How core values and COVID-19 shaped TLC
By: Teresa Day Craighead
Location: Fair Haven, Michigan
SSN: What is your book about?
JF: I never thought our story was unusual; you start in a one-bedroom, and you work your way up. But we’re in that business model where people want to be a part of a community and a culture, and having the book helps point to that. The book talks about our journey from factory workers to entrepreneurs, to network marketing to owning a company that developed a culture we value. In Detroit, Michigan, everybody works at the Big Three (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler automobile manufacturers), in some way. And it’s that “dream” job; you get the security, the full benefits, and the pension after 30 years. John (Licari) and I met on the line there, and we quickly realized it wasn’t for us.
When ACN launched here in Michigan, we really fell in love with the culture and the experience. They really taught us about mindset; it wasn’t about the products, and it wasn’t about the compensation. It was about high energy—living in a different sphere, so to speak—and living with the attitude that life is awesome and people are awesome. We had a friend who asked us to sell his programming to ACN. They said ‘no, we’re not going to do anything online. It’s not our business model.’ But it could be ours. So, John and I found a liquid multivitamin, a sexy product in the industry at the time, and our company was born. We brought in a local PR team who helped define us and our core values. That was a game changer for us. We started internally to get the corporate team on board. We stopped worrying about “network marketing” and focused on what our core values are:
- Passion is our fuel.
- Having fun, we get more work done.
- We love each other, period.
- Grateful is our mindset.
- Our standard is giving more than what is expected.
- We don’t do what’s easy, we do what’s right.
SSN: How did you take those values and transfer them throughout the company?
JF: That was difficult. And sometimes that’s still difficult because we lean on those core values to make the right decisions on a daily basis. You can have a country manager call you out on it for making business decisions. And we move forward and make those decisions. This lets the customer know who they’re doing business with; it lets the life-changer know who they’re doing business with, and even our vendors. Steering according to our core values has become a game changer. You don’t look at the cost of anything, which sounds crazy. We look at what we’re accomplishing in developing the trust in the community that we’re developing.
SSN: Speaking of impact, how many markets are you in? What is your salesforce number?
JF: We have 16 offices and ship to about 150 different countries with 200,000 Life Changers.
SSN: Did you have that vision from the beginning?
JF: No, we didn’t have that in mind at all. I go to all the CEO forums, and I kind of chuckle when people say, “Well yeah, that’s what I saw from the beginning.” I take my hat off to them. Our visions and goals change on a yearly basis. They really, truly do. Every January, we ask, “Where are we weak?” You must know your weaknesses to grow. We have real substance, we have real people, we have real stories. And our stories never get old. So I see TLC as hopefully breaking ground as a company that created a culture without the stigma of MLM, that literally makes a difference in the world.
SSN: What are some practical ways you plan to break loose from the stigma that some have for the direct sales channel?
JF: To begin with, we break the barrier of the wall that surrounds the C-levels and the CEO. Next, we have to start looking at the companies that are doing tremendous things in the marketplace. So we looked at Uber. What is Uber doing that we can do in our business model? So, now we pay daily. What about Tesla, Starbucks and Apple? I drive my kids to school every day—they’re 10 and 8. Every day they say, “Dad, why aren’t we in a Tesla? Why aren’t we stopping by Starbucks right now and getting my hot cocoa? When can I get an iPhone 12?” The point is that these companies created a culture where it doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80. You want to be a part of that. It’s our job in network marketing to do the same. I think the key is transparency through social media. I really, truly do. We have the people, we have the stories, we have the passion, we have the love and we have the tears without paying for it. I believe social media is where we can be transparent and say, “This is what we do. People get customers, they build teams and they sell product.”
SSN: So are there any specific changes this mindset has created?
JF: We went from having secret meetings to feel somebody out to see if they’re interested and business-minded, to teaching our Life Changers, “Listen, you need to go out and build a book of business.” Technology enables you to do it on a daily, if not hourly, basis. They now use social media and technology to say, “I’ve got a product, it works. Try it. If you don’t like it, great. But if you do, keep buying it.” We don’t teach Life Changers to recruit every customer. We teach that, out of 10, usually one will come to you and say, “Okay, I understand. You’re making a little extra money on this. How do I do that?” For the other nine, continue to service them because they are your customers and they come first. Continue to introduce them to the community, but never bring up or even talk about being the distributors. It’s a learning curve, even for those who have been in the business for years.
SSN: What effect did COVID-19 have on your company?
JF: It went crazy. Normally, we have about 450 employees and are open 24/7. We reduced down to skeleton crews and had an increase in customers, enrollments and sales. We hover now at about 15 new customers to one Life Changer. It brought other challenges, too. We had people during the pandemic saying some things that caught the FTC’s attention. We got a letter from them, and we complied.
Then we put together a compliance department of nine people, and we now use software that detects noncompliant language. Plus, we have an in-house attorney as well as three others that we call upon. We have so many people in our company that make an extra $100 to $400 a week that depend on that money. We don’t take that lightly. We put things in place to make sure that they’re not at risk at all.
SSN: How do you keep your culture alive at corporate and in the field at a time when new circumstances dictate so few live interactions?
JF: One thing is that we do a live show every day. Now, some C-levels and CEOs text me to poke fun, but I laugh, too, because I know we’re doing the right things because people are responding. We’re growing our customer base. Our vendors are loving doing business with us. We feel like we’re doing the right thing because we’re getting a heck of a response. We’re No. 1 in engagement on social media of all network marketing companies. We’re No. 4 overall, as far as the likes and shares go, but if you look at engagement, we’re No. 1. We don’t want likes, we want engagement. Prior to COVID, we would do a weight-loss contest in a different city every month. We’d go to that city and celebrate three people and do some training. We had to rethink it because that’s how we built this company.
John and I were here seven days a week with everybody else during COVID. It was a scary time, and we wanted to show everyone, “Hey listen, we’re here with you.” So we went live every day. We interviewed our staff, let everyone know that we’re still shipping, we’re still open, we’ve still got customer service. “It’s a skeleton crew, but bear with us.” It really worked for us because, I’ll be honest, there weren’t a lot of people taking calls. There weren’t a lot of packages going out some days, just because of that fear. Those morphed into a daily show to lift everyone’s spirits. One of our young executives, Evan, does a “20-somethings” show on Sunday. We have an exercise show two days a week. We do a women’s show on Wednesdays. And people love it.
SSN: TLC is now utilizing an app and samples. Will you tell us a little about that?
JF: Three years ago, a vendor pointed out that our instant gratification products are perfect for sampling. And technology has enabled us to again focus on our core values: “Just try us as a customer.” You use the app to order the sample. It comes in a nice little envelope. At one point we were sending out approximately 1 million samples a week.
SSN: You’re tech-enabled and you’re digital-based. Did the COVID-19 lockdown accelerate those plans?
JF: Yes. We got a full production AV team, consisting of approximately five guys. We have a full studio with giant digital screens and professional lighting. I don’t think that would’ve happened as fast if it wasn’t for COVID.
SSN: How did your virtual international event in November go?
JF: It was our best one. It was our third or fourth virtual event. We did it in four different languages for four days straight. We finally got it nailed down, because there is a rhythm to an event. At the end, we realized that no matter what happens in 2021, our events will be virtual and live. I think that everybody needs it and wants it. And I think that it’s going to strengthen our industry. Virtual can be tough to do when you’re the one on the stage; when it’s just you and the camera, without the energy from the crowd. We learned that we did a better job when we put their faces from all over the world on multi screens around us. That felt a lot better. Now we can’t wait to do live and virtual simultaneously, or at least attempt to, at every event.
SSN: What’s on your radar for 2021? What are you excited about for the next couple of years?
JF: I’m excited about the change in the industry. I think more companies are going to be transparent, because we have nothing to hide, which will keep the “watch dogs” off of us. It’s a simple business model with no secret meetings and no secret phone calls. No one’s doing anything shady. This is where we’re at. I think COVID, in a strange way, helped us. It helped us speed things up where we’re forced to be transparent. We’re forced to say this is what we are, who we are, what we stand for. And we put it all over social media. Sure, there are bad seeds in every business model. In a plumber’s union, there are bad plumbers. So, we have to continue to police them. And with that, we can go to the next level, like those companies that are in the mainstream.
We won’t just talk about the Amways and the HerbaLifes. There will be 20 to 30 companies that are truly making a difference through technology and social media, changing people’s lives throughout the world. I’m really excited about that. I have a very good feeling inside that we’re going to finally, as an industry, be recognized as a mainstream industry with mainstream companies like Nike, Apple, Uber. We’ve just got to keep poking our head out there and letting people know that we make a difference and we’re stronger than ever.
SSN: What advice would you give to your younger self?
JF: Have patience, because you truly have to let the process take place, and you have to be involved in the process.
SSN: Who has influenced your career the most and why?
JF: I’d say, besides God, it would be Mike and Tony Cupisz (two co-founders of ACN) teaching personal development. Also, sharing the way they looked at life and the way they lived their lives and dealt with people on a daily basis. They were probably the first two that really inspired me to become a better human being and see a whole other side of life.
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