A Typical Mary Kay Recruiting Event

A Chicago Sun-Times Aricle about a Mary Kay recruiting event by nsd Christine Peterson.

This article was written in 2002 by Debra Pickett, but the recruiting scripts are still being used today.

I’m still not sure exactly how I wound up in a Mary Kay recruiting session, but there I was in a chilly conference room at the Drake Hotel, hearing about the fabulous cars, vacations, jewelry and cash that I could have if I sold makeup for a living.”It will be the first time in your life you’re in total control of your destiny,” the Mary Kay sales director said, smoothing out the skirt of her brown St. John suit, holding her left hand at the perfect angle to show off her five-carat diamond ring.

There were about a dozen of us seated around the table–only women, of course. Most seemed as surprised as I was to find themselves there.

“I drive a Mercedes, never pay for trips and I make a lot of money,” Ms. Five-Carat Diamond went on, “Anyone else want to live like that?”

What do you say to that? None of us knew. We were still getting our bearings, still wondering if there was a chance of someone bringing in sandwiches.

I’d arrived at the hotel thinking I was meeting someone for lunch. Jessica had introduced herself to me a few days earlier by running up to me on the street and complimenting my outfit.

“Sorry to bother you,” she’d said, as she caught up to me on Hubbard Street, “but I just had to tell you how great you look today.”

The perfect thing for one woman to say to another, right? I took a cynical city dweller’s step away from her, wondering what she was trying to sell. Still, it was just enough to get me to slow down and listen.

She said she organized networking events for young women and asked if I might be interested. I gave her a polite, non-committal answer and we exchanged business cards, in that ritual sort of way you do on planes and in coffee shop lines and on the street. You never really expect to hear from the person again. Or you figure that between caller ID, voice mail and e-mail, you won’t ever really have to talk to them.

But Jessica was more persistent. Through sheer force of will, she managed to catch me on the phone.

“I have a position available,” she said, “It’s director-level, a six-figure opportunity.”

“I’m not really interested,” I kept saying.

But she kept right on talking. Pretty soon I heard myself suggesting that maybe we could have coffee sometime. I wanted to hear more about what Mary Kay has been up to, since the death of its charismatic founder last November. And I wanted to understand exactly how the whole recruiting-people-by-running-up-to-them-on-the-street thing worked. Jessica negotiated me up from coffee to lunch and we agreed to meet at the Drake.

Jessica was waiting in the lobby. After another round of compliments, she ushered me into the conference room, then disappeared. The sales director, a middle-aged woman who looked exactly the way rich people do when they’re portrayed on soap operas, was already into her presentation, which was mainly her holding up the covers of magazines and brochures.

The magazines broadcast alarming news about the state of the economy. The brochures detailed the lavish accommodations she’d had on her “27 trips around the world.”

She told us the stock market was at its lowest level since the Great Depression. She told us we’d probably get laid off from our jobs. Or, if we managed to escape the ax, we’d probably make less money than our male counterparts, lose out on the chance to have children, and then get edged out of the work force when we turned 50. With no money to retire on, our future might involve working as greeters at Wal-Mart.

Unless we got ourselves out of the corporate grind, like we could by selling for Mary Kay.

“The only way to become wealthy is to own your own business,” she said.

And if we became “independent consultants” selling Mary Kay lipsticks and moisturizers, we’d be in a recession-proof industry. Because you know how women are: They’ll always buy makeup. And it would cost us just $100 to get started and then we’d be in control of our destinies. Finally.

It was all very empowering–and demeaning, at the same time. You’ve got no chance at success in the corporate world, but don’t worry, you can always make a fortune selling hand cream.

Most of the women around the table were unconvinced. A couple walked out, though it wasn’t clear if their principles had been violated or if they were just cold or bored or hungry.

“If it’s not for you,” said the sales director, who refused to give her name once she learned there was a reporter in the room, “maybe you know someone else who wants to be a millionaire.”

Oooh, I thought. She’s good.

It was enough to compel at least two of the women around the table to ask for a contract. If they sign on and start selling, the consultants who recruited them will earn a commission on every Mary Kay product the recruits ever sell. It’s not a Ponzi scam–the money comes from the company, not out of the recruit’s pocket–but it is a very powerful motivator.

I wanted to find out what was going to happen next (would the recruits get fabulous rich-lady make-overs?). But Jessica was waiting for me at the door. She seemed surprised and hurt when I said–again- -that I didn’t think a job in Mary Kay sales was for me.

She didn’t realize where my loyalties were.

My grandmother, after all, was an Avon lady.

Debra Pickett’s “Sunday Lunch With . . .” column appears in the Sunday Sun-Times.

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