Facts, opinions, and the real story behind Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Hit Job on Mary Kay

I wanted to take a trip down memory lane. Ten years ago, a damning article was written about Mary Kay in Harper’s magazine called The Pink Pyramid Scheme. If you’ve never read it, you should. Did it make an impact on Mary Kay? I’m not sure. MK’s numbers have been dropping for years, but it’s unclear what the cause is.

One Mary Kay defender was upset by the article, and had this to say on the business page of the author, Virginia Sole-Smith. Tell me what you think of what she has to say in the comments below.

I can’t help but feel that you have used your platform to do a hit job on Mary Kay to gain attention for yourself. It is the lowest form of sexism to marginalize women by making them look stupid for taking a chance on themselves by trying something new and minimizing the impact of Mary Kay and the wonderful things it has done for so many. I have written the following letter to Harper’s:

Although I am appreciative that the experience that Virginia Sole-Smith had as an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay was a disappointing one, her article “The Pink Pyramid” went a little overboard in its caustic analysis of the Mary Kay business. I have made a good living doing Mary Kay for the past 28 years. Our business is not for everyone, but I have always believed that the women (and men) who decide to take the plunge and start a Mary Kay business are always a courageous bunch and deserve to feel good about themselves regardless of the outcome of their efforts.

What her article lacked was the proper context. Becoming a Mary Kay consultant is just like any entrepreneurial business. 90% of all businesses started in the U.S. fail within their first year. Most businesses started require some kind of cash outlay, and the main reason most fail is undercapitalization. The amount of cash needed (but not required as the author pointed out) to fully capitalize the Mary Kay business is a very small amount compared to the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions that other small businesses need to have a decent startup. And unlike almost every other business out there, if a Mary Kay consultant purchases some inventory, and then they decide that the business is not for them, they have up to a year to send all of the inventory purchased back to Mary Kay Inc., and the company will buy back the product for 90% of what was paid for it. One would be hard pressed to find any other startup business with that kind of safety net. This fact was not mentioned in Sole-Smith’s article.

My other concern about the article is the way that it criticized women in the most sexist of stereotypes, slamming the women in Mary Kay for the way they dressed, and playing on the cultural meme that women are less intelligent, just two of many examples of subliminal and more obvious sexist slams that weaken the premise of this article. We are a country where women have not progressed nearly as much as people think. The U.S. ranks #78 in the world in female representation in government (Interparliamentary Union stat), only 2.8% of the Fortune 1000 companies are headed by women, and women still make only 77 cents on the man’s dollar. There are many reasons for this state of affairs, but one of the major ones is that we haven’t as a nation resolved the work/family issues that plague working women. There is renewed talk these days of whether women can have it all and the Mary Kay business is one of the few opportunities that comes closest to allowing women to have their cake and eat it too. I know because that is the life I have lead for the past 28 years raising my family on my own terms and making a wonderful income while doing so.

Ms. Sole-Smith, you should have also taken the time to speak to more of the people who have been successful in this business and given them more attribution in your piece. By not doing so, your piece is nothing more than a saga of sour grapes.


    1. Mountaineer95

      Good question, because when kindly asked to provide proof of her income claims, she became combatant and threw every argument against the wall hoping one would stick, while never offering anything other that claiming that her “personal sales” were high. *eyeroll*—-that is the de facto answer that many directors offer when asked how they’re making the money they claim when asked why their names never show up in Applause.

      1. Data Junkie

        “…claiming that her “personal sales” were high…”

        Yep. Sales do not equal profit. When it comes to income claims, Sched C or it didn’t happen.

        Note: I take comfort in seeing that visitors to this site were asking for a Sched C in the comments a decade ago. Tracy, you have the best contributors!

  1. Shay

    Good lord I remember this. My favorite when that lady lawyer did an interview and was trying to sell MK as a girlfriends club and Virginia Sole-Smith challenged her. It was good listening.

    1. NayMKWay

      Exactly. Tracy’s estimate was maybe 300 out of 600,000 (at the time) consultants in the US had 6-figure incomes. That’s one in two thousand, or 0.05%. Interviewing an average of 2,000 to find one who was doing well is an awful lot to ask of a reporter.

  2. Charles

    Ms. Ruccia’s Mary Kay page currently lists her as an “Independent Sales Director” which I assume is a few notches above a run-of-the-mill consultant but nowhere near a “National Sales Director”. Am I correct?

    1. Mountaineer95

      I’d be surprised if she is still a director…unless she makes it on the Applause lists at least here and there, she can’t be making much of anything.

      If she is still a run of the mill director, after SO MANY YEARS, then she is failing at the MLM game. Because unless she is an NSD (laughable for her as it’s just so far above her capabilities…and I know that may sound harsh but I hope she sees this and reads it because it is true), she has accrued ZERO retirement benefits (unless her sales director income is so high that she has been regularly saving thousands a year towards retirement). She owns NOTHING except the inventory in her basement. She can’t “sell” her business upon “retirement”, she can’t sell her unit, she can’t even sell her customer lists and info.

      For someone who tries so hard to appear intelligent and knowledgeable, she really has no understanding of what it means to actually own a business.

  3. NayMKWay

    My main takeaway from this 10-year-old letter is that nothing much has changed in the past decade. All the same excuses are trotted out, and they ring just as hollow today as then…and as they did the decade before that, and the one before that, and…

    Can’t they come up with any new material?

    “90% of businesses fail in the 1st year.” No, they do not. The actual figure is about 40%, meaning 60% are still in business after 1 year. And what Mary Kay offers is not a business. It’s a sales job where you have to pay for everything up front and hope you make enough in commissions to do better than break even. Only about 1% do, which makes a traditional start-up a good sixty times better than a Mary Kay gig.

    “It’s not for everyone.” Why do you never, ever say that to a prospective recruit? Nope, you save this little chestnut for after they wise up and leave.

    The penultimate paragraph trots out a very weak-sauce list of whataboutisms (a debate tactic that seeks to draw attention away from the subject at hand by bringing up tangential issues) which have absolutely zero to do with Mary Kay being a lousy way to try to earn a living.

    I must say I was taken aback by the letter-writer opening up with a personal attack against the author, Ms. Sole-Smith. (Paraphrasing): “She was just tearing others down to make herself feel better.” The writer seems blissfully unaware she’s guilty of the same sin.

    1. Mountaineer95

      (Apologies for the rambling ahead but I hope it’s worthwhile guys!)

      “… what Mary Kay offers is not a business…”

      Good point, and it got me thinking that maybe we should use this basic fact as a way to turn those fake failure rates right back at them when they are assessed as what they actually are…independent contractors. That’s what’s in their paperwork and all over the MK website; it’s how their accountant and the government categorize them. There is no argument otherwise.

      And since that’s what they very clearly are, we and they should compare their success/failure rates in this context, as in how does a Mary Kay Independent Contractor fare to other independent contractor positions? MKbots don’t argue their success/failure rates in that aspect…they always argue it versus actual businesses. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a comparison of the MK “opportunity” in this proper context.

      So then a worthy question is, how many independent contractors (not exclusively in MK, but in all trades and fields) either break even or lose money during a similar period of contract? How many of those contractors have to pay upfront to gain the privilege of doing the work?

      How do MLM independent contractors compare with other contractors, such as those in IT, design, security, STEM-type fields, etc? I have nothing but common sense to base this on, but I’d venture a guess that most non-MLM independent contractors 1) don’t have to pay upfront for the privilege of attempting the work; 2) actually get paid for their hours worked or their contributions; 3) don’t have to continually invest their own money into their work with no guarantee of earning anything. Also, Mary Kay will let absolutely anyone with a face and thirty bucks to become an independent contractor, and will sign up an infinite number of them, while other (non-MLM) independent contractors generally need to show experience and skills relevant to their contract opportunity, and the company has a finite number of contractual opportunities available.

      While I don’t know much about contractual work, I bet many of you here, including Tracy, do. How do the independent contractor jobs you’re familiar with compare to the independent contract “job” offered by Mary Kay or (fill in the blank) MLM?

      When we compare what MK really is…ie an independent contractor gig as opposed to an actual business…we see that the failure rate compared to other contractor gigs is laughable at best. Apples to apples, Kaybots! 🍎🍎🍎

      Additional note: One individual comparison I could think of would be NSD Roya Mattis whose (now ex, I believe) husband was an independent contractor in some type of military and or defense role (didn’t Roya make the claim that she “retired” her husband and her income allowed them to afford their Florida mansion, when he was actually still working but in contractual positions which is not uncommon for DoD/Post-military type work)? Did he have to pay upfront to buy his contract, and then not get paid for his time and contribution?

      Even as an NSD, Roya still doesn’t own a business. She didn’t need to set up a corporation, EIN, et , for her Mary Kay “position”. Heck, the fact that as an NSD she can earn retirement benefits from MK bolsters the argument that she does not own her own business (a true business owner like Tracy will tell you that there is no entity that’s going to magically pay her retirement benefits; she is investing her own money to support her retirement needs and goals).

      I will say that I’m curious if Roya DID properly set up some type of corporation for her side gig of…coaching…or whatever you’d call her current non-MK endeavours. We’ve seen quite a few Directors here who are adding these “coaching” or similar side gigs, and they use their supposed company names (Cadeco…Leah Cade’s…is one example if I remember it correctly), but nearly every time one comes up here on PT, I do a search (D and B or similar) to see if their new “business” is actually registered as one. That result is almost always NOPE.

      Sorry for the rambling, but I’d never really given thought of comparing the MK “opportunity” in the context of what it actually is—an independent contract—to other such contract gigs. The MK supporters use the smoke and mirrors of “business” so much that we defend our non-MLM stance in this aspect, arguing in exasperation that what they have is not a business, when I’m not sure that we’ve tried to show them the real comparison they should be worried about…how does the MK Independent Contractor “opportunity” stack up against other independent contracts?

      1. Mountaineer95

        Sorry to beat a dead horse. Just a note:

        She says “Becoming a Mary Kay consultant is just like any entrepreneurial business.”

        It is decidedly NOT. Becoming a Mary Kay consultant is achieved by signing paperwork that clearly states you are an INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR and paying whatever the current rate of a starter kit is. That’s all you need to do to become a Mary Kay consultant.

        Independent Consultant =/= entrepreneurial business owner

        For as smart as she portrays herself, you’d think she has enough basic business acumen to understand the difference.

  4. Mountaineer95

    Oh my. Cynthia Ruccia was my favorite Kaybot from that article/thread. She defiantly argued that she made so much money, then when asked for proof she literally curled up in a corner and hissed like a wild animal at anyone who dared to question her. Add in her playing the feminism and cancer cards, and her hysterical letter to the editor of the magazine that published this in which she implied that her ending her subscription was of ANY interest or consequence…and you get a person who has failed in MK for years and who feigns intelligence and reasoning skills as a smokescreen to distract us from the fact that she cannot prove her false income claims.


  5. Gina Romano

    I was going through Facebook today and came across an ad seeking consultants for Mary Kay by Mary Kay. You wouldn’t believe how many people out there still want to join Mary Kay. There was only one negative comment. I decided I would not make a comment about my experience because after reading the comments, it looks like there are going to be some new kaybots.

    1. Kristen

      Sometimes Kaybots have fellow consultants pose as customers or new recruits in order to make it appear as if a lot of people are interested. They might have their unit members give them a bunch of “likes” or something. It seems like it helps deter people from making negative comments, too, like in your reluctance to post. Could that have been the case? If any are real, I guess there’s a sucker born every minute. I was once one of ’em. 🙄

      1. Mountaineer95

        They do that? That’s really low. And just another reason why PT is important: if an IBC signs up based on fake Facebook supporters, pointing out the lies is NOT being “negative”. It’s what it is: calling out Kaybots for being liars.

        Plus if the product “sells itself” and is “flying off the shelves” (which only happens in an earthquake lol), why the need to set up fake social media support?

    2. Enorth

      “You wouldn’t believe how many people out there still want to join Mary Kay.”

      You’re right, I wouldn’t believe it. The positive comments are mostly from other kaybots attempting to “support” their pink sister.

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