During my latest fencing travels, this time to Columbus, Ohio (“Gateway to Cleveland”), I saw a sign for a company I had never heard of before:
It was puzzling, because unlike just about any other sign, billboard, flier, or business card you see today, there was no information on it. No website address. No Twitter account. No Facebook page. Nothing. Just……”LIFE”.
As I walked down the long hallway of the Greater Columbus Convention Center (as opposed to, I suppose, just the Normal one), I would pass sign after sign showing LIFE COACH with a male/female couple portrayed, just like this one:
I noticed a few things in common with all of these placards (and there were quite a few displayed):
- The people were all white; indeed, I suspect I’d see more racial diversity at a Klan rally;
- There was always a middle-aged man and woman;
- The man would always be holding a microphone;
- The woman would be standing nearby looking supportive, or at least mildly interested in what was going on around her.
Trust me, all the banners all fit the description. Although in the instance below, it appears the supportive wife has never been troubled by the burden of sentient thought.
As with most new things, this all became quickly fascinating to me, since it appeared many hundreds – – perhaps even thousands – – of true believers had gathered together to see these LIFE mini-celebrities. Even the heralded founder (and his wife!) were promised to attend.
Although, I must say, some of the photos fell short of what I would have expected had I been the production designer for this exhibition. I offer you as Exhibit A the zoomed-in detail of another LIFE COACH which evidently was what they considered the best image of this particular LIFE superstar.
I made a point of walking in front of the hall where they were having their cult-like meeting, and I also tried mingling with the masses to hear what they were saying to one another. I made some furtive attempts to figure out what this company was, but honestly, their presence on the Internet is quite limited, perhaps by design.
In spite of all my snooping, I didn’t learn much. The exhibit hall was set up as a giant speaking engagement, with thousands of people bathed in light which kept changing colors. One time I passed, the entire room was blue. Next time, it was green. Later, it was purple. Perhaps this had a calming effect on those gathered.
As for conversation, just about the only snippet I heard was one fellow telling those around him: “So you’re not a people person? No problem! Lean into it!” I could feel a knot in my stomach. What tripe.
I eventually figured out this company was, not surprisingly, an Amway-type outfit founded by a fellow named Orrin Woodward who evidently – – because it’s repeated over and over and over wherever he has the chance to declare it – – holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest book signing. I suppose if David Koresh had written a book, he might have given Mr. Woodward a run for his money, but there you have it.
From what I can tell, LIFE is a mash-up of Christian Prosperity Gospel and Selling Things & Subscriptions. It isn’t just crap like soap and toothpaste. It appears to be monthly subscriptions to books, radio programs, and websites that help you live the best life you possibly can. Honest.
Even though LIFE itself seems to hide its web presence, it’s easy enough to find Mr. Woodward’s Twitter account, which is chock-full of bromides and passing notions.
And I was, at last, able to find their website. The graphic, front and center, is a trio of glad-handers, all eager for you to join LIFE, start paying in your monthly fee, and partake of the sweet, sweet commissions you can earn. From the little research I’ve done, they pay something like a 50% royalty on sales, plus up to another 15% of the sales of whatever “team members” you can recruit. With such gargantuan margins, you can imagine the cost of goods sold of whatever it is they’re actually selling is going to be.
Besides subscriptions to feel-good books, better-yourself radio broadcasts, and be-your-best websites, they also sell physical things, like toothpaste, hygiene products, and Mighty Muscadine, whose contents and purpose I shall leave to your collective imagination.
I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the thousands of people I saw scrumming around here for this event. Again, I did a little research, and I read 43% of those who sign up make next to nothing, and about half the new signups quit within the first year, so the churn is quite high.
Amway, Nutrisystem, LIFE, and the countless other MLM type firms out there clearly are filling some kind of psychic need and financial desperation. It was interesting, and actually intriguing, to stroll around among these folks and sort of soak up what was going on.
These people are so hungry for answers. I think they’re looking in the wrong place.