In just a few minutes, Bill Ackman’s firm Pershing Square Capital Management will begin unloading its latest round of ammunition against Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF). He’s been saying that the company is a pyramid scheme, and this time, his firm is hosting a live presentation and roundtable discussion with former Herbalife distributors who say they have been victimized by the multi-level marketing company.
Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) has been accused of targeting low income and minority populations. Ackman’s firm has uncovered videos and promotional material from people allegedly connected with Herbalife who seem to be recommending that people even go into debt to become a distributor for the company. It will be interesting to see what those who feel victimized have to say.
This post will be update continuously as the presentation and discussion unfold.
The Herbalife presentation begins at 11 a.m. Eastern
11:03 a.m. – Herbalife CEO said they’re trying not to laugh. Bill Ackman said it isn’t a laughing matter. He says 88% of distributors make no commission, people who spend $4,000 to be sales leaders, median sales leader earns nothing. Ackman says failure rate may be more than 90% although number not disclosed by Herbalife. Herbalife argues people sign up to get the discount. Estimated 90% of people who sign up to be members quit.
Yesterday Herbalife said more than 1.6 million new members joined since 2008, but Ackman says most of those are already gone. In the past five quarters, many have already quit, according to Ackman. He reminds us of investigations going on. He says Herbalife has responded by attacking them, buying back shares to prop up stock price.
Introducing moderator pyramid scheme expert Robert FitzPatrick and starting the film.
One says she lost $25,000 in 18 months. Less than two months, another lost almost $5,000. Another lost at least $10,000 in months. Over $45,000, says another.
People who became Herbalife distributors stretched across numerous industries. Some were desperate to make money, lost jobs, etc. They talk about Sean Hannidy’s program airing promotions for Herbalife. The alleged victims talk about the websites and contacting Herbalife. The company advertised independent lifestyle and a home-based business.
One said Herbalife made it sound so easy and that they could make $10,000 a month very quickly. Several clips from supposed distributors saying that they earned a lot of money. Herbalife distributors list prices and everything they had to buy become distributors. They spent thousands of dollars. Alleged victims said it seemed like they just wanted their money and that they didn’t say up front that they had to spend so much money to get in. Then they allegedly urge people to buy up and become a supervisor.
Some say there was “subtle intimidation” that people won’t succeed if they don’t become a supervisor, even without 50% off. They say products are extremely expensive and they would have to reduce the price until they didn’t make anything on it. Also they said the shipping was extremely expensive. Many say they still have product in their house that they can’t sell.
11:14 a.m. – They say to make money, they had to recruit others rather than just sell. They think recruiting was the main goal to build their “pyramid or whatever they want to call it,” according to one person. Alleged victims say Herbalife is “a pyramid scheme.”
11:15 a.m. – What sound like Herbalife clips urge people to tell others that they don’t know the answer to their questions and then get into a personal story. Alleged victims say they had to tell white lies to get people into the scheme. Tell people they made $1,000 last month, but they paid $5,000 to get that $1,000.
Some say they were wrapped in a dream and one compared to playing a slot machine. Another said it was an addiction and that they felt compelled to keep going. Others said they ran out of money trying to get money. More than one called it “like a cult.”
11:18 a.m. – Alleged victims say their health was negatively impacted, presumably by the stress. One said someone had a heart attack. Another feels bad that she might have caused others to lose money. Another felt bad taking money from her daughter’s college fund to pay for Herbalife. Another maxed out her credit cards to stay in.
They didn’t know what to do, some formally filed complaints against Herbalife with the FTC, claiming it as a pyramid scheme.
11:20 a.m. – Moderator Fitzpatrick and former Herbalife distributors take the stage.
11:21 – Fitzpatrick says often victims’ stories are not told and that the presentation with four people is “truly a rare experience.” For once we’re hearing real life stories, he said.
He says victim has been used but that word is “not accurate.” He would use the word “customers” instead because so many didn’t earn money as supervisors. They were customers because they bought a lot of product.
11:25 a.m. – He’s asking each participant to introduce themselves. Tom from Rochester, NY, retired 2010, wanted extra income, sounded like home-based business, got into it, paid $9.95 to buy the CD, people start calling you, saying you’ll make 50% on what you sell, sounds good, but only if you can sell it, so he said pay $130 per lead and they wanted to do 20 lears per month.
Daralyn? From Newburgh New York, lives in Florida, same story as Tom
11:28 a.m – Someone offered supposedly a deal, she didn’t have to do the whole $4,000 or something.
Pat, lives in Oklahoma, wanted another source of income to offset retirement, got in, realized there were “some issues with it.”
Lynn, was a legal secretary at work surfing online, came across ad for Herbalife, someone talking about how he was making money, cost of info packet was free but $9.95 shipping charge. Then someone called and told her about business and “kind of coerced” her to sign up, didn’t know much about Herbalife but didn’t think really wanted to be involved until they told her more, $25,000 later….
11:31 a.m. – Asks where they got idea to get excited about people. One says info packet lists everyday people who earn thousands of dollars, all had normal lives, and make it sound like “you can do this too” and that they’ll teach you and just put $2,800 up and show you how to get rid of product and bring in other people who can do the same.
Another thought health products would be good, but then when they talk about how expensive they are compared to what’s in stores. They said become supervisor and take the product to sell it. Buy it then use it and then sell it.
11:34 a.m. –Where did they get the idea it would be big idea? One said it’s “propaganda,” others said they had to follow the rules, it was programmed, read this, do this, call customers in advance to make sure they’ll be there for the phone call, when you start, you have a supervisor, you’re listening to what they say. People think they won’t lie but they end up lying, they said.
11:37 a.m. – They disagree about how much the leads cost, but all over $100, a lead is name of someone who might pick up phone and might speak to them and come. So they paid that for name of someone who might hang up on them. You pay $30 for the CD people pay $9.95 to get. If they keep it they pay $30, but if they send it back, that $9.95 was all they paid. Losing money like this was similar throughout the process, they said they paid more out than what they earned on it.
11:43 – Asked about whether they signed anyone else up. They signed up some, most didn’t do much, if anything, it was about money, one of the men said it seemed like they were smarter than him about the money. He said they spent hours on the phone trying to use the script the way they wanted.
11:46 – They alleged Herbalife suggested the system was perfect and if people couldn’t make it work, it was them, not the system. Asked how they dealt with the experience. One of the women said she brought in ten, five became supervisors, two of her recruits she loved, became close with them, they had to borrow to become supervisor, she talked to people, “hounded” people from lead list up to six or 12 times a day, leave messages, call about every hour, blocking number. She said they were instructed to do this. She said she was told to tell others to buy something else each time, she started to feel dirty, felt like something wasn’t right and these people didn’t have the money to start doing this, she felt like they made her feel like she had everything she needed to do a business from home.
11:50 – One of the men said other people made it like a job, they were working for them. But it was supposed to be his business, he was told when he wasn’t making any money that he wasn’t buying enough products or leads. He had to pay different rates for leads, even those who came to their website.
They’ve moved into taking questions from the audience