Field Guide: Essential MLMs in Utah

Joining a multi-level marketing (MLM)company is not a requirement for living in Utah. It only feels that way. MLMs or “direct-sales” ventures are big business here and prominent features of the state’s cultural and physical landscape. Interstate 15 through Utah County is lined by grand, spacious buildings emblazoned with marquee signs celebrating the largest MLMs in the state—DoTerra, Young Living, Nu Skin, Younique, LifeVantage, and the hits keep on coming. We’ve all been hit up on social media with a “Hey Girl!” from a former high school classmate who is “reaching out with this AMAZING miracle product!” Unfriend. MLM girlies are always hustling and almost every Elder on your mission did a stint selling solar panels or pest control after he got home.  

Why, pray tell, is Utah such fertile ground for MLMs? The culture within the ward houses likely plays a part. The LDS faith promotes industriousness and self-reliance. Young return missionaries easily morph into a fleet of pre-trained, often bi-lingual salespeople who are no strangers to knocking on doors. After marriage, LDS women are encouraged to build loving homes and, for many, hawking essential oils can earn pocket change (and break up the monotony). The Church also provides a built-in community (and weekly meetings) to recruit “downline” sellers. For one reason or another, some LDS folks are particularly susceptible to some of the sleazier schemes. In fact, Church leaders have admonished members to avoid being “too vulnerable to the lure of sudden wealth.” 

Meanwhile, Utahns in high places have a history of looking out for these companies. Many MLMs peddle health and dietary supplements with unproven effects, unevaluated by the FDA. How is that legal? Thank the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who championed the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act which legitimized the sale of supplements and limited FDA oversight. Meaning, that if a company gets too bold with its claims, the FDA cracks down by sending them a strongly worded letter. 

Despite the blessing of the U.S. Government, some MLMs have a nasty reputation for their business practices. For example, LuLaRoe was the subject of LuLaRich, an Amazon Prime documentary. The series shows how the LDS founders of MLM apparel company, LuLaRoe, used deceptive recruiting practices—preying largely on women who shared their religious beliefs—and saddled them with mountains of unsold, and often unwearable, inventory and massive debt. (Sales reps are not directly employed by the companies and often have to buy upfront the product to sell.) The model particulars might differ slightly from company to company, but it usually involves committing sales reps to market and sell products directly to consumers and to also recruit “downline” reps who pay a commission to their “upline” rep with every sale. Kind of like a pyramid. 

Still, the direct-sales industry brings in a lot of money to the state, accounting for 2.2% of the annual earnings in Utah in 2020. Ten of the largest MLMs headquartered in Utah (surveyed in 2020) made $10.3 billion in sales, the majority of which (about $6 billion) was made overseas. Those profits do not trickle “downline,” however. Those 10 Utah companies had 21,500 independent sales reps in Utah whose median earnings (before expenses) ranged from only $70 to $3,000 per year. 

That could explain why some MLM reps come across as aggressive and pretty desperate when they DM you on social media. 

So, maybe, the next time an MLM girlie or solar sales bro emerges from the past with a sales pitch, why don’t we let them down easy?

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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