Maybe you’re a college student and have been invited to a meeting. And now you’re wondering, “Is Southwestern Advantage a scam?” You may even do some googling to try to figure out if this is a good opportunity or not. Maybe you’re even wondering if they are a multi-level marketing (MLM) company or a pyramid scheme.
I had these same questions because I happened to read about this company from an anti-MLM post on Reddit. However, after doing some research, this company is not an MLM or a pyramid scheme. And I don’t think it’s a scam.
But that also doesn’t mean you should immediately sign up.
Read on to find out what Southwestern Advantage is all about.
This one is very interesting, to say the least…
What is Southwestern Advantage?
Southwestern Advantage might be the oldest direct selling company out there. The parent company, Southwestern Publishing was established in 1855 by James Robinson Graves, and Southwestern Advantage (the direct selling arm) was established shortly after in 1868.
According to this Wikipedia article:
“In 1868, Graves discontinued the company’s mail-order business, and began training young men as independent dealers to sell Bibles and educational books door-to-door as a way to earn money for college.”
And so it began.
Southwestern Advantage claims they are an internship program where college students can learn “a way to afford their degrees, gain entrepreneurial skills, and build character.”
Students in the Southwestern Advantage program move to a different part of the country, house with other program students (usually with a family or a person that opens their home to them for a small rental fee) and sell books door-to-door all summer.
Southwestern Advantage’s Products
Southwestern Advantage independent contractors sell education books, tools and programs for kids Pre-K through grade 12.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how much any of the books cost because there aren’t any prices online. (Although, there are some books for sale on Amazon and eBay which we’ll get to in a minute.)
Additionally, you can’t buy any books online (unless through Amazon or some other site where people are trying to unload some stock) as all the selling is done door-to-door.
Lets’s take a look at some book prices on Amazon and eBay.
Here’s a sampling from Amazon:
Here’s a sampling from eBay:
On eBay, there’s a mix of brand new books and pre-owned books. Some people may be independent sellers and others may just be trying to unload what they bought that their kids grew out of.
The prices of the books don’t seem extraordinarily high, as compared to similar books out there.
How Much Does it Cost to Join Southwestern Advantage?
There isn’t a direct cost to join Southwestern Advantage, but there will be some expenses you need to keep in mind. These expenses include rent for housing, food, and travel.
There’s no starter kit or application fee and you don’t need to hold any inventory. Samples of books will be given to you to use for the summer.
Some people also want to purchase business cards to leave behind, but this is optional.
Southwestern Advantage Compensation Plan
There isn’t a compensation plan for Southwestern Advantage because it’s not an MLM. Instead, students buy the products wholesale and sell them to customers retail. The difference between the prices is what the student gets in profits.
There isn’t an income disclosure, but they do have this snippet on their website:
I wish there was more information on these numbers because they seem a little high. Especially after watching a YouTuber’s explanation of her experience (posted below) and how she said that most people make very little money.
But if this is true, it’s not bad money.
If you can stick it out for the whole summer.
How Does Southwestern Advantage Work?
They have a short video on their website here about the steps it takes to be an independent contractor for Southwestern Advantage. Here are the steps that they mention in the video:
- Attend an information session about the Southwestern Advantage internship
- Selection process that includes 1-3 interviews to see if a student is a right fit for the job
- Receive training supplies
- Campus meetings that start in the Spring
- Production seminar (like a mini sales school) and parent coffee
- Go to company headquarters in Nashville, TN
- Attend sales school in Nashville
- Travel to sales area
- Move in with a host family
- Shadow an experienced dealer
- Once the summer is over, travel back to Nashville for checkout
The video also mentions that there’s an awards banquet for those who make it through the whole program, and there’s also a trip to somewhere warm the week before Thanksgiving.
Southwestern Advantage Complaints & Positive Reviews
Southwestern Advantage is accredited with the BBB, gets an A+ rating from them and also seems to get plenty of positive reviews.
Positive reviewers said things like:
- Our son sold books for Southwestern Advantage and it was a positive experience for him
- Wonderful company with wonderful representatives
- The books are such great quality
- This product has been very helpful to my children already
- The representative from the company was kind and considerate
Now, because this isn’t an MLM, there really isn’t an advantage for people to leave positive reviews. (In an MLM, people who are distributors leave positive reviews because they are trying to recruit others.)
However, it seems a *little* sketchy that there are an overwhelming amount of positive reviews on this company. Most people leave reviews to complain, let’s be honest.
My guess is that asking for positive reviews is a part of the program in some way. I don’t have proof of that, but it’s my suspicion. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s my thought as to why there are so many.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though. There are definitely some complaints about Southwestern Advantage.
The complaints mentioned things like:
- Horrible customer service
- I believe I was scammed out of $60
- This is a company of liars and thieves
- Don’t waste your money. I paid almost $600 for 14 books
- Scammed out of $500 for some useless books
Here’s someone on Reddit who sums up his or her experience pretty nicely:
Here’s one more I found on Glassdoor from a person who is adamant that signing up for Southwestern Advantage is a terrible idea:
Positive and Negative Experienced from YouTubers
Let’s take a look at a couple of YouTubers who explain their experiences with Southwestern Advantage.
Maddie had a great experience with Southwestern Advantage. She said it was one of the most challenging experiences she’s ever had, but that it really prepared her for the real world. She was terrified of going door-to-door, but facing that fear and adversity is what builds character.
Here’s something she said that goes a long way in life. “As long as you treat people well, they’ll treat you well.”
YouTuber, TeaTimewithBev, had a bit of a different experience. She said she had the cops called on her several times, was told by someone if she didn’t leave she was going to “have her dog eat me”, and was told by the cops to “be very careful” because the people she was talking to were so angry with her.
She also mentions how the leaders were so mean and that due to the high pressure of the job, it brings the worst out of people.
She mentions something at the end of the video which sounds a lot like what you hear with MLMs. She said that the leaders make it seem like a lot of people make a lot of money, but the majority do not. Most people end up making around minimum wage. And she said that leaders will tell you it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.
She also said that this company is taking advantage of students by using them as free labor.
It’s a valid argument.
- Is Vector Marketing an MLM? [Why Do So Many Call It a Scam?]
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- Why I Quit Young Living [Any Why I’m Now Anti-MLM]
Is Southwestern Advantage a Scam or a Pyramid Scheme?
The whole reason I wrote this article is because, as mentioned, someone on Reddit mentioned that Southwestern Advantage is a pyramid scheme. I hadn’t heard of this particular company and I thought it would be interesting to look into it. From what I can tell, Southwestern Advantage isn’t a scam, and it’s not a pyramid scheme because it’s not an MLM. There aren’t multiple levels of payment and the students aren’t trying to recruit others into the business.
It does certainly have its disadvantages, which we’ll get into in a moment. But let’s look at some benefits first.
- Gives students a chance to help pay for school
- Build character by persevering even when things are tough
- Students move to a different part of the country and learn to be independent
- Develop relationships with other students in the program
- You have to work 6 days a week from approximately 8am – 8pm
- You’re not guaranteed an income. It’s dependent on how much you sell. (You’re free labor?)
- You have to sell door-to-door
- The products aren’t ordered online and orders are delivered at the end of summer. That may give people even more reason to say no
- You have to move to another part of the country (maybe be a pro for you)
- You have to live with a host family (may be a pro for you)
- Sales is hard work and you’ll get a lot of no’s
- You may get very angry people coming to the door and you may get the cops called on you
- You may get yourself into dangerous situations
I thought the Southwestern Advantage experience would be similar to Vector Marketing (aka Cutco Knives), but it seems to be a little less shady. They both seem to take advantage of / build the characters of young college students, depending on your perspective.
From my research Vector Marketing is shadier because they are less upfront about what you’ll be doing until you’re stuck in the thick of sales training.
Unsubstantiated Income Claims
I like to point out when Truth in Advertising has found unsubstantiated income claims, and Southwestern Advantage is a company that they looked at.
Here is a list of 9 instances when someone has made an unsubstantiated income claim that TIN.org has tracked.
Most of the posts are from Southwestern Advantage and it looks like the issue is that they claim you can graduate from college without student loan debt if you join their program. But there’s no proof of that.
An Alternative to Southwestern Advantage
If you’re still convinced Southwestern Advantage is a scam and that they are taking advantage of students, then I have an alternative for you.
It’s affiliate marketing. (You can read my free guide on affiliate marketing here to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.)
Affiliate marketing is sales, but a much more chill version of it. You won’t be knocking on any doors, as it’s all done online. To put it simply, affiliate marketing is promoting other people’s products for a commission.
You can promote anything you’d like, as long as there’s an affiliate program for it. For instance, Amazon has one of the largest affiliate programs. You could sign up with them and make a commission on their millions of products.
If you’d like to learn how to create your own affiliate marketing website, you can check out my #1 recommendation for training.
Is Southwestern Advantage a scam? I personally don’t think it is. It is a program that takes college students out of their comfort zone by sending them to live in a new part of the country and has them going door-to-door to sell educational books and programs.
Some people say it’s an amazing experience that helped them build character. Some say that it was a terrible experience and they feel the company is just using them as free labor. I would definitely consider all the advantages and disadvantages before signing up.
In the meantime, you could start your own affiliate marketing business from the comfort of your own home. Sign up for free and learn how to do it step by step here.
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