“Maybe if they don’t ask and I don't say anything, no one will notice that I haven’t said anything about LuLaRich.”
This was my thought for over two weeks. And then people started asking my thoughts about LuLaRich, the Amazon Prime four-part documentary about LuLaRoe. Exactly as I should have expected, I suppose… And hiding under the covers hoping my massive cognitive dissonance would go away wasn’t a healthy way to deal with this either.
So here I am.
My Thoughts on LuLaRich
Full disclosure, I have never sold LuLaRoe, and don’t know the founders or owners personally. But I have first-hand LuLaRoe experience. My story is unique, and unlike any others you’re likely to hear.
When I started my coaching business in 2015, I had very modest goals. My introverted self wanted to maintain a blog, post free training videos and articles, and monetize the blog through ads and affiliates. That was my big idea, which seems downright quaint now considering the behemoth the Suite has grown into.
But first let me backup.
I never had any ambition to be a business owner. I grew up watching my parents own a business, and all I remember was constant fighting about money and never taking vacations. So my ambition was to work for someone else, get a steady paycheck, and take my two weeks of vacation each year. And so, I went to college and graduate school, and found my way into the corporate track of organizational training within the financial services industry.
And probably unsurprisingly, by 42 I was burned out on traveling, constant expense reductions, HR issues, and ornery clients. (Hot take – banks don’t call you when things are going well… only when their multi-million-dollar batch files don’t deposit on the scheduled day.)
I joined a direct sales company because it wasn’t my day job. It was light, shiny, fun, and cheaper to join than pay retail for everything I wanted in the catalog. But of course, I wasn’t going to make a business of it. “I didn’t go to grad school to sell jewelry in ladies’ living rooms,” I said haughtily. Or so I thought.
So, while I continued to work my day job, I was also “wearing, caring, and sharing” and telling everyone I met to buy the kit. I thought I had found a secret loophole. Buy the kit and get whatever you want at wholesale! Shhh… tell your friends! It’s like a secret discount! As I actively shared, I sold jewelry along the way. As my team shared, they sold jewelry too.
Within a year I was the #1 sponsor in my company, and #1 again the second year, along with #2 in developing leaders. I built a million-dollar team in two years. I took everything I knew about business, marketing and training, and turned around and applied it to my little side business. Then I taught my team to duplicate it, all online.
And people started noticing.
Soon I was being asked to come train other teams on social media, marketing, branding, and sales.
I left my direct sales company in 2015 to start my own training business (remember, a blog with some monetized videos) with a basic hypothesis. People want to do direct sales better, but don’t know how, and companies aren’t teaching it.
I will teach it.
I started a free Facebook community in 2015, and within six months had exploded to over 10,000 people. And by the third anniversary in 2018 to over 100,000 people. When people find a good resource, they share it with their teams. Now you might notice, this timeline lines up with the early side growth of LuLaRoe. My free community group rode that wave of growth right along with that company.
As the Suite community grew, people started asking for more.
“Brenda, can you teach my team to…”
“Brenda, can you make a video course on…”
“Brenda, do you do one-on-one coaching?”
Yes, to everything! I can do all of that! I’m not sure how, but I’ll figure it out!
By late 2016 I was buried under people, teams, coaching, content, and LuLaRoe. I had around 75 one-on-one LuLaRoe clients, all trying to figure out how to market and standout online.
I should also note, I was (and am) a LuLaRoe customer. At one point, I was buying every week from my clients and had probably 50 pairs of leggings. As I’m writing this, I’m wearing LuLaRoe denim, which fits better than any other jeans I’ve tried on this curvy bottom.
By late 2016, I was stressed out again. Many of my clients worked during the day, so I did calls and team trainings in the evenings. This means I missed dinner with my family and putting the kids to bed more often than I made it.
My stress led to family angst. My husband told me to fix it or shut it all down.
I had the brilliant idea to move all of my one-on-one clients into a private group coaching experience, lower their monthly price point, and speak to everyone at once. I had never run a membership coaching group before, and frankly had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I just knew I had a problem and needed a solution that served everyone.
The premium coaching group, launched in February 2017, was named Suite SassyPants as a wink to LuLaRoe, as they were all my founding members.
Within a year, Suite SassyPants exploded to over 3000 direct sellers, including LuLaRoe and many other direct sales brand consultants. Additionally, I was doing dozens of LuLaRoe team trainings both online and all over the country. Within two years of starting my own business, I hit 7-figures of revenue. We scrambled to build systems, hire staff, and figure out how to serve all these online sellers who simply wanted to do marketing better.
I was a direct beneficiary of LuLaRoe’s explosive growth. And because of the number of private clients and leaders in my coaching group, I had direct insider information to what was happening day by day, and week by week. Nearly everything in the LuLaRich documentary was something I heard directly from a LuLaRoe senior leader, often with screenshot proof the day it happened.
Now back to my original mission for a second. I believe that people want to do direct sales better, but just didn’t have access to information on how to do that.
I was (and still am) actively and vocally counter coaching the LuLaRoe messaging that “if you want to sell more, you just need to buy more” and “if you want it bad enough, just go find new customers” …with… “NO! STOP BUYING MORE INVENTORY! LET’S DEVELOP STRATEGIES TO SELL WHAT YOU HAVE!” and “THIS IS HOW TO BUILD A MARKETING PLAN!” (And to this day, sales strategy is still a foundational part of my coaching methodology.)
By late 2018 as LuLaRoe began its mass exodus, we too lost coaching clients, leaders, and members. Revenue shrunk by 40% in a year and I had my own challenges with expense control as we had scaled up our systems and automations to support that volume of private clients we had at the peak. We watched as our tight-knit community lost valued members. We saw relationships fall apart between those staying with LuLaRoe and those leaving LuLaRoe.
We felt helpless as our LuLaRoe members shared how much pain and drama they were dealing with from their company. We stood by, unable to help, coach, or do anything other than agree “yea, this really sucks.” We tried to support those leaving, while also support those staying, trying desperately to not take sides in what could only be described as a bitter divorce happening amongst hundreds and hundreds of our members.
We rode the wave up, and rode the wave down as an unwitting bystander.
So that’s my backstory. Now let’s pivot to the present.
There are a lot of problems in the direct sales industry, and one of the things I often say is that direct sales has such a bad reputation because of the people who do it badly.
- Spammy, desperate and self-serving sales methods.
- Manipulative recruiting tactics.
- Accidental and absentee leaders.
- Weak (or nonexistent) training.
And while there are many out there like that, there are just as many trying to change it, to create valuable coaching communities and authentic team relationships rooted in trust.
I am trying to bridge the gap between brand and consultant. Brands want their fields to sell products. But individual consultants need to build a marketing plan that creates awareness, interest, and differentiation.
Most brands don’t take the time to teach long-game marketing as it doesn’t serve their immediate needs. It’s all about this month, this special, this incentive. Make sales now. Make your contact lists. Do your “go for no” challenge. (Eww, no.) And they usually don’t teach the social applications that create the foundation of online social selling and e-commerce, leaving that largely up to the consultant to figure out his or her own training needs.
And in the absence of decent coaching or guidance you get the “Copy and paste this message to 10 new people every day – try to find friends of friends!”
NOOOOOOOO. Do NOT do that! It’s spammy and awful, and is why people hate direct sales.
The industry has an average consultant tenure of 12ish months, which is about the length of time it takes to burn through and annoy all your friends and family. Many brands don’t care – they will run a join incentive and bring in hundreds of new consultants to sell.
So here stands my dissonance.
Can I hate LuLaRoe for what it’s done to both the industry and my clients, and love LuLaRoe for what it’s done for my business? Am I part of the problem enabling a predatory industry, or actively working from the inside to improve it? Am I teaching methods that take advantage of the vulnerable, or teaching people to make bolder and braver decisions for their own livelihoods, that may contradict upline or brand directives? Am I helping or hurting?
Well isn't that the million-dollar question.
I’m proud of what I do. I’m teaching foundational business and marketing strategy, sometimes to women learning it for the first time. I can celebrate hundreds of success stories rooted not only in financial success, but in confidence, empowerment, community, and mindset.
Yes, LuLaRoe has done a lot of shady things and people were hurt in the process, including some of my clients. Their stories are valid. Yes, there are still active LuLaRoe retailers finding success through their own marketing efforts, including some of my clients. Their stories are also valid.
And then there are people in the middle like me. People who see both sides, support both sides, and are trying to make a difference in whatever small ways we can, to help people see where their company’s gaps are before they fall into the ditch. Trying to help ALL consultants ask for better, no… demand better training from their leaders and companies.
Only when people are brave enough to stand up and say no to bad methods, do things differently, and be loud about it, will things start to change in teams and companies. I’m willing to stand at that frontline and yell to anyone willing to listen. I’m willing to stand beside my clients who are still finding their own bravery to do something different from their company or upline, because what they’re coaching on feels weird, icky and disingenuous.
I’m willing to contradict corporate trainings and tell consultants to brand themselves, and not be cookie cutter images of each other. I’m willing to boldly tell CEOs that they need to change their field training strategies to evolve with the modern consumer-driven social marketplace, that puts more direct marketing control in the hands of the consultant.
Maybe I’m a David fighting the Goliath of bad practices of this industry. But I think things are slowly changing. More companies are implementing marketing coaching based in relationship value. More leaders are teaching their teams about marketing and business fundamentals, as well as financial management and goal setting. More people are recognizing the chasm between direct sales (selling a product, for which you have little operational decision-making authority) and e-commerce (owning a business and all aspects of operations), and trying to fill the gap with knowledge to empower better decision making.
I might never have aspired to be a woman of direct sales, but here I am. And weirdly, I have LuLaRoe to thank for it. If LuLaRoe hadn’t exploded in growth when it did, I likely wouldn’t have a private coaching community (rebranded as The Elite Suite), be working with dozens of corporate brands, hundreds of leaders, and thousands of consultants across the industry trying to shape a better message of what value and success look like.
A pebble dropped into a lake makes many ripples that carry across the water.
LuLaRich may have exposed problems in one company, and tried to tie it to the whole industry. And I cringed watching some of it, because yes – it’s exactly what I’m fighting against, and personally lived through with my own clients and leaders.
But there are many of us out here trying to ripple across the water with better methods, for the greater good of all.
And I'm proud to be part of that.