I currently "sell" AVON. I do it for me and a couple of friends just to get the kickbacks and ultracheap samples.
I don't think Avon really counts as a MLM. First, there is a very definite organization to this company. President, CEOs, VPs, Division managers, and district managers. The startup cost is ridiculously low (it costs $10 to start up, and that just covers the cost of your brochures, plus you usually get a ton of free stuff - most of the people I know sign up to get the free stuff and then never sell anything). You do have the opportunity to develop a team of representatives and some managers push that, but it's not necessary. The money doesn't all come from the people below you on your team, and you can do perfectly fine and make a decent income without every once having recruited anyone. And you can't just recruit people. You actually have to sell the product, too, in order to be considered... you know... a sales rep.
It's more like a commission-only job. Not much different than selling cars or clothes on commission.
love Avon. I buy it all the time. I am one of those golden "order every campaign" customers. Even being a salaried manager with all the office politics didn't kill my love of the actual product.
The other night at an event I met someone selling Tastefully Simple (food) products. She had samples which were very good. Since there was a sign on the table, "Start your business for as little as $70," I assume it's probably and MLM, so having read this thread I felt guilty about ordering a dip which I like. But she didn't pressure me to become a seller and in fact said, "It's not for everybody." Which isn't something a really brainwashed person would say.
Also, she had to place orders - which means she hadn't bought a ton of inventory.
This kind of sounds like Epicure, which is also not a MLM. Order the dips. Like them. Enjoy them. Just because they offer you the opportunity to sell and get your stuff at a discount, doesn't mean it's a MLM.
I think it's important to distinguish between catalog companies and MLMs. With an MLM, you CAN'T make money unless you recruit people. Recruiting people is how you make your money. Catalog companies do operate in the home-selling model, which is different from a MLM.
I sell Epicure Selections, which is a Canadian company that makes dip mixes and stuff. The startup fee was kind of steep, but I buy it all the time and LOVE it. My friends who like it order through me and I do a big order twice a year. The commission is a flat rate (30%) and you don't have to keep inventory. If you sign other people up, you get something like 1-3% on their orders. Really minimal. The bulk of your commission comes from your own hard work.
A friend sells Norwex. Norwex is a cleaning-supplies company and again, their product is really amazing. It looks expensive on the surface, but it lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts...like, forever. It's great stuff. And again, the bulk of your commission comes from your own hard work and sales.
My sister in law sells Shaklee. Shaklee is totally a MLM. She hates when I try give her orders because she doesn't get anything for it. She wants me to place my own orders because that's the only way she can get paid. But I don't want an account. I just want the fabric softener once in a while because I like the way it makes my clothes smell.
Another friend works for Primerica, which again is totally a MLM. A friend kept wanting to get together for coffee because she wanted to talk to me about this amazing business opportunity. I asked her for an overview and she wouldn't give it, which was a big red flag. Then, during the interview, she wanted all this really personal information about my insurance and investing, etc, which I thought was really weird because I thought I was going to sell, not buy. I ended up wanting nothing to do with it and told her flat out not to bring it up again. She doesn't like me much and won't get together with me for playdates anymore.
So when you look at whether something is a MLM or not, look at how you make your money and what they are promising you. Endless financial freedom? Get all your clients from family and friends? Probably a MLM. Work hard and get a high commission on sales? Probably not, even if you can build a team and run your own business.
As a side note, I went to a Mary Kay presentation just after quitting Avon. There is a world of difference in the way the two businesses operate. It was creepy. Really, really creepy.