CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you come across ACN members, it doesn’t take long to hear their pitch about owning your own business and earning big money by getting into merchant services like telephones, the internet, security systems, satellite television and energy.
This weekend, the Concord-based company is hosting its 20th anniversary and annual convention at Time Warner Cable Arena. Twenty thousand people are expected to attend.
Some say it’s the best deal ever, but others warn to stay away.
"If you aren't here, you're missing everything,” a woman said outside the arena Friday, where you could feel the energy in the crowd.
"It's the best opportunity on the planet,” said ACN member Dianne Langford-James.
Once inside, members hear pep talks, plus receive awards and training.
"I believe this really works,” said ACN member Jason Patacsil.
Patacsil, who came to the convention from San Francisco, signed up with ACN. It cost him $500.
"I made my money back and more,” he said.
He now recruits others to sign up. If they do, it costs them $500.
That's what Bob Fitzpatrick doesn't like. Fitzpatrick runs the website www.pyramidschemealert.org and says ACN isn't about the products.
"You're purchasing the right to sell and to recruit other people into it, so for the consumer, the question has to be what actually have I purchased for $500" he said. “It’s not measured truly in product volume. It’s going to be measured primarily by the number of sales people.”
"We get bonuses, but nobody gets paid if customers aren't acquired,” said ACN member Leslie Tekler, who came to the convention from Colorado.
In 2010, the Montana securities commissioner called ACN a pyramid scheme, then reversed course, allowing them to do business again.
ACN says that was a misunderstanding, arguing they're not a pyramid scheme and some of their attorneys are former attorneys general. That $500 is for company support, officials said.
"The external marketing and the back office,” Tekler said.
Stanley Craig also paid that $500 and signed up for ACN services. He says it led to higher fees and constant pressure to recruit friends. He wishes he never took part.
"I left them with high hopes and little else,” Craig said. “A lot of regrets.”
"We get bonuses, but nobody gets paid if customers aren't acquired,” Tekler said.
Members say if it's not working for some people, it's their fault, not ACN’s fault.
"They're not working the business. You can't get something for nothing,” Tekler said.
ACN has an "A” rating from the Better Business Bureau. Over the last year there were 272 complaints, all of which were resolved.
ACN officials say their retention rate among members is increasing, but there are people who leave.
Officials also say the company is seeing growth in VOIP and energy.
It plans to give at least $100,000 to the Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte after this weekend’s convention.