Calvin student interactions with direct sales and multilevel marketing

Multi-level marketing (MLM) and direct sales are types of company strategies through which goods are marketed directly to consumers through independent contractors. They do this through person-to-person contact, usually starting with family and friends via the telephone or through the Internet. The Grand Rapids community is heavily involved in many direct sales companies and MLMs, and some even try to recruit Calvin students. Examples you may have heard of include Vector Marketing, Cutco, Rodan and Fields, Avon, Young Living, Mary Kay, Herbalife, and Grand Rapids’ own Amway, which sells health, beauty and lifestyle products. 

There is a legal distinction between pyramid schemes and direct sales; however, there have been many Federal Trade Commission investigations where MLMs and direct sales companies have been shut down due to illegal practices.

David Widjaja, a Calvin graduate from Indonesia, got involved with Amway during  his time at Calvin. He learned about Amway through a Calvin-sponsored Amway Networking Event. In 2017, he landed an internship as a Global CRM Solutions Systems Analyst Intern. Widjaja believes that Amway implements a marketing strategy where their customers also become their product distributors, and therefore fits the definition of an MLM. On the official Amway website, they state that they are a “direct sales” company and not an MLM. Widjaja said that before he took business classes at Clavin, he had an immediate negative connotation with the word MLM. However, in classes, Widjaja felt as though he learned more nuance on this topic, saying that “It is not the MLM concept that is bad. It’s the people that abuse the system that are not thinking about others nor the community which gave MLM a bad connotation. In the end, it’s because of our fallen nature that we have corrupted the concept of MLM.”  

When asked if Amway recruits college students, Widjaja replied, “Yes. I was very active in networking, career fairs, and job fairs, and Amway is always there.” Widjaja encourages students to “apply and be agents of renewal to spread shalom in corporate America, such as Amway.” 

Jackson Doezema, a first-year at Calvin, spoke of his experience with an MLM first semester. The MLM in concern was Vector Marketing, which is an MLM that sells Cutco knives. Vector Marketing is known to actively recruit on college campuses, and has advertised on Calvin’s campus in the past, although it no longer is allowed to. Tarita Johnson, the director of the career center, stated that Vector Marketing is not allowed to recruit on campus “due to behaviors in the past that violated our policies.” 

Doezema was contacted by someone on Facebook he didn’t know, but who he had mutual friends with. The messenger told Doezema that he was part of a local business that was looking for students who were looking for winter work. Doezema had never heard of Vector Marketing, and thought he’d give it a shot. When he asked the messenger what the work entailed, the messenger told him that he would get “paid to meet with customers (usually soccer moms), answer any questions they have and help them place orders.” He filled out a form on, which linked to a google form for those interested in applying to Vector Marketing in the Greater Grand Rapids area. The manager who interviewed Doezema highlighted specifically selling to people that one knew, which made Doezema feel uncomfortable. He said, “You can make money from it, but you sacrifice all your personal relationships.” After the interview, Doezema messaged the manager and told him he didn’t think it would be a good fit.   

Tarita Johnson, the director of the career center, spoke about the issue of MLMs. According to the employer policy for the career center, companies are not allowed to recruit for franchising, direct sales or independent contracting through Handshake. Johnson emphasized, “When it comes to our thoughts on MLM positions, we do not have a blanket policy.” She encourages students to thoroughly research companies before applying, advises students to be wary of companies that require an initial investment to get started, and be skeptical of companies that focus on getting more recruits than selling products. Johnson explained, “That is a sign that the focus of the business is questionable.”