, 1924, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Married Betty Hoekstra of Grand Rapids in 1952. Four children. Education: Calvin College, Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, Pratt Business School in Kansas and Yale University Aviation Cadet School. Career: 1942-45: United States Army Air Force Officer. 1945-50: Reserve officer. 1959: Founded Amway Corporation with Rich DeVos.

Source: Amway Corporation

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IN THIS SERIES As thousands of Amway distributors look for inspiration in Spokane this weekend, The Spokesman-Review takes an indepth look at their business. Inside today: Conservative politics, Amway jargon and a look at the odds against distrbutors making enough money to quit their day jobs. Coming Monday: Their own jet airplane awaits them at Spokane International Airport. They’re building a 26,000-square-foot palace along the Spokane River in Post Falls. Ron and Georgia Lee Puryear are local examples of just how rich some people get in the Amway business.

2. AMWAY CORPORATION FOUNDERS Rich DeVos Title: Co-founder and former president of Amway Corporation. Personal: Born on March 4, 1926, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Married Helen Van Wesep of Grand Rapids in 1953. Four children. Education: Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Career: 1944-46: United States Air Force. 1949: Formed Ja-Ri Corporation with Jay Van Andel. 1959: Founded Amway Corporation with Van Andel. Past Finance Chairman, Republican National Comittee.

Jay Van Andel Title: Co-founder and senior chairman of Amway Corporation. Personal: Born on June 3, 1924, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Married Betty Hoekstra of Grand Rapids in 1952. Four children. Education: Calvin College, Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, Pratt Business School in Kansas and Yale University Aviation Cadet School. Career: 1942-45: United States Army Air Force Officer. 1945-50: Reserve officer. 1959: Founded Amway Corporation with Rich DeVos.

Source: Amway Corporation


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