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]