Amway isn’t just a soap company anymore.
Vacuum cleaners, spark plugs, pet food, cosmetics and clothing are some of the 6,500 products the company offers.
About 400 items carry the Amway brand; others are familiar names like like Frito-Lay, Dockers, Sanyo, General Electric and Crayola.
The products are displayed in a glossy catalog that could easily be confused with one from Spiegel.
Hungry? Try the Exquisite Edibles meatloaf on page 288.
Thirsty? Chase the meatloaf with the powdered milk on page 302.
Worried the meal wasn’t complete? Down some Nutrilite vitamins from the supplemental health and fitness catalog.
“They even sell Jaguars (cars). They have a travel service,” said Kathy Altieri, a Spokane resident who pays about $25 a year to retain her Amway distributorship so she can buy the products at wholesale.
The company, which offered just 100 products in the early 1980s, has seen its sales grow with its product line. Amway was a $6.3 billion business in 1995, up from $1.8 billion in 1989 and $800 million in 1979.
The company won’t say - and may not track - how much of that money came from its own distributors. Quite possibly, they and their families are the biggest buyers.
Motivational tapes and business mentors urge recruits to show “100 percent loyalty” by purging their homes of competing products.
“We were buying their clothes, their food, their cleaning products, their pet products,” said a former distributor from Spokane, who asked not to be identified because she didn’t want to anger friends who are still in the business. “I was writing hundreds of dollars in checks.”
The products are displayed when distributors invite potential recruits to their homes.
“They’d say, ‘My couch was bought through Amway, my rug was bought through Amway, everything in my house,”’ said Mike Muglia, another former distributor from Spokane.
Money spent on products helps distributors earn bonus points necessary to climb the Amway success ladder. Meanwhile, the distributor’s sponsor earns a commission.
Speaking at a 1991 conference, Greg Duncan, a successful distributor from Western Washington, urged newcomers to toss out competing brands of toothpaste even if the tube isn’t empty.
Keeping it in the house makes as little sense as the owner of a Chevrolet dealership driving a Ford, he said.
Like any good sales army, distributors are convinced their products are the best available. Consumer Reports, the bible of American shopping savvy, tells a different story.
Since 1993, the magazine has tested similar Amway products. All but one were more expensive than others of similar quality.
The testers reported that Amway’s Crystal Bright dishwashing detergent performed “almost as well” as Palmolive Ultra. Yet Palmolive is a quarter the cost per wash cycle. The Amway detergent was the most expensive of the 23 brands tested.
Likewise, Amway Dish Drops was more than twice the cost of 20 other dishwashing soaps the magazine tested. Its quality was rated average.
Consumer Reports gave Amway laundry detergent high marks for quality, and said it was about average cost. The magazine said Amway Scrub Brite was average quality but was the more expensive of five other liquid scouring soaps.
Amway’s countertop water filter and Clear Trak vacuum cleaner were far more expensive than competing brands the magazine tested.
As for other Amway brands, customers often could do as well or better shopping locally, a random survey of Spokane stores showed.
Distributors pay about 30 percent less than the advertised price for Amway products, and can pass that savings on to their customers.
Spokane distributor Ron Puryear told the audience at a recent gathering that a family of four can save $1,500 to $2,500 a year by joining Amway and buying everything wholesale.
But even wholesale prices on most Amway products featured in Consumers Reports are higher than retail prices for competing brands that were tested.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Product cost comparison