Introduction to Sunrider MLM Compensation Plan
Don’t ask me why, but singing in and listening to barbershop quartets is a very popular hobby here in the Midwest. I am not exactly sure why it persists here, while other parts of the country have moved on to embrace other musical forms, such as the endless subgenres of electronic dance music or regional variations on hip hop, but it has. This is especially true at events where people like to feel like they are on the Main Street of a Midwestern town in the early part of the twentieth century. I have never sung in a barbershop quarter, because I can’t carry a tune in a cardboard box designed to carry a month’s supply of nutritional supplements shipped from a multilevel marketing (MLM) company (at least not when I’m sober), but I have heard enough of them to wonder why, of all the things to be nostalgic for about the barbershops of bygone days, why everyone picks close harmony. If it were up to me, the thing about old-fashioned barbershops I would bring back is the far-fetched tales. If there were a Barbershop Storytellers’ Troupe, I would audition for it.
If you share my appreciation for a wild story, you have come to the right place. I can’t promise you that my Sunrider review contains an exact replica of a stranger than fiction anecdote your grandpa once heard while getting his mustache trimmed, but it is definitely stranger than fiction, and it does involve the 1980s, so that should be good enough for some of you.
Sunrider: The Company and Its Products
In some ways, Sunrider is just like any other nutraceutical multilevel marketing (MLM) company, but in some ways, it is completely unique. Sure, there are the same old vitamin supplements and meal replacement shakes backed by dubious science, just like every other MLM nutraceutical company out there, but the Sunrider origin story is a whopper worthy of being retold here on the pages of Notebook Crazy. You see, Notebook Crazy is no stranger to tall tales (if you don’t believe me, just Google “A Lukewarm Shout Out to a Reasonably Attractive Fungus” and see where the search results take you, or better yet, read the last third of my GBG review, which devolves into speculation about doppelganger nutrition), but the story of Sunrider is a tall tale among lofty anecdotes, a Mount Everest among giraffes. (For the details of this Mount Everest of tall tales, I am indebted to the Sunrider article on Wikipedia and to a Sunrider review on MLM Watch.)
Let’s start with the truth. Sunrider was founded in 1982 in Utah, a time and a place far from rare in MLM origin stories, and it moved its headquarters to California in 1987, which is still pretty standard. Its founders are Tei Fu Chen and his wife Oi Lin Chen. Again, MLM family businesses are also nothing out of the ordinary. And pretty much everyone agrees that Tei Fu Chen was born in Taiwan, but beyond that, things start getting interesting.
In the old days, Sunrider promotional materials would use the Sunrider origin story as a selling point. In the 80s, the decade for which people my age and a little bit older are nostalgic, the days when kids stuffed their faces with sugary breakfast cereal while housewives kvetched about their low fat diets, when nary a pomelo and hardly a lychee fruit graced the supermarket shelves of the Midwest, the official Sunrider story was that Tei Fu Chen had learned about traditional Chinese medicine from his father who had learned about it from his own father (Tei Fu’s grandfather), a professional herbalist who had learned his craft from manuscripts he had studied at a Buddhist monastery, manuscripts that contained a tradition of traditional Chinese medical knowledge over 5,000 years old. Born to a poor family, Tei Fu suffered from ill health when he was a child, and his family members cured him using traditional Chinese herbal medicine. He began studying herbal medicine from his father and great-grandfather when he was eight years old. When he grew up, he enrolled in medical school at his father’s urging, since his father encouraged him to combine knowledge of Western medicine and chemistry with traditional Chinese medicine. Tei Fu Chen went on to become a medical doctor, a research scientist, and a national Kung Fu champion in Taiwan, as well as a licensed pharmacist in the United States.
This story all started to unravel in 1992, when Debi Boling, a woman who had suffered negative side effects after taking Sunrider products she had bought from her massage therapist, filed a lawsuit against Sunrider. During the Sunrider lawsuit, Yung Yeuan Chen, was questioned in a deposition, and his testimony exposed the falsehood of most of the Sunrider origin story. The elder Mr. Chen stated that his son had been neither a pauper nor an invalid in his childhood, that he grew up in middle class circumstances and never suffered from chronic ailments beyond some seasonal bouts of nasal congestion. Yung Yeuan Chen’s father, Tei Fu’s grandfather, was a wagon maker, not an herbalist, and he had never, to the elder Mr. Chen’s knowledge, possessed a manuscript about herbal medicine. After graduating from high school and before entering medical school he had studied martial arts and even entered some martial arts competitions, but he was not the national champion. The closest he ever came to being Senior Research Scientist, as the Sunrider origin story claims, was being a graduate assistant, whose duties consisted primarily of marking students’ homework. During another deposition, Tei Fu Chen refused to answer basic questions about vitamins, indicating that, if he was indeed a licensed pharmacist or nutritionist, he wasn’t much of one.
If you think that the story ends here, you clearly are very new to the MLM industry. As a result of the Sunrider lawsuit, Tei Fu Chen served a year in a minimum security prison, while Oi Lin Chen was under house arrest for six months. The Chens paid over $100 million in back taxes and other fees. And then everything pretty much went back to normal for Sunrider. The only difference was that the outlandish origin story was no longer included on Sunrider brochures, and as long as there has been a Sunrider website, it has contained no trace of this marvelous origin story. And not only did Sunrider go back to selling nutraceuticals, but in 2007, the Chen family began opening hotels in Asia under the Sunrider brand.
In all honesty, after reviewing so many MLM business opportunities, this story really doesn’t surprise me much. The tallest tales, in fact, don’t come from the Sunrider origin story itself, but from the claims that people who have taken Sunrider products have made about the results of taking these products. People have reported that Sunrider products have helped them manage or cure anything from arthritis and obesity to lupus and emphysema. One couple even claimed that Sunrider products cured their young daughter of a brain tumor. (The girl was also being treated with radiation therapy, but the parents claimed that it was the Sunrider products and not the radiation that caused her cancer to go into remission.)
Again, part of the reason I told this story is that I, like the best of the great Midwesterner raconteurs, cannot resist a good story. It isn’t really fair of me to single out Sunrider, because if you continue reading Notebook Crazy, you will find out about other MLM companies that reinvented themselves after worse confrontations over implausible claims. I don’t really think that Sunrider products are a bigger fake than any of the other nutraceuticals out there. You know me. I hate all nutraceuticals equally. When I read about these lawsuits, I have to admit that sometimes the phrase “caveat emptor” plays in my mind. You must know that your placebo receptors are not going to be the same as your cousin’s placebo receptors or your son’s friend’s mom’s placebo receptors or your massage therapist’s placebo receptors. Being upset that a placebo didn’t work as well as you expected it to makes about as much sense as meeting a girl on a dating website and then, when you meet her in person, being upset that she isn’t as pretty as you imagined she would be.
So what are Sunrider products, anyway? They are actually quite boring, compared to the Sunrider origin story you have just read. There are what the Sunrider website calls “herbal foods and beverages”, which bear more than a passing resemblance to 80s health foods, like low calorie snack crackers and fruit bars. And then, of course, there are the meal replacement shakes, and from there, the inventory of Sunrider products just delves deeper and deeper into generic MLM territory, with skin care products, cosmetics, and household cleaning products. I have said this on other MLM reviews here on Notebook Crazy, and I will say it again here in my Sunrider review. You can get these same things for a much lower price at your local supermarket, drugstore, or outlet mall. There is no need to pay MLM prices for them.
The Sunrider Compensation Plan
The Sunrider compensation plan varies from one country to another, perhaps according to the laws and customs pertaining to the MLM industry in different countries. In the United States, the Sunrider compensation plan followed the Independent Business Owner model, as do most MLM companies here. The Sunrider website does not contain a document with many details about the Sunrider compensation plan, just a promotional video and a few lists of bullet points. It states that you can earn profits on retail sale of Sunrider products, and it implies that you can also receive commissions and bonuses based on the recruitment of new Sunrider distributors into your downline team and on your personal sales and the sales of your downline team. And that is about all the website says about the Sunrider compensation plan. Perhaps when Sunrider bounced back after the great Sunrider lawsuit of the mid 1990s, it did not get its storytelling spirit.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Many Sunrider products are certified kosher and halal.
- That Sunrider origin story is really something. Maybe I could borrow a few pages from Sunrider’s book to try to sell off those nutritional supplements that are still stacked up high in my basement and add a few interesting twists to the story of how my brother Bryce became such a good cook, or exactly what transpired o that night in 1998 when the Pink Floyd laser light show changed my life. Perhaps I could even attribute some superpowers to the other Brad, who runs this site with me, superpowers he has gained by avoiding all non-beer carbs since around the time I went to the aforementioned Pink Floyd laser light show.
- It really doesn’t matter how much you talk a good game. Nutraceuticals are nutraceuticals. Besides, the branding of Sunrider products appears rather stuck in the 80s, and while millennials may like 80s music, they will balk at the carbs in those snack crackers. They are too busy eating granola bars that contain flaxseed or chia seeds instead of actual granola (those chia seed bars are actually really good, but that is a story for a different day) and fruit snacks that aren’t even sweet.
- Despite the amazing comeback, the word has already gotten out about how Sunrider products, and indeed nutritional supplements in general, do not work nearly as well as their partisans say they will.
If you are absolutely determined to have a huge pile of overpriced nutritional supplements taking up room in your basement, I guess it can’t hurt to choose Sunrider as the company to ship these things to you. At least, if someone asks you about them, you will have a great story to tell.
I’m serious about the Barbershop Storyteller’s Troupe thing. If you know of one or are up for forming one, schedule a call with me.