Network marketing attracts students

Junior economics major Eric Wall (bottom-center) and his partner Brock Morton (top-right) discuss Vemma, an energy drink company with other students. Photo by Dev Mehta

Eric Wall, a junior economics major, is a full-time student with a part-time job. But as a brand partner for the company Vemma, Wall has no set schedule or set pay. This month he said he will make $2,000 by promoting an energy drink called Verve through network marketing.

Network marketing, also called multi-level marketing, is when independent agents distribute a product for a company and recruit others to do the same. The agents, or distributors, make a profit by receiving a percentage of the new members’ sales, as well as their own sales revenue.

Vemma declined to release the amount of Chapman students who are a part of the program and does not track enrollments of specific age groups. However, college students, like Wall, see network marketing as a job that provides more financial freedom and time than traditional jobs because of the ability to set their own schedules and salaries.

“I get to decide how much money I make because what I’m putting in is what I’m getting out,” Wall said. “I can get what I want, when I want it and as much as I want.”

To become a brand partner for Vemma, students purchase company products, including a variety of Verve energy drinks or supplements. The energy drinks and liquid antioxidants contain high doses of vitamins and minerals as well as natural sugars and caffeine. They give the products away for free in hopes of encouraging others to buy the product and become sales representatives. Verve can only be purchased through a brand partner or the Vemma website. If they convince consumers to become sales representatives themselves, brand partners make their money back, plus a profit. They receive a portion of the revenue from sales made by every person they add to their team.

Brock Morton, a junior business administration major, introduced Wall to Vemma and is taking the semester off to focus on building his team. He makes an average of $3,000 each month. Morton also joined for the time freedom, which a conventional part-time job doesn’t offer.

“I do whatever I want, whenever I want to,” Morton said. “If you treat it like a hobby, you will get paid like a hobby. But I treat it like a million dollar business.”    Aaron Goodman, a freshman business and chemistry major, said many students at his high school were involved with Vemma.

“When people sign up as representatives, they don’t meet friends anymore, only potential business partners,” Goodman said. “It’s pretty annoying when my friends get all weird trying to get me to be their client.”

Goodman said he dislikes the way working for Vemma affected his friends and he didn’t join Vemma because he was suspicious of it being a marketing scheme.

Ken Murphy, associate professor of operations management and assistant dean of undergraduate programs, said an individual’s success in a company like Vemma depends upon when he or she becomes a part of it and the demand for the product.

“Multi-level companies like this always flame out in the long run, so you have to get in early to be able to still find other people willing to buy into it,” Murphy said. “You have to ask yourself how big is the market going to be? Are energy drinks a fad or long-lasting?”

Murphy said the partners also have to believe in what they are selling to be successful and ethical.

Wall said, as a Vemma user himself, he believes in the company’s products, and enjoys giving people a healthier alternative to energy drinks and weight loss supplements, but being a brand partner isn’t for everyone. He admits to having months where he did not work at it and that he didn’t make any money when he first started.

Murphy said only a tiny percentage of the company employees will most likely be successful and make large sums of money before the consumers get exhausted.

“We all make mistakes. But once we make a mistake with one multi-level marketing scheme, we never do it again,” Murphy said. “Companies like this are an old act, and marketing them to college-age students is bordering on ethical.”

Read “Be wary of get rich quick schemes” in OPINIONS.