Jan 9, 2018

Though it was once banned by their prophet, multilevel marketing has caught on in Utah polygamous communities

Stephen Dark
Salt Lake Tribune
January 8, 2018

Colorado City, Ariz. • Dawn Bistline-Cooke and her husband couldn’t pay their power bill. They struggled to afford diapers. Their truck had been repossessed. And at priesthood meetings, leaders of the FLDS Church reminded her husband to contribute up to $1,000 a month toward the storehouse and legal costs of the polygamous sect.

During the week, her husband worked construction jobs out of town while Bistline-Cooke cared for their four children. In search of fun one weekend, she went to a “What Women Want” expo in St. George and found a business opportunity instead: selling appetite-suppressant lollipops called Power Pops.

Bistline-Cooke had a natural network to tap as she joined the multilevel marketing company: She signed up a quarter of her 43 siblings to sell the cherry and piña colada treats and get others to join.

“My sister and I had coffee parties” to promote the lollipops, she said. “That was our social life: Have a coffee party and breastfeed.”

And the $250 to $500 she earned each week helped the family afford “things we were desperate for.”

From the 1970s on, beginning with companies such as Amway, Avon, Tupperware and Mary Kay, one network-marketing craze after another swept through the dusty streets and 15-bedroom houses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the traditional home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

But a few months after Bistline-Cooke began to make money in 2004, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs brought the community’s networks to a halt, denouncing multilevel marketing from the pulpit for taking money from the church. “Everyone dropped it,” she said.

Today, the Essential Coffee Co. drive-thru in Colorado City offers to add Young Living oils to a take-away coffee for 45 cents — making peppermint, orange and nutmeg drops from the Lehi MLM company one sign of the industry’s resurgence among current and former FLDS members.

For people leaving the church, “It’s the easiest and cheapest way into business,” Bistline-Cooke said. “Especially for moms leaving with kids. They don’t have any means to support themselves and have to stay at home with their young kids.”

For FLDS women, MLM events are a way to stay connected, as many families are departing the towns on orders from Jeffs, who’s been incarcerated since 2011.


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