April 01, 2014
Plexus Worldwide: A Partnership for Success
by Jennifer Workman Pitcock
Photo above: Plexus Worldwide corporate offices in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo Credit: Dustin Revella Photography)
- Founded: 2006
- Headquarters: Scottsdale, Ariz.
- Executives: Alfred Pettersen, International President; Tarl Robinson, CEO; and Alec Clark, Chief Marketing Officer.
- Products: nutrition, weight loss, skincare, pain relief, detoxification and breast health
Plexus Worldwide may be the biggest company in the direct sales industry that you’ve never heard of. But Plexus executives don’t expect that to be the case for long: In the last two years, the company’s revenues more than quadrupled. With a strong weight-loss pillar and a recently added pain-relief pillar, the company is growing exponentially.
The Plexus Story
Two of Plexus’ owners got their start in the industry as distributors—Plexus’ International President Alfred Pettersen and CEO Tarl Robinson. Pettersen joined his first direct sales company in 1992. Soon he became one of the company’s top distributors in his home country of Canada. “I thought I had a horse that I could throw my retirement saddle on and ride into the sunset,” Pettersen says. But then, in 2001, his company merged with another direct sales company. The first month, he saw his earnings drop by half. After 9/11, sales got even worse. It was then that Pettersen decided he wanted to own his own network marketing company someday. “I wanted to do network marketing as it could be done and should be done,” he says.
He got his opportunity when he discovered a company called Plexus Worldwide in Scottsdale, Ariz. Plexus had only one product, and it was non-consumable. They were selling a Breast Chek Kit to help women screen themselves for breast cancer. Pettersen was marketing a breast cream that he believed could increase the company’s sales, but Plexus turned him down after months of negotiation. The founder had discovered he had a life-threatening illness and planned to shut the company down. Instead, he agreed to sell the company to Pettersen.
But Pettersen needed an investor. Though still quite young, Robinson had been a successful distributor at various direct sales companies. Now he was looking for investment opportunities in the industry. The two men hit it off, and Robinson became Pettersen’s partner.
|Plexus lobby at company headquarters. (Photo Credit: Dustin Revella Photography)||Plexus’ executive team: Alec Clark, Tarl Robinson and Alfred Pettersen.|
The Plexus Plan
The two men took over the company in May 2008. The first thing Pettersen and Robinson did was change the comp plan from a binary plan to what the company calls “the Plexus Plan.” “We both knew what it was like to be on the distributor side, and we said we’re going to treat our Ambassadors—that’s what we call our distributors—as partners,” Pettersen says.
So they set about creating a new comp plan, developed primarily by Pettersen. A key feature is profit-sharing. It’s open to Ambassadors who pay the company’s annual fee of $34.95 to join. To qualify, Ambassadors must turn on a Back Up Order—an automatic shipment of products of the Ambassadors’ choosing that gets sent automatically on the day of their choice every month—but only if they don’t have enough personal volume to qualify. If Ambassadors do this, they can earn a share of Plexus’ profits.
The revenue sharing is just one of several ways Ambassadors can earn money in the company’s comp plan. The Plexus Plan spreads revenues across the field and doesn’t simply cater to top performers. “Our comp plan has eliminated competition within the company,” Pettersen says. “When any Ambassador increases their average sales, it increases the profitability of the company, and everyone gets rewarded.”
Just a few months after Pettersen and Robinson bought Plexus in 2008, the recession hit. “Our one consumable product was a skincare product for breast health,” Robinson says. “When it was a choice between dinner on the table or a cream for breasts, the breast cream quickly went out the window. It was a period in time when, regardless of whether their finances were changed or not, people were playing it close to the vest.”
Pettersen and Robinson think Plexus might not be around if their next product hadn’t walked through the door—literally. A couple of formulators came into the Plexus headquarters with a weight-loss drink. Robinson was intrigued. “In my opinion, weight-loss products are king if you can find a product that works,” he says. But the product they brought—what is now Plexus Slim—came in a 12-ounce bottle. Robinson saw several big drawbacks. Storage and shipping issues with a liquid made him hesitate.He suggested that the formulators put it into a powdered form, which they did.
That was June 2009. By July, Plexus had sample packets, which they gave to their top Ambassadors. It quickly became known as “the pink drink” because of its unique color.
“By the middle of August, we were getting amazing feedback on what this product was doing. We had told our Ambassadors not to change their diet or exercise routines. We needed to see how this product was going to work for them on its own merit. We were getting fabulous results,” Pettersen says.
They launched Plexus Slim in 2009 and immediately saw sales jump. Plexus’ executives knew they had a winner.
Just a few months later, the company caught another break. An Ambassador realized a product she had bought at the health food store was having a synergistic effect with Plexus Slim. She had dropped from a size 8 to a size 2 in 90 days.
Plexus’ product formulators confirmed that the products worked together, and they reformulated it to make it more compatible with Slim. They called the new product the Accelerator. Plexus launched it at the beginning of 2010. Sales took off as a result of the combined weight-loss products.
As Plexus began to grow, Pettersen and Robinson realized they needed someone who would bring them industry contacts on the executive side. So they brought on Alec Clark as the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. Clark had worked on the corporate side of a company where both Pettersen and Robinson had been distributors. “We needed someone who knew both of us and who respected what we had done,” Pettersen says. “We have a very different way of doing business here, so we didn’t want him to simply transplant his experience in the industry. He had to filter it so that it fit in with the Plexus culture.”
Soon the company was growing so fast that Clark relocated to Arizona and became Plexus’ third partner.
The Plexus Culture
Plexus’ executives are proud of the culture they have created within the company. The comp plan is just one example of the way Plexus puts its Ambassadors at the heart of the business. “We truly feel we’re partners with them,” Clark says. “All the decisions we make are focused toward them. We want their lives to be better because of Plexus.”
This also carries over to the company’s training. Although Plexus utilizes online tutorials and videos, Ambassadors are usually the ones guiding and teaching. “Our Ambassadors are out there in the field, and they know what they’re training on,” Clark says. For the past two years, Plexus has held a “Super Saturday” training the first Saturday of the year. The company creates a curriculum for the year, and top Ambassadors do training sessions around the country. “This last year we sent two or three Ambassadors to 30 cities on Super Saturday,” Clark says. All meetings around the company are open to any Ambassadors, regardless of what team they are on.
Their culture of inclusiveness seems to be working—they saw 600 percent growth in Ambassadors in 2013, with a total now of about 135,000. Though a high percentage of Plexus’ Ambassadors fit the profile of a typical network marketer—middle-aged and female—the company is starting to see a wider range. “Some of our top positions are filled by Ambassadors in their 20s,” Robinson says.
Products That Work
Last year, Plexus surveyed its Ambassadors to see why they were with the company. An overwhelming 92 percent said it was because the products work. Plexus Slim’s active ingredients include proven weight-loss components such as chromium and a proprietary blend of chlorogenic acid extract, garcinia cambogia fruit extract, and alpha lipoic acid. Accelerator also contains chromium and a proprietary blend of other ingredients, including many natural plant extracts that may aid in weight loss, such as green tea extract.
Plexus Slim’s active ingredients include proven weight-loss components such as chromium and a proprietary blend of chlorogenic acid extract, garcinia cambogia fruit extract, and alpha lipoic acid.
Plexus’ website shares numerous video testimonials of people who have seen tremendous results from using the products, and the company’s executives have heard from thousands more. They love going to meetings and listening to the ways the products have changed people’s lives. “People talk more about the health benefits than the weight they’ve lost,” Pettersen says. He believes that the products help to bring the body back into balance, which improves users’ overall health.
Recently, Plexus added two more products. Bio Cleanse addresses issues with the digestive tract. “It has become one of our top products,” Pettersen says. “We also added a product called ProBio5 that helps get intestinal flora to its peak.”
Along with its weight-loss products, the original Breast Chek Kit, Plexus Body Cream, and a multivitamin called Plexus X Factor, a line of pain relief products rounds out Plexus’ offerings. “People love them and are seeing real results,” Pettersen says.
Move into Social Media
In 2014, Plexus hired Vincent Orleck as its Social Community Coordinator to handle all of the company’s social media channels. He is the first employee the company has hired who is solely dedicated to the social media space.
Though he has only been with Plexus a short time, Orleck is already seeing results. “People are asking lots of questions about the products,” he says. “They’re asking how to become Ambassadors.”
When he arrived, the company already had a fairly robust following on Facebook and Twitter. He plans to increase the company’s presence on other platforms, such as Google+ and Pinterest. “Our audience is on Pinterest,” Orleck says. “I think that will be a big channel for us.”
His goal for all of Plexus’ social media platforms is to be more innovative. “I want to teach our Ambassadors how to use social media to their advantage,” Orleck says. “It’s not about being sales-y. People don’t want to see that on Facebook. They turn that off.”
Instead, Orleck says it’s all about the relationship aspect. “It’s about making it personal and keeping it personal—not making two personal posts and then hitting them with the sale.
“If you think about it, using social media in direct sales makes sense,” he says. “MLM is all word-of-mouth, and that’s exactly what social media is—a tool to get the word out.”
Room for Growth
When the partners took over Plexus, they were housed in a 2,400-square-foot space. Today, they’re in their third building. And they’re outgrowing their 36,000-square-foot facility—they will need to move again by 2015.
But that’s nothing compared to the growth they expect to see in the field in the near future as they move into other markets.
Within the United States, Plexus still sees a great deal of potential as well. “There are big cities where we’ve hardly scratched the surface,” Clark says. “I think we’re just getting started.”
Building a Legacy
From the beginning, one of the goals of Plexus Worldwide has been to create a legacy company. The company’s core beliefs are Be Trustworthy, Be Honest, Be Reliable and Be Responsible. Building on this foundation, the partners are working to make sure this vision will be realized. “We’re working to create something that will withstand our time here, a company that will keep its values and nature and culture. We’re creating a company that will keep our Ambassadors’ and employees’ best interests in mind as it moves forward,” Robinson says.
This includes continuing to add products. They have a long-term plan in place to grow their offerings to around 22–25 items. They will continue to enhance and improve their weight-loss pillar while adding two to three more. Though they’ve laid projected growth plans, they believe that the best way to become a legacy company is to be ready for opportunities when they arise. “We like to be nimble on our feet,” Robinson says. “If a great product jumps into our laps, it doesn’t always make sense to push it out 24 months. Just because it wasn’t in the plan doesn’t mean we can’t do it if we put some timing and strategy behind it.” They also believe being a debt-free company with money in the bank gives them the security and resources to continue to build for the future.
“At Plexus, our mission is to enhance the health, wealth and happiness of our Ambassadors and employees. And we’re seeing that happening across the country,” Clark says. “Eventually we’ll see it happen across the world. I anticipate being here for a long time because what Plexus has is a true partnership between its executives and Ambassadors.”
Plexus’ partners want their company to one day be the definitive weight-loss company in the direct sales space. “We have our blinders on,” Clark says. “We have a laser focus on where we want to go in the future, and we’re not looking to the left or the right.”