Written by The Scribbler
Remember the Harper’s article “The Pink Pyramid Scheme: How Mary Kay Cosmetics Preys on Desperate Housewives”? At the time the article came out, there was a flurry of media activity. Mary Kay and its NSDs were in damage control mode, while other media outlets slammed the company.
Forbes released a damning article titled “Mary Kay Preys on Women,” and Virginia Sole-Smith was featured on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook. After witnessing so many Mary Kay leaders play the Dodge/Deny/Be Too Dumb to Doubt game when they were asked tougher questions about the business, it was most refreshing to see these issues openly addressed on the program.
Among them: Mary Kay Corporate’s hawking of the opportunity as a profitable full-time position (when the accounts of former consultants, directors, and even NSDs suggest otherwise), the underhanded practice of discouraging new consultants from utilizing Mary Kay’s 90% buyback program, and the sobering fact that Mary Kay Corporate does not track retail sales, meaning that Corporate is profusely rewarding its consultants for ordering makeup, not for actually selling it. Even National Sales Director Pamela Shaw admitted this in her inventory-based CD, The Next Step: “The company always rewards wholesale ordering.”
Mary Kay Inc. deployed Vice President Laura Beitler to represent the company in the On Point interview. I was hoping to hear some solid answers and explanations from Beitler regarding the business, but unfortunately, the responses I heard sounded like they came from someone who was either A. Completely ignorant as to what was going on in the field or B. Creatively spinning scripted catchphrases in a manner that attempted to skirt the real issues, perhaps in an effort to preserve Mary Kay’s carefully-crafted facade. I’m going to go with the latter, since it’s unlikely that a company that’s been around for 50 years would be blind to its own workings.
Let’s take a closer look at three of Beitler’s claims.
Beitler: “Different people start a Mary Kay business for different reasons. Some are looking for just a little income…a new career…social aspects.”
Reality: Ms. Sole-Smith pointed out that Mary Kay’s website markets the opportunity as a “lucrative full-time career opportunity,” while Ms. Beitler gave the impression that most women who join Mary Kay are doing it to “simply supplement their income.”
It’s no secret that claims of better-than-average income make for some of the stinkiest bait in Mary Kay’s tackle box. Statements such as “Be a stay-at-home mom with an executive income!” “You can have a couple extra hundred in your pocket for just two hours each week!” and the oh-so-manipulative “Are you being paid what you’re worth?” make it clear that money is the real trick in MK, not making friends, losing shyness, or growing closer to God. It’s not to say that those reasons aren’t mentioned in recruiting interviews, but when it comes to the MK List O’ Supposed Benefits, the almighty dollar receives an unhealthy amount of emphasis and adoration.
Page through a copy of Mary Kay’s magazine, Applause, and you won’t find lists of “Women Who Flourished Spiritually This Month” or “Top 500 Ladies who Gained Self-Confidence.” You will find, however, lists that show the monthly commissions of Mary Kay NSDs and the top 500 commission-making directors for the month, along with plenty of goading towards pink cars, jewelry, and prizes/recognition for anyone who’s ordered $1800-$3600 worth of product.
Beitler: (speaking of directors placing pressure on/discouraging consultants from taking advantage of the 90% buyback option) “…that kind of pressure is unacceptable…”
Reality: Now that we know a Mary Kay Corporate representative finds director pressure “unacceptable,” I’d like to know how Corporate intends to fix the problem. Beitler explained that Corporate provides materials to new consultants that describe the business model and what options are available to them, implying that Corporate is doing all they can from their end. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen in five years of researching Mary Kay culture, Corporate’s methods do not appear to be doing much.
Let’s face it, the greatest amount of influence a new consultant receives will not be from Corporate, but from her new Mary Kay sisters: her recruiter, directors, and NSD. Knowing this, suppose you got recruited into Mary Kay by Executive Senior Sales Director Heather Carlson. Carlson sends you to her website for training, and on this website you see a New Consultant Oath which reads: “I promise to give my Mary Kay career one full year before I decide if it’s for me or not, because short of one full year, I will never realize my God-given potential!”
What’s that mean? It means that if you got conned into buying a $3600 inventory package (which is a very real possibility, since the $3600 package is the only package discussed in Carlson’s “New Consultant Checklist”) then you – having been encouraged to wait a full year, lest you be cursed with never being able to realize your God-given potential – will miss the 90% buyback window. You will be stuck with $3600 worth of product, and any commissions Carlson received on your order will be hers free and clear. She gets paid, you get screwed. If that isn’t unacceptable, I don’t know what is, and yet Corporate allows “unacceptable” practices like this to continue. Why?
Beitler: “The majority of the product ends up with end consumers.”
Reality: False. Ms. Sole-Smith was quick to remind Beitler that “Mary Kay doesn’t track their retail sales. She can’t tell us how much they’re actually selling to the retail market.” while Beitler tried to suggest that “…when you look at all the beauty editor mentions we have in magazines regularly, being named as a top beauty brand, you don’t get there without having a significant number of end consultants, consumers in the mix.”
Beitler’s logic is fractured, as she assumes that because Mary Kay gets beauty editor mentions or gets named as a top beauty brand, this must mean that that the majority of the product is being sold to end consumers. Again, without proof of retail sales, Beitler cannot accurately make this claim. It is interesting to note that often, new consultants are told to give their bathrooms and purses a total Mary Kay makeover. One new consultant checklist says, “You want to make sure you are wearing 100% Mary Kay products from head to toe! Don’t hesitate to throw out all of the non-Mary Kay products in your bathroom and purse. Take products off of the shelf to start using now!”
In 2006, Mary Kay Cosmetics reported that in the United States, 40,000 new recruits came in per month. The new consultant checklist I used for reference listed 33 different Mary Kay products. If even a fourth of those new recruits followed the checklist’s guidance to “take products off their shelf to start using now,” I’d say that’s plenty of fodder for the beauty editors/survey takers to work with, to say nothing of the thousands of other consultants and directors who aren’t new but are using all Mary Kay, all the time. Don’t forget to include anyone who received Mary Kay products for free or at drastically reduced cost via Craigslist, eBay, thrift stores, or that overloaded box in the Teacher’s Lounge with “Take all you want” scribbled on its side.
In closing, I want to point out something quite revealing in Beitler’s statement, “…you don’t get there without having a significant number of end consultants, consumers in the mix.” Beitler originally meant to say “consumers,” but that’s not what came out. At or around the 27:40 point in the interview, Beitler stutters just after she says “end consultants…,” catches herself, and attempts to recover by stammering out, “consumers.”
That surprising little slip left me wondering if Beitler didn’t just subconsciously reveal Mary Kay’s Meaning of Life to everyone in the at-home audience. Think about it; the reason behind Mary Kay’s big numbers, the reason why Mary Kay exists, the reason why it’s persisted for almost 50 years; it’s not because lipstick was sold to a neighbor, even though lipstick may have been the vehicle used to get the recruiter’s foot in the door. Mary Kay exists because of end consultants, a term that aptly describes who needs to be continually recruited, who needs to be loaded up with big inventories, and who will end up being stuck with pallets of product in their closets and spare bedrooms when all’s said and done.