I Escaped The DS-MAX Multi-Level-Marketing Sales Cult

Luke St. Germaine worked his way up the ladder of Cydcor, a spinoff of the notorious multi-level-marketing outfit DS-MAX, d/b/a Innovage aka Granton Marketing, from sales grunt to running his own office, until he saw the true face of the sales cult and got out the game. Exclusive to Consumerist, this is an excerpt from a novel he wrote about his experience.

Fresh out of college, Luke finds himself working for a 100% commission door-to-door sales operation, cold-calling businesses to get them to buy office supplies.

“At 7:45 on the dot, the time I was told to arrive, I walked into the office.

The lobby was empty, so I followed the sound of voices and music down to a doorway on the left. I tentatively stepped in and found myself in a small room with about fifteen people scattered in groups and chatting excitedly. Steve was one of them. He saw me and came over with a smile.

“Hey, let me give you the tour around,” he said. “This is the Impact Room.”

He showed me a back room stuffed with Quill catalogues, and then pointed out the posters with bullet points of the Eights Steps to Success, Five Steps to a Sale, and the Four Phases to Ownership. I also noticed a foosball table pushed against one of the walls, which I took to be a good sign. Then the tour was over; there really wasn’t too much to see.

Before long, Randy made an appearance in the Impact Room. He came over to me to say hello, welcome to your first day, and then flitted around the room greeting everyone. Abruptly, he cupped both hands around his mouth and shouted, “Break into team meetings!”

The group restructured itself into a few subgroups. I stuck by Steve’s side. Apparently, there were about four people on our team, including Steve. He handed me a sheet of paper that said “Goal Sheet” across the top.

“Ok, here are the goals we have for you today: learn five people’s names, and learn the first two steps of the pitch,” he informed me. Then a girl screaming on the other side of the room interrupted us.

“HEY GUYS!” she yelled. Everyone halted their conversations, and answered in unison.

“Hey what!” they shouted back. Apparently, this was normal.

“DO YOU GUYS WANT AN IMPACT?!” she yelled again.

“YEAH!” everyone responded enthusiastically.

“THEN GIVE IT UP FOR TONYA!!”

The room tore up into applause, and then formed itself into a semi-circle around one of the girls. She nervously explained that the day before she was taking more control with her customers in the field, and that’s what worked for her. She then raised her voice slightly and asked if we wanted a meeting.

“YEAH!” came the unanimous response.

“Then give it up for Randy!” she began clapping, and slid off to the side.

“We want a meeting, ho! We want a meeting, ho!” everyone began chanting a song. “We all want a meeting, so give us one, Ran-dy, stud-muffin, bay-bee!”
They broke into applause as Randy hopped from the sidelines and in the front of the room, doing an improvised little dance routine along the way. Even in my exhausted state I couldn’t help but crack a smile. The guy definitely had charisma.

“All right, thank you very much, welcome to Thursday!” he beamed. As he began his meeting, it gave me time to look around the room and size up my new co-workers. Most seemed to be in their twenties. These are the elite, I thought. I’m sure most of them know ten times as much about business as I do.

“Before we get started, we have two new faces in the room. Luke and Angela, can you come up to the front?”

We walked up beside him and gave a quick wave to the crowd.

“So, on someone’s first day, what we do is have you put your hand out and have everyone come up and introduce themselves very quickly. Put your hand like this?”
He held his right hand chest high, palm facing out. Angela and I did the same.

“Now everybody, say hi!”

“HEY!” The entire room rushed forward at once and converged on us, hitting our hands simultaneously in a group high five, then withdrew back into a semi-circle.
Randy bopped back to the front of the room.

“All right, now before we get started I have an announcement to make. This weekend is the annual rally in L.A. and everyone here is invited, even if you’re brand- new. It’s going to be awesome! If you’ve never been to one before, it’s a good way to really see the bigger picture of what we’re doing here. We’ll be leaving this Saturday morning, so make sure you are coordinating rides with your Leader, juice?”

“Juice!” came the unanimous reply.

“Ok, now it’s time for some recognition. We call these people high-“

Randy paused, letting the room finish his sentence for him.

“ROLLERS!” they roared back.

“Sharp-“

“SHOOTERS!”

“Heavy-“

“HITTERS!”

“Ass-“

“KICKERS!”

“Money-“

“MAKERS!”

“Bell-“

“RINGERS!”

Randy pantomimed along with the song, first pretending to shoot a gun, then throwing a punch, kicking, rubbing money together, and ringing a bell. Several people were aping his movements. He finished by doing a little Chubby Checkers move.

“And biiig tiiime-” he drew the words out playfully as he twisted around.

“SWINGERS!” the group finished.

Randy then rattled off a list of names and how much money they’d made the day before- so and so made $100 yesterday; so and so made $200 yesterday. As he was calling their names, they took turns running around the circle of people and high-fiving wildly. With each successive name, the group applauded and shouted out teem slogans, with a few “juice by you, “and “juice” exclamations thrown in.

Some people were called on to talk about how they got their sales yesterday. I clapped politely, feeling like a fish out of water. I had no idea what was going on or what would happen next.

After the sales performers were recognized, and I’d made a silent vow to outsell all of them, Randy reclaimed everyone’s attention.

“You guys excited for a meeting?” he prodded.

“Yeah!” they rejoined.

“How excited are you?!”

“So excited we can jump, shake our booty, jump, shake our booty!” The entire room hopped around like jumping beans, like they were at a club after a few too many shots.

“Duh dah duh daaah dah! Duh dah duh daaah dah!” they song together loudly, big-band style. A few people even jumped into the middle of the room and started dancing.
Someone grabbed me by the arm and swung me out into the chaos. All eyes were on the new guy; I reacted instinctively and did a butt spin on the floor. Then I retreated to the safe anonymity of the sideline. I now felt like a fish in outer space.

Randy capped the morning off with a motivational story with a moral about working hard to reach your goals. I could barely concentrate, trying to absorb everything going on around me. The frenetic energy and cheering had caught me completely off guard. These people couldn’t possibly have been more different than my friends, not even if they had three heads and a tail.

Randy finished his meeting with a loud battle cry:

“FIRST ONE TO THE FIELD-“

“FIRST ONE TO MAKE MONEY!” the group returned, then scattered out the door to their cars.

Steve grabbed me and told me that we would be spending the day together, and could I drive?

I could. We got into my car and drove out to the field. My mind was still trying to wrap itself around everything that had happened in the last hour, what I learned later was called the “morning atmosphere,” designed to pump up the sales team.

The day we spent in the field was similar to my interview day, but in a different neighborhood. We parked at the first business we saw and went on foot from there.

My feet were still blistered from the day before, but I kept up with Steve’s manic pace. This was necessary in order for our Law of Averages to work in our favor.
“The more people you see, the more money you make,” Steve explained. The Law of Averages seemed pretty simple. I had no way of knowing the impact it would have on me.

While we were on the subject, I asked how I would be making money while I was training. He told me that the Leaders, the ones who took newbies out and trained them, would give us $50 a day until we were making our own sales, which would be in less than a week. A Distributor’s first day on his own, which was usually his fifth day, was also known as the Hall of Fame Day.”

We’ve written a number of stories about DS-MAX/Innovage. Here are a few:
One time we sent a guy undercover to work at a DS-MAX office.
DS-MAX Was A “Sales Cult,” Says Former Employee
13 Confession Of A Former DS-MAX Manager
How To Spot A DS-MAX Style MLM Scam Job Ad

Further Reading:
DS-MAX: The Aftermath [MSN Groups]
DS-MAX [Ripoff Report]
I Needed a Job. Hyphire Solutions Was Hiring. Here’s Why That Didn’t Work Out So Well. [The Portland Mecury]

Comments

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  1. blogger X says:

    This sounds like a cult! It seems nobody gave Luke any happy pills beforehand, so obviously he didn’t understand the “morning atmosphere”.

    • s73v3r says:

      Even worse is the “Juice by” comments. Reminds me of the diet pill scam show from Requiem For A Dream.

    • PSUSkier says:

      The sad thing is, while not as extreme, this kind of thing happens EVERYWHERE. Through college. I worked at Wal-Mart then Best Buy. Both companies had “morning meetings” full of hyped up drivel to try and get the employees going. The sad thing is it worked on a lot of people whilst I always felt a little awkward/annoyed I was forced to do the jumping jacks & other unnecessary cheers.

  2. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    Ugh, anything like that that early in the morning would have me running for the door thinking about updates to my resume.

    Which reminds me: Is a soft-sell sales pitch for Mona Vie juice a fatal error for a handyman doing an estimate for some work around the house?

    • Bohemian says:

      Yes. Pitching MLM junk or using a customer to hone your religious proselytizing skills is totally unprofessional and show they have a lack of intelligence and common sense.

    • FatLynn says:

      Yes.

    • cmdr.sass says:

      I would not hire this handyman:

      1. If he were any good, he wouldn’t need to supplement his income in a MLM scheme.
      2. If he had any brains, he wouldn’t be in a MLM scheme.

  3. BradenY says:

    I was stuck in the cydcor cult for 5 months! They got me right out of college. They tell you how your gonna make loads of money and keep motivating you to do better if you get no sales.

    I am glad stories like this exsist so that others dont get duped into this company. I sometimes see them on the streets, doing there sales thing. I try to tell them how bad it is and in the end you get nothing from them.

  4. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Gah, I HATE these types of things. I used to work for a nonprofit which actually had a cheer we would do at the monthly company meetings. It made me feel very uncomfortable; it was downright creepy. And some people who had worked there for a while began to change…it became all about the job and the people there.

    The CEO used to threaten us at meetings to scare people into reaching our goals, and at one meeting, he announced the reorganization of my department and let someone go right there in front of everyone. She was absolutely blown away. I thought that was the meanest, nastiest thing I’d ever seen. The rest of us were flabbergasted, but what could we do?

    Some of us who got out (or were kicked out) call ourselves “survivors.” Never again.

  5. Skankingmike says:

    How do people fall far this crap? and why in the infinite wisdom of our government have they not taken down these businesses they should be illegal.

    Labor unions should be focused on these guys and not FedEx workers.

    • Rachacha says:

      What should be illegal? Having a motivational sales meeting/pep rally to excite and motivate your salesforce to sell products? The OP (and Consumerist) described this as cult like behavior, but as some others have indicated below, this sounds like a pep rally to excite the sales force, build up their energy level so when they made the sales call, they were happy and up beat rather than tired with little energy. They appear to be selling legitamate products, presumably at a reasonable market price, and providing a fair compensation/commission so what should be illegal?

      • Skankingmike says:

        They sell energy people already have and pay for and are trying to sign on people to a contract that will increase their energy budget while lying to them about costs.

        They use shady sales tactics and brainwashing of their sales force and false promises of a better tomorrow which will not come to the vast majority of them.

        read up on them before pretending to know what they do.

        • Rachacha says:

          According to the article they sell office supplies.

          “Fresh out of college, Luke finds himself working for a 100% commission door-to-door sales operation, cold-calling businesses to get them to buy office supplies.”

          Everywhere that I look they indicate that they sell physical products (books, office supplies, gifts, toys & kitchen appliances), not energy/utilities.

      • dantsea says:

        Yeah, this is pretty much how alpha sociopaths whip up sociopaths to do things for each other. It shouldn’t be outlawed.

  6. wkm001 says:

    Ever been part of an early morning Walmart cheer? Yea, it is like a cult too. They try to make doing the squiggly fun, but I felt like a jackass. The cult like feeling was even worse during my summer internship in Bentonville at their home office. I really loved the every other Saturday required work to watch people read Powerpoint presentations.

    • HaydenGrace says:

      I survived it! I worked for them for about 5 years. I even had to lead that stupid cheer once because my ASM caught me mocking it. *hangs head in shame*

    • s73v3r says:

      I’ve never been part of the WalMart cheer specifically, but I’ve been a part of similar things, most notably at retreats and stuff I went to during college. At first I felt the same; like I was a jackass, and that everyone would be looking. Then I realized that everyone else is doing the same thing, and looks just as silly as I do doing it. After that, I just tried not to think about it too much, and just have fun with it.

  7. Nighthawke says:

    Damnation! Did they drink the Kool-Aid or what?

    Am glad the OP got the frell out of there as soon as he hit the door.

    I wonder where they got their ideas for their daily regimen from…. Jonestown perhaps?

  8. morganlh85 says:

    I only skimmed the excerpt, but I missed it – what the hell are they selling?!

  9. Dondegroovily says:

    The more cheers the more sleaze, even within the sleazy sales industry. Years ago I sold for a legit Cutco branch and then for a sleazy Kirby branch, and guess which one had lots of cheering.

  10. mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

    Yikes, that sales meeting reminds me of my two-day stint peddling perfume via “Scentura Creations” nearly 20 years ago. Never again!

  11. Tito151 says:

    What’s the name of Mr. St. Germaine’s book? Is it on Amazon (link?)?
    I ask because this morning meeting almost sounds exactly what it was like for me when I used to work for Kirby selling vacuums. I might actually enjoy reading the book.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      Yeah, second that. I’ve always enjoyed the DS-MAX stories from consumerist. I’d definitely buy the book if it was available.

  12. Snarkysnake says:

    Want to avoid these psycho encounter groups ? Get a real job making something (or doing something) that people want or need.Pay attention to the smart people in your life that want you to get an education. Then you won’t have to put up with this bullshit.

    You’re welcome !

  13. sir_eccles says:

    I’m confused, why is a foosball table considered to be a good sign?

  14. Colonel Jack O'neill says:

    Then a girl screaming on the other side of the room interrupted us.
    “HEY GUYS!” she yelled. Everyone halted their conversations, and answered in unison.
    “Hey what!” they shouted back. Apparently, this was normal.
    “DO YOU GUYS WANT AN IMPACT?!” she yelled again.
    “YEAH!” everyone responded enthusiastically.
    “THEN GIVE IT UP FOR TONYA!!”
    The room tore up into applause, and then formed itself into a semi-circle around one of the girls.

    That sounds like the beginning of a porn movie.

  15. Bob Lu says:

    I still don’t know if this is worse than making your employee putting Mr. Potato together again and again.

    • flugennock says:

      Actually, that reminds me… whatever happened to those zany-assed Management Retreats that were all the rage about ten or twelve years ago — you know the ones that were in the news for a while, the ones where they allegedly inspired and motivated managers by making them walk on hot coals and stuff?

      • s73v3r says:

        Those retreats were sting operations to find the stupid, PHB type managers that shouldn’t be anywhere near a business. After being identified, they were summarily executed. Or promoted. I’m not sure which.

      • econobiker says:

        Those guys fired their staff and got blogs on how to do business better and are now consultants…

        Real reason this stuff went away is cost savings, liability and most people understand the company doesn’t give a rat’s butt about its employees anymore…

  16. eccsame says:

    I hope someone runs this through a good spell check program before it’s “published”. I’m pretty sure that “teem” is misspelled.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      “Teem” is a real word and would not be caught by a spellchecker.

      Usually professional proofreaders get a shot at a book before it’s published, for that reason.

  17. Mecharine says:

    This is called “buying into the corporate culture”

    Its also the easiest way to get all your employee’s to become your accomplices in crime. Just ask Bernie and all of Wall Street.

    Get your employees emotionally and physically invested into your corporation is basically the same activity that dangerous cults engage in, like Scientology.

  18. SkuldChan says:

    Sales guys really creep me out – even when I worked for Adobe Systems a while back. I had dealings with sales from time to time, usually when they over-promised something to someone and we had to set things straight (from an engineering perspective).

    It always made me think we should be selling products to customers on the basis that they wanted and liked our products, but that sales were selling things on the basis of “if I can tell enough lies to trick them into giving me their money I can get that bonus and retire early”.

  19. Mackinstyle says:

    We have a winner.

    Weeeee have a winner!

    It’s Mrs. Goldfarb!

    Juice by you.

  20. jaydez860 says:

    After I was out or college and only making $9 an hour at a landscaping job I mistakenly fell for one of these “opportunities”. The company was called Wyld Enterprises in CT and was EXACTLY like this to the “T”. I quickly learned it was a scam and left after 4 days… worst 4 days if my life.

    Oh, and while I was there I was able to make 2 sales and I never got paid. Apparently this company hold on to checks for months on end forcing most people to leave before they get paid because they make no money.

    There is no vacation time, no sick days, no gas money, no expenses paid. Nothing. you are lucky if you “make” $500 a week there.

  21. JayDeEm says:

    I would have turned around and walked out at, “This is the Impact Room”

    I got more than my share of the over the top motivational morning sales meetings when I worked in retail… and I wasn’t even in sales.

  22. jerrycomo says:

    How is that mlm? More like direct sales to me.

    In mlm, you have 99.9% chances of not making any money. Some of the DS-MAXers did.

  23. daveinva says:

    “Apparently, there were about four people on our team, including Steve.”

    Apparently, Luke can’t count, or else he’d know “about four” is easily recognized as either three, four or five, but usually, it’s *precisely* four.

    (Bad writing aside… gotta love MLM cults…)

  24. flugennock says:

    God damn, that’s frickin’ weeeeiiirrrrd, man — and I don’t mean that in a good way. That’s just goddamn’ sick.

    Glad to see you made it out alive, man.

  25. vesper says:

    This whole “feel-good” mantra began in the early 80s as I recall. I just got out of high school and tried some sales jobs and the older folks (read: boomers) began to pull the “we need to feel good about ourselves” initiatives at the work place. This is why you do not hear the word “employee” anymore because they felt that this was anti-social so it began with the change of employee to “associate”. I worked at a restaurant in 1983 that pulled this stuff and it was awful. And if anyone has ever worked at Kohl’s you’d know what I am saying because they do this also,,at least they did in ’93. The problem is that this asinine thinking has crept into accounting, finance, and other professional workplaces. As an ex-auto engineer, I even dealt with the crap in my office. And why do you think that you cannot find a nice, quiet restaurant to eat at? It’s because of this crap that has poisoned all of America’s management initiatives. Hell, go to an “Outback Steakhouse”. When the waitress comes to your table, she’ll take a seat right next to you and smile and want your order. Now, I am a guy and I just love women coming by to sit with me, lol, but this shit freaked me out and and I was with my mom the first time. And what about the theme-type restaurants where everyone comes out behind the scenes to sing “happy birthday” or sing the new “corporate anthem”? Boomers love to feel loved and they want you to feel the love also. LOL.

  26. vesper says:

    Remember the woman in California back in 2007 that sued her sales company? The “associates” would spank you if you misbehaved? Or something like that.

  27. cash_da_pibble says:

    I’m glad I dodged a bullet like this.

    When I was looking for a way out of my dead-end retail job, I called an ad in the paper- something about selling insurance and on-the-job training. It looked promising so I called the number and left a message. A couple hours later I got a call from some fake and stupidly enthusiastic gentleman who didn’t listen to a word I said. He asked me to go to an interview later that day- so I did.

    Once I walked in I felt like a moron. Twenty other people were there. they started atlking about how much money you could make ( OMG Maria made 5000 last week!), that selling Life Insurance was more of a service than a job… and then required $150 up front to get your license.

    They then got cranky that I didn’t have $150 to give for a license that was now absolutely sure I wasn’t interested in. I just got up and waked out. I lost three hours of my life.

  28. RalphyNader says:

    I had a group of “cult members” step into my office and tell me about the great deals that they, and only they, can get me through Quill. I told them to beat it and then called Quill directly. The CSR that I talked to @ Quill seemed more than annoyed with her company that they use these guys to annoy exsisting customers. You can include World Perfume and Scentra in with these clowns.

  29. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    A former roommate of mine went to work from one these places about 8 years ago, this sounds exactly like the story he told me when he got home from his first day, except he loved the kool aid and asked for seconds. He’s also fallen for every pyramid and biz op scam out there so it’s not really surprising.

  30. savdavid says:

    Well, what is the name of the novel? I would like to buy it.

  31. cerbie_the_orphan says:

    I read it, and re-read it, and re-read it…it’s taken me way too long to figure out what was going on. If I were in that situation, I would have been totally lost, and probably would have figured out the scam part just by not being able to understand what they were trying to push it as, more-so than by reasoning out how they exploit workers :).

    On top of that, door to door sales of office supplies? We have Office Depot and teh Interwebs!

  32. JjSeVdT says:

    My wife got dupped into Mary Kay and her experince was very similar to the stroy above.

    I wish we would have done our homework before we did that.

  33. StanTheManDean says:

    How does 100% commission work?

    Seriously, I buy something for $1 and the sales dude/slime-bucket keeps the whole $1?

  34. dantsea says:

    Ho. Lee. Hell.

    I would have run, screaming, through the nearest closed window, injuries and floor number be damned, to get away from those freaks.

  35. goatstarr says:

    I have to say this article brings back memories. Every single thing luke went through is really what happens at DS Max. I worked for DS MAX when i was 19-20 around 2001. To this day I will say it was one of the most fun jobs I ever Had. Back when I worked their we would go to colleges and promote visa/ student credit cards. For a 19 year old that was a walk in the park. I could relate to the students and talk to the women (im a male) at the same time. Around that time I was making about 650-700 a week Just signing up college students for credit cards. I worked there for about a year. We would take out of state trips (own expense) to Syracuse (the New York State Fair) Texas, Philadelphia, Boston, Virginia, Maryland, and visist all these colleges and cool spots. Long story short I loved it. However towards the end they would short us on our checks, when the summer came there was no money to be made, unless you did an event. Its now 10 years later and I still stay in contact with about 5 ppl from my office. We all moved on. But I have to say its an experience I really enjoyed (especially at that age) and I meet some really great ppl from there, that I can honestly say are friends for life. If your young and just wanna experience something different, try it out. I’m not sure how they operate now, but door to door doesnt sound to interesting. If they still have the credit card dept, I would suggest going in that department. If anyone has questions about the job email me at goat313@gmail.com. I have sooooooooooooooooo many pictures and good memories from DS MAX. However every office is different and once again I was 19, 2 years out of high school and had nothing to lose. We all ended up leaving at the same time, same day, including our boss, Gary (we were based in Farmingdale NY) but Im tellin you every time we get together its nothing but good laughs, great drinks, catching up with one another, and reflecting back on the job. I wouldnt trade the experience for anything. ( I never went to college, so this might have compensated. LMAO!!!!!