Soapy Sales

Bestline Zif SoapIt was the summer of 1970 and I had just finished the eighth grade. My folks had just switched religions and I was kind of caught in the middle. My friends, cousins, aunt and uncle, and my grandmother went to our old church; my parents went to their new church. I put up a hell of a fight, but eventually I was forced to join them at their new church. And I hated everything about it.

The person I missed the most from my old church was my best friend, Ryan. He was the poster child of mischief. He didn’t like Sunday School or church sermons any more than I did. We were fellow young cynics if you will. It was Ryan’s idea to spend “most” of our Sunday School offering money on donuts at French’s Bakery—which we did—almost every Sunday. He made Sunday mornings bearable; almost fun.

The new church changed everything. No friends, no cousins, but even worse…no donuts.

There was this “goody-two-shoes” kid, Richard, at my parent’s new church—you know the type—that went above-and-beyond the call of good behavior. He was a respectful, clean-cut, short-hair, bible-toting, rule-following, every parent’s dream-come-true, teenager all wrapped up with a bow tie. I avoided him like the plague. He approached my mother one Sunday after the service.

“Hi Mrs. Renaker, I’m Richard Goodman. I’m saving up for my college education and I was hoping I could stop by later this week and show you some cleaning products from the Bestline Corporation,” he said.

My mother knew a role model for her insolent son when she saw one and invited him to our house.

A few days later, I found our dining room table stacked with soap products; not a few bottles, but cases of dish-washing liquid, laundry soap, hair shampoo, carpet cleaner, car wash soap, degreasing solution and more. Much, much more. Richard was a hell of a salesman, I had to give him that much credit. He had sold my mother enough soap to keep our entire family clean for decades.

My mother found me looking at all of the soap. I remember I made some smart-ass remark about Richard Goodman’s college fund. As it turned out, the joke was on me. It was explained to me that the cases of soap belonged to me; it was a “$150 starter set.” I had been recruited to become a salesman for Bestline Products under Richard’s sponsorship. It was a fantastic money-making opportunity in which I sold the product, then Richard took a cut, then his local distributor took a cut, then the regional manager took a cut, and-so-on-and-so-on up the line. She explained that I could also recruit people, under me, to sell soap and then I would make money from their sales too. In a relatively short amount of time, I could be making hundreds of dollars each week.

“What?”

Sell soap? Recruit people? I tried to explain to my mother that I already had two jobs; one at a local dry cleaner where I swept floors and emptied trash, and two, a Times Herald paper route. She already knew this of course, but I restated my case. I made about $25 per week; not bad by 8th-grade standards. I didn’t want to sell soap now or ever. It didn’t matter; it was a done deal. Now I had three jobs after school.

For the next three weeks, after I completed my other two jobs, I was sent out with boxes of Bestline products and expected to return with wads of cash. And everyday, I returned with unsold soap. I don’t remember ever selling one bottle of Zif—their most popular multi-use product that practically sold itself—to anyone. Ever.

Truth be told, I didn’t try very hard. In fact, I didn’t try at all. My sales pitch was pathetic. I’m actually surprised I didn’t make a sale just out of pity. This was how a typical cold call went:

[Knock knock]

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: “Hello?”

ME: “You don’t want to buy any soap, do you?”

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: “No, thank you.”

ME: “I didn’t think so.”

And onto the next house.

Luckily for me, the Federal Trade Commission saved my summer. On July 22, 1970, the Bestline Corporation was ordered to cease selling their products under their pyramid scheme which preyed upon people like my mother. Richard told my mother I had to stop selling the cleaning products because their multi-level marketing program was deemed to be illegal.

I was elated; thrilled beyond words. My mother; not so much.

She was the proud owner of several cases of cleaning products. Richard couldn’t (or wouldn’t) refund her money because I had opened each and every case. Oops. (How else could I sell the soap?) Four years later, when I graduated from high school, the cases of soap were still neatly stacked in the basement.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
— v. —
BESTLINE PRODUCTS CORPORATION et al., Defendants.

On July 22, 1970, the Federal Trade Commission (‘Commission’) notified Bestline Products Corporation of its intention to issue an administrative complaint against the corporation. [FN1] The complaint charged, inter alia, that the multi-level marketing program Bestline utilized in connection with the sale of its household and industrial cleaning products permitted participants to receive compensation for both the sale of Bestline products to the consuming public on a retail basis and in addition–and this was the basis of the Commission’s concern–for recruiting other persons to enter the Bestline distribution network. The complaint further alleged that persons were induced to participate in Bestline’s marketing program by statements and representations that large financial awards would be derived through product sales and recruitment whereas, in truth and in fact, the realization of the represented financial gains contemplated ‘a virtually endless recruiting of participants into the sales program’ and was ‘necessarily predicated upon, the exploitation of others who (had) virtually no chance of receiving a return on their investment’. For these and other reasons, the complaint concluded and charged that ‘the use by respondents of the aforesaid program in connection with the sale of their merchandise was and is an unfair act and practice, and was and is false, misleading and deceptive.’ In the Matter of Bestline Products Corporation, F.T.C. Docket No. C–1970, Complaint at 5–6.

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