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Sandy Greenberg likes to call his sales force a "volunteer army." He steps to the podium and looks out over the hundred enlistees who have crammed into this hotel meeting room for the May 2 regional conference of XELR8, the Denver-based nutritional supplement company. Among the troops are nurses, real-estate agents, retail workers, construction supervisors, homemakers, teachers, shop owners and the recently unemployed; some have driven here from New Mexico and Arizona. Even seated and silent, they radiate enthusiasm as if it were a commodity. And they are just a fraction of the more than 6,400 independent XELR8 distributors across the U.S. and Canada, a number that Greenberg hopes will soon explode, bringing in far more than the $7.4 million in revenues his company reported last year.
Colorful banners line the room, all devoted to the company's primary product, Bazi. Named after the Chinese word for "eight elements," the liquid supplement boasts a "synergistic blend" of twelve vitamins, 68 minerals and various fruits and berries. Fervent followers insist that drinking a shot a day of the "drink of life" will do everything from improve athletic performance and mental clarity to fight off headaches, allergies, arthritis and even cancer. Bazi's ardent endorsers include such sports celebrities as former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese and ousted coach Mike Shanahan; even John Elway, while not an official spokesman, told TV cameras last year that sucking down the stuff gave him greater energy. And XELR8 marketing materials offer this proclamation from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: "I don't look at it like I'm buying Bazi, but as investing in myself."
So are the people here tonight. Billboards across the metro area feature Bazi's distinctive red bottle and white cap alongside this exhortation: "Increase your health and your wealth!" Call the number on the billboard and you get a call back from a Bazi distributor inviting you to a tasting and "opportunity presentation," where you learn that you, too, can be a Bazi distributor.
A sixteen-ounce bottle of Bazi sells for $25 — but you can't buy it in stores. Instead, hundreds of thousands of units are sold each year through a multi-level marketing network. Distributors earn commissions by selling Bazi directly to friends and family — and they're also rewarded when they enlist others in the cause.
In the late '80s and early '90s, when Greenberg was considered a prince of the penny-stock trade, he managed a huge force of brokers trained in the art of the hard sell. These days, though, the tanned 51-year-old knows that an unsalaried sales force needs a different kind of motivational speaker, and so Bazi's top distributors give the pep talks. "Everybody, let's give it up for Mark Jackson," Greenberg says, announcing the former Broncos wide receiver who, as one of the legendary Three Amigos in the late '80s, made the storied touchdown catch from Elway in the 1987 AFC Championship.
"My rookie year, I had a chance to quit a couple times," Jackson tells the crowd. "What I learned in the Broncos is sometimes you need help to be successful." After retiring from the NFL, Jackson worked in the mortgage industry for several years — and then some friends helped him find his way into the Bazi business, where the money now chases after him. "Some of you guys might be thinking about quitting," he says. "Sometimes you need a little help. You have to be able to sacrifice if you want to go from good to great."
Becoming great at XELR8 means reaching the Diamond ranks of distributorship — with commissions in the realm of six figures a year, as well as the chance to win tropical vacations and luxury cars — by pushing greater volumes of Bazi through your "downline" network of recruits, an army of Bazi-pushers who then find their own recruits to preach the path of making your "dreams of health, success and overall well-being a reality," as Bazi's marketing materials promise.
"There's magic inside each and every one of us," Jackson insists, "and it comes out in different ways with Bazi."
Bazi has a brick-red hue and a light, carbonated froth. For anyone who has choked down a wheatgrass shot, the taste isn't bad; it's slightly sweet and mineral-y, like crushed Flintstones vitamins sprinkled into a cocktail of various juice concentrates. And, in fact, that's not far off from the actual contents of Bazi, according to the label on the bottle. It contains vitamins A, B, C, D and E; minerals such as zinc, calcium, potassium and some unpronounceables like dysprosium and praseodymium; and 72 other nutritional ingredients. The "8 superfruits" include old staples like raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, along with more exotic produce that's become a hot trend in liquid supplements: the Himalayan goji berry, the Indonesian mangosteen, the seabuckthorn berry from Russia and the Brazilian açai berry. But it's the jujube (pronounced joo-joob) from China that gets top billing.
"Deep in the cool mist of China's prized Shandong Province grows an ancient, superior fruit of almost magical power," begins the voiceover on the Bazi website. "Carefully cultivated for over 4,000 years, this amazing fruit is rich in life-giving nutrients and steeped in legend." Ancient healers and high priests would use the "mystical" jujube fruit to cleanse vital organs, revitalize the kidneys, detoxify the blood, slow the aging process and provide a "sense of immortality" to those who drank it. With Bazi, the voice concludes, XELR8 has used the "jujube in its most potent form so it may provide you with all its astonishing health benefits."