In October, a white Mercedes SUV tied with a big red bow pulled up to Juli Nelson’s Clinton home. The vehicle—the second white Benz to roll into her neighborhood—was a gift to Nelson from Arbonne International, a 29-year-old Swiss skin-care company whose clients and products appear to be infiltrating every nook and cranny of Missoula life. Arbonne did not return calls requesting a count of area consultants, but in Missoula, it isn’t unusual to see the company’s catalogue poking out of a handbag or overhear locker-room discussions of Arbonne’s “classes.” The consultant and neighbor who sponsored Nelson also drives a white Mercedes, courtesy of Arbonne.
“Our neighborhood is a very blue-collar community, so this is very bizarre for us,” Nelson says. “We’re foresters and welders and mechanics.”
Nelson didn’t always see the company as a way to break through Missoula’s low-salary ceiling.
“I’d gone to a class just because I wanted to meet the women in my neighborhood,” she says.
That was November 2002. Now, Nelson is an Arbonne regional vice president—the status that secured the Mercedes and indicates that Nelson billed $40,000 in a single month. In September, Nelson’s check from Arbonne was $6,600. Last month, it was $8,600.
Erika Rauthe is a new consultant. She believes the business will catapult her out of a stale corporate desk job: “I don’t have a personal relationship with a file cabinet,” she says. Plus, she says, “I’m not a happy camper about working 8 to 5.”
She says she isn’t worried that the Missoula market might already be Arbonne-saturated. The 27-year-old Kalispell native plans to establish business contacts and clients in the Flathead. Arbonne, she hopes, will allow her “to stay here [in Missoula] and be able to afford to leave here sometimes.”
Conventional wisdom might dictate that the popularity of high-end skin care products would be limited to cosmopolitan New York or California and bypass Montana, but Rauthe says that isn’t necessarily the case.
“Oklahoma is the place that’s really booming right now with Arbonne,” says Rauthe. “Isn’t that weird?”