The first thing I learned from Delores is that Mary Kay ladies don’t drive pink Cadillacs anymore.
Well they can — a shiny pink convertible is still one of the choices if you’ve earned Career Car privileges — but Delores drove up to Beauty U in a silvery-pink Chevy Equinox SUV. She wore a royal blue skirt suit with black fishnets and black knee-high boots plus lots of gold accessories and I later learned that the suit itself was a “Mary Kay Sales Director” suit that she had to qualify (in sales numbers) to wear, but that the accessories were all hers.
Delores carried in a pink tote bag brimming with catalogs, while behind her, Sue wheeled in a the biggest pink polka-dotted suitcase I’d ever seen. Upon closer inspection, the dots revealed themselves to be tiny hair dryers and makeup brushes. There weren’t any clients on the books, so everyone piled into the spa classroom while Sue passed out little plastic-covered cardboard folders. Inside, they held a mirror and a plastic tray, divided into different inch-sized compartments. Mine held the remnants of many prior product applications. The mirror in Blanche’s folder was cracked.
The next thing I learned from Delores was that if I wanted to, I could make “a corporate income” selling Mary Kay products right out of my home. “Even in the recession, our saleswomen are doing better than ever!” She jumped right into her speech about that while Sue came around and squirted little bits of product onto each of our trays.
“I always wanted to stay home with my children and Mary Kay has let me realize my dream,” Delores said, showing us her gold charm necklace that featured silhouette heads for each of her three kids. “My husband has even been able to retire early because my business is so successful!”
I knew that Sue was between jobs and trying to pick up a bartender gig. They mostly relied on her boyfriend’s income, doing something for the town that meant whenever we had a snowstorm he had to pull double shifts and plow the streets.
“That’s why I’m so thrilled that Susan has come back to Mary Kay again,” said Delores. I had never heard Sue go by “Susan,” but it sounded right coming from Delores, all successful and corporate. “She can help support her family and still have time to be with her son and pursue her education! Now ladies, let me tell you about our amazing new skin care line.”
And as we were instructed to dab each of the product samples from our little trays onto our faces — the custom Mary Kay “facial” — I couldn’t figure out if I was being sold a career or a face wash.
Delores really liked the Mary Kay Timewise 3-in-1 Cleanser, which promises to cleanse, exfoliate and tone you all in one step, but Miss Jenny was underwhelmed. “We don’t like combination products here,” she explained to Delores, rubbing a bit of cleanser doubtfully onto the back of her hand. “If you’re going to do all those things properly, you really need three separate products.”
“Of course, that’s why we also offer our Classic Basic Skincare line, where you use a separate product for each step,” Delores responded smoothly, marching us right along to the lip treatment samples. “Remember, ladies, you earn 50 percent commission on every product you sell. That’s why I’m so pleased that Susan has come back to us — the sky really is the limit!”
In fact, this was Sue’s third time selling Mary Kay, which meant it was the third time she had bought the $120 start-up kit, where you get samples of all the key products and a guide to selling them to all of your family and friends. “The first two times, I didn’t make any money,” she told me later. “But this time, with our esthetics knowledge, being in this business, I think it makes a lot of sense.”
After our “skin care class,” Delores handed out catalogs so we could page through all the different shades of Mary Kay eye shadows and lipsticks. “Remember, ladies, if you buy tonight, Susan will earn 50 percent off everything!” she told us. “You really are helping out a friend. That’s how Mary Kay works. You can help her even more if you agree to host a party, plus that way you can get free products!”
Of course, we all wanted to help out Sue. Miss Jenny bought some eye shadow. Miss Stacy agreed to host a party. I bought the lip treatment and later I would buy a toner and a clarifying mask, when Sue swore they would be just what I needed to clear up my Beauty U breakouts. (They weren’t.)
By then, she had hosted a few parties where she earned $500 in a night — way better than bartending. Except out of that $500, she also had to pay for party snacks and wine, pay Mary Kay to maintain the web page of her “exclusive online store,” and pay for inventory so she could make more sales at her next party.
That first night, Blanche had been the most suspicious of the whole thing when Delores began her sales pitch. “Can I get another mirror?” she asked Sue, handing back her cracked one. “Do you really make any money this way?”
But the magical phrase “corporate income” — plus Delores’s shiny car and spiffy suit — seemed to go a long way. By the end of the night, she had signed on to Delores’ team, forking over the $120 for her own starter sales rep kit. And she and Sue helped Delores cart out the roll-along suitcase and the pink tote bag, chattering about that 50 percent commission and the great new range of eye shadow colors.
So. I’m pretty fascinated by the whole world of direct-marketing cosmetics, which so many women at Beauty U seemed to at least dip a toe in — without ever making much money.
Have you tried selling Mary Kay, Avon, or another direct-marketing makeup brand? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments, or email me (beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot]com) with your story.