Think Pink

How Mary Kay got its groove back

"I put a little bit of blush around the brow area, because that helps it look natural."

"I never thought of that," says a woman, scribbling in her notebook.

When the makeover is done, the Velocity girl steps into the audience and walks around so that each woman can peer at her refinished face. Her makeover is surprisingly subtle, not the vampy, thick-glossed look I had feared. As she walks slowly down the aisle, she blinks her lashes dramatically, giggling.

Pretty in pink: The Mary Kay Museum, located inside the corporate headquarters in Addison. Clockwise from top left: A portrait of founder Mary Kay Ash, who died in 2001; life-size figures of Ash and the company's current sales force uniforms; a gallery devoted to national sales directors.
Peter Calvin
Pretty in pink: The Mary Kay Museum, located inside the corporate headquarters in Addison. Clockwise from top left: A portrait of founder Mary Kay Ash, who died in 2001; life-size figures of Ash and the company's current sales force uniforms; a gallery devoted to national sales directors.
Maria Jimenez quit her waitressing job to become a full-time consultant. She tripled her income in a month.
Peter Calvin
Maria Jimenez quit her waitressing job to become a full-time consultant. She tripled her income in a month.

"Wow," the women around her say, as she beams. "You look beautiful."


Like any self-help movement, Mary Kay has its share of cynics. People dismiss it as a pyramid scheme, a get-rich-quick scam. "You can absolutely not make any money selling this makeup," writes one disgruntled former saleswoman on the Web site Cagey Consumer (www.cageyconsumer.com), which features user comments about direct-sales companies. She continues, "They used to make us dance the Macarena at weekly meetings! How humiliating!" Another former consultant gripes, "They tried to talk every girl/woman into buying as much product to stock on their shelves as they could possibly squeeze out of her." "I pity any woman who gets sucked up into this," writes yet another. "Run away and run fast." They characterize Mary Kay as a relentlessly chirpy company that gouges its naïve sales force with flashy promises of diamond brooches and dream vacations. One poor guy writes that he has bankrolled both his ex-wife's and his current wife's flirtation with the company and now has a closet full of dusty, unused product. His post reminds me of a lighter moment at Seminar. When CEO Richard Rogers said to the audience, "We have the greatest sales force on earth. But there is another secret to our success. Do you know what it is?"

Someone yelled out, "Husbands!"

To be fair, the positive Mary Kay posts on Cagey Consumer vastly outnumber the negative. But I brought some of these reservations to Karen Piro, the top Mary Kay businesswoman in the Dallas area. Piro, 53, is a former elementary schoolteacher who was living in Iowa when a blond and leggy local television reporter approached her about joining Mary Kay. The woman was Mary Hart, who would go on to host Entertainment Tonight. After the Mary Kay skin-care products cleared up Piro's persistent acne, she signed up. Twenty-seven years later, she is one of the company's top sellers and has netted more than $6 million.

"First of all, the company only requires $100 to start," Piro says. Some consultants buy more, of course--some may even be encouraged to buy more, with the reasonable notion that the greater the financial investment, the greater the reward. What the complaints don't mention, however, is that Mary Kay has a long-held policy that any consultant can sell her products back to the company within 12 months at 90 percent cost. "I had the same concern when I started," Piro says. "What if I don't sell this? But my husband is a marketing graduate, and he looked at the information and said, 'You'd be crazy not to try this.'"

Although some complaints slammed the company for high prices, the cost of Mary Kay products falls "in between mass and prestige"--more expensive than Walgreens and cheaper than Dillard's. A tube of lipstick costs $12. Blush is $9. Their skin-care line is pricier--$22 for body lotion, $20 for moisturizer, $18 for cleanser--but they are also the company's signature, and best-selling, products. Mary Kay consultants receive a 50 percent commission on all sales, purchasing the product wholesale, selling it at retail (the price is doubled) and keeping the difference. As consultants move up in the company by recruiting a team, the company pays them a percentage of their unit's sales. That's how Piro--after a quarter-century of recruiting women, who in turn recruited other women--can make such a jaw-dropping amount of cash.

Piro says most women in Mary Kay fail for the same reasons. "They don't come to training sessions. They don't come to meetings. There's a lack of discipline, poor time management. But isn't that the same with any business, anywhere?"

And for the record, Piro says, "I don't even know how to dance the Macarena. Where was that woman going to meetings?"

My own reservations about Mary Kay have to do with the nature of direct sales. I flinch when scruffy, big-eyed boys approach me with a list of magazine subscriptions, and at certain times of the year, I avoid Girl Scouts at all costs. I dislike the disruption, the pressure to buy.

"Boy, I understand that," Piro says. "That's why we don't go looking for salespeople. We want people who can let the person who's trying the product decide if she wants it or not. We don't want to pressure people, and we don't train anyone to pressure people."

I admit that was not my stereotype of the Mary Kay saleswoman. I pictured someone pushy and needling, something approaching the satiric women of Hell on Heels, the NBC made-for-TV movie. Based loosely on a true story, the movie features Shirley MacLaine as Mary Kay Ash, whose empire is threatened when the much younger Jinger Heath, played by Parker Posey, starts a rival company, Dallas-based BeautiControl. The portrait has a campy appeal--despite all their polish and gloss, these women are just harpies in pantyhose. But the women I met for this article were not like that. They were polite and kind. They were genuinely altered by their experience in Mary Kay. I know obnoxious women exist in this business, as they do in most. But it's not a requisite; in fact, in a job that requires an element of trust and likability, it's probably an impediment.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Dallas Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...