Why Mary Kay Is Not a Pyramid (LOL)

In an effort to try and prove why Mary Kay Cosmetics isn’t a pyramid and isn’t like those other bad companies, the author of this document may have inadvertently done the opposite.

The Mary Kay legal department offered this document back in the early days of Pink Truth (then called “Mary Kay Sucks”) to help you understand why Mary Kay isn’t a pyramid scheme. But the questions this document suggested you ask should really be asked of Mary Kay! The truthful answers would be really revealing! It also made several assertions about the Mary Kay opportunity that seemed to fly in the face of reality. (Ex. You can’t buy your way up… Oh yes you can!)

This was a noble effort at proving why Mary Kay is better than other companies, but I wonder if you’ll agree with my opinion that it actually did a whole lot to prove that Mary Kay is, indeed a pyramid and a business scam.

Why Mary Kay Is Not a Pyramid or Multi-Level Marketing Plan

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Mary Kay has many “admirers.” Over the years, Mary Kay has attracted the attention of many new direct selling companies, some of whom attempt short cuts or attempt to duplicate elements of our program. They may not have the resources to develop a quality product line that can sustain a broad consumer base, they open with a big recruiting promotion with dubious claims, reach a peak quickly and end up battered by regulatory investigations or in bankruptcy. Many lack the retail product sales to support their commission structures, which eventually causes collapse. The following comments are intended to help you sort fact from fiction, it shares our facts, and it will help you as you are asked questions about your business.

“If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is!”

“Once in a lifetime opportunity!” Ground floor, window of opportunity. A legitimate business should be as good next year as it is this year. Your company has a 40 year growth record, stability, and financial security.

“Make up to 25% Commissions!” This pales in comparison to a Consultant and a Director’s earnings. Ask them how many levels of recruits must one have to earn that commission percentage.

“Make $40,000 monthly in your spare time!” Maybe a lottery ticket, but rarely at the beginning of a business. Look at how many people are earning that kind of money, how many recruits would one need to earn that amount, what can a beginner expect in the first year or two?

“You don’t have to sell anything! Just recruit.” Legitimate companies base their businesses on actual product sales to consumers. Pyramid schemes pay a “bounty” for signing up new recruits. The pool of new recruits eventually dries up. Retail sales are key to supporting the commissions and incentives. Often, women are left to package the products and men are the ones to recruit. Also, they will give their organization a different name from the parent company or will not clearly invite you to listen to XYZ’s company presentation, for fear that it is a “turn-off.” We are proud of and always say who we are and what we do.

“Revolutionary New Products!” Words such as “leading edge and natural” can be inviting, but few ingredients can be 100% natural or new. Does the company manufacture its own products under its own control or does it rely on outside contracts? Can all claims be substantiated? Is there a 100% satisfaction guarantee?

What the Terms Mean

Multilevel: A marketing plan with several tiers of participants through which products and commissions pass. Only those at the top buy directly from the company.

Participants “downline” purchase products from “upline” distributors. The discount is determined by a person’s level in the organization.

Network Marketing. A recent term, may have been coined to counteract multilevel. You “network sales through an organization of recruits rather than through personal

Pyramid. These are illegal. Large numbers of people at the bottom of the pyramid pay money to a few at the top for the chance to advance to the top and profit from payments of others who might join later.

Career Path. Some companies claim we are “saturated.” This year alone, almost 40 women became National Sales Directors. There is plenty of room at the top for women who possess the commitment, drive and willingness to work. There are rewards and recognition at every step of our career path, not just at the very top.

Product Quality. We have been the Best Selling Brand in America for 9 years and intend to remain so because of the generation of new young women beginning to use our products and because of the millions of dollars invested in our manufacturing and distribution centers. We manufacture almost every product ourselves to assure the highest standards of quality. Product safety, customer satisfaction, guarantees and programs are in place to insure customer loyalty for years to come.

Mary Kay’s business is selling products, not “business opportunities.” We are not in business to recruit women to buy products from us, but to buy and sell for herself. No “investment” is required, only the purchase of a showcase. No sales force position may be “bought” by the payment of fees or the purchase of large inventories.

Everyone begins the same way, as a Beauty Consultant and advances solely on the strength of her recruiting and sales abilities.

There are no levels of wholesalers between the company and consumer. There is only one wholesale sale from the company to the consultant and one retail sale from the consultant to the customer. Everyone, regardless of her status in the sales organization, purchases products directly from the company based on the same discount schedule, for resale to the consumer.

Mary Kay guarantees in writing that any consultant who terminates her relationship with the company may return any new and unused products purchased within one full year prior to return and receive a 90% buy-back, unlike some companies that either offer no buy-back or 30, 60, or 90 day offers.

All commissions are paid directly to consultants and directors. In many other companies, checks are written back and forth from the distributors, and no relationship is present between the main company and its distributors until a certain size organization is gained.

The Mary Kay Legal Department can assist you with any concerns!


  1. Even if 40 became NSDs that year, which I doubt, there are maybe 3 million active consultants at any given time. That’s .00134% becoming NSDs. Hardly the storming career growth they want you to think it is.

  2. Mary Kay’s business is selling products, not “business opportunities.” We are not in business to recruit womento buy products from us, but to buy and sell for herself. No “investment” is required, only the purchase of a showcase. No sales force position may be “bought” by the payment of fees or the purchase of large inventories.

    Everyone begins the same way, as a Beauty Consultant and advances solely on the strength of her recruiting and sales abilities.

    Contradiction 101.

    • Right, if it’s only about the sales, why don’t the directors post their unit’s retail sales figures instead of their recruitment commissions? Why does red jacket, a rank based solely on recruitment, even exist if that’s the case?

      • Every time our perky little Ms. PTC trip-trots in and declares hand on heart how she personally knows many women who make executive pay from sales alone I feel like I’m screaming into the void.

        If Sally Sales really was making $10k wholesale/$20k retail per month, 12 months of the year, we’d know the name because her up-lines would be singing her praises and trying to get her to reveal her secrets.

  3. “Multilevel: A marketing plan with several tiers of participants through which products and commissions pass. Only those at the top buy directly from the company.

    Participants “downline” purchase products from “upline” distributors. The discount is determined by a person’s level in the organization.”

    Are there MLMs where this is the case? Because the other ones I’m familiar with (LulaRoe, Bellame, Avon) everyone buys from the company.

    • It was the case a long time ago, I remember my parents having “call-in night” for their downline and customers to order products when they were in Amway, then the entire shipment would come to our house, we would sort it, and then we had “pick-up day” where everyone came by. Now that the internet is so integrated into our daily lives and technology has advanced, that way of doing things is obsolete as far as I know.

      • Yes, I remember that. I could be wrong, but I think the “direct distributor” only acted as the bulk shipping destination, and not what they are implying. I.e., the DDs were not reselling to their downline, and then downline reselling the same product to their downline, and so on. I’m not even sure how that math would work. I do believe that the DD made some sort of additional profit from shipping fees paid by downline though.

        If someone knows exactly how it worked commission wise, I’d love the information.

  4. Hi! I am really curious what goes on cognitively on the other side. I would really like to know and would greatly appreciate anyone explaining to me this.
    They keep using this catchphrase “enriching and empowering women”.
    1. Do they (NSDs and Directors) really believe that? To me, it’s very obvious that it’s enriching only one person – themselves but apparently it’s not
    2. In their mind, in what way exactly are they enriching and empowering women?
    3. How did the process of brainwashing become so successful?


    • I seem to think this was an early Amway model, although I’m not sure. I did notice how they made this definition really specific, so it excludes them. Like, “Recruitment means that you present the opportunity to someone and then go over to their house and sleep in their bed until they say yes. So we can confidently say that Mary Kay does not recruit!”

    • Hi UBI, that’s probably what drew me here overall, wondering what the people are like who can sell Mary Kay cause I have always been familiar with it and the pink cars and it just seemed like a rarified elite that no one I even knew dealt in. I grew up in the comfortable suburbs and never knew a Mary Kay lady among them so it really did seem elite. And I WONDERED as an adult, omg how on earth can you sell enough makeup to win a paid for in full CAR – a CADILLAC – FROM SELLING MAKEUP? Those women must be powerhouse sales ladies!!! I saw my sister’s makeup where she had some Mary Kay items and I truly never could figure out how on earth you used them. She had them but didn’t really use them which is why I never saw her using them so I would know how you did!

      It seems like a lot of women are drawn to the seemingly fading “full time pay for part time hours”. I know that’s what always made me WISH I could be a salesperson cause I knew I was not but that sounded excellent! PLUS ALL THE SHINY GLITTERY STUFF! The prestige, being in the elite, dripping with all that fancy stuff and GOWNS!!! So I think a lot of women were attracted to the idea of selling something so familiar – makeup – and not having to commit to a permanent sales position but getting to be a bit risky in the career area.

      The other side seems to be those who need love bombing due to apathetic home life of whatever kind, for whatever reason, and the MLMs sure have that down. Also, in the 60s and 70s, MKAsh really did present the image of an “all woman” and TONS OF MONEY milliionaire rolled into one, giving women the opportunity to be free of hubby’s bankbook, LITERALLY driving their own car, and wow, that has to have turned A LOT OF HEADS AND HEARTS.

      I am wondering if you wouldn’t do well to read up on cults? Cause that does relate 100% to the MLMs. The indoctrination, isolation, giving approval/shunning those who question. Hope this addressed some of what you meant. I have never been in anything but Girl Scouts and Blue Birds lol, was not a standout there, either, but I guess I did sell candy bars in high school for Office Education Association!!

      • Thanks, Juliet for the context. I understand it better now.
        Love bombing really works, doesn’t it. And don’t we all need love in times like this. Recognition, adulation and rewards are certainly a huge bonus when one is from families lacking/ absent of such nurturing environment and abusive parents.

        The acute need for acceptance and to belong.
        Cult mentality … will read up on it.
        Thank you, Juliet!!

    • 1. They really do believe it. When one is blinded by money and influence, one will ignore a lot of cognitive dissonance.
      2. I have no clue. They keep it vague on purpose, I think, and then they bombard you with prizes and praise and parties to distract you from wondering what is actually going on.
      3. Mary Kay Ash was brilliant at understanding how to motivate women in an era that wasn’t exactly kind to us. She knew how to tell a story that would tug on our heartstrings and put stars in our eyes. Every bit of it was carefully crafted. And when a leader is charismatic enough, people just…believe them.

      • Thank you, Anonymouse for the reply.
        1) Yes, it feels that way, doesn’t it? A lot of denial among the NSDs and director. They already have spent so much money on houses and lifestyle to show that they have “made it” as a marketing tool for their MK business, they need to believe their own lies in order to maintain, support that lifestyle and pay mortgages and debts!
        3) Now, I really am very curious about Mary Kay Ash. Was she really sincere in uplifting the women of her era by giving them financial independence and with that, confidence? Maybe she started out that way and then got corrupted by wealth…..?

        Again, thank you Anonymouse!

  5. The only way to get the “free” car and advance in rank is to RECRUIT. It is the only option. Ask MK Corp to defend this fact.

    How many consultants lost money in June selling products 50% off, doing giveaways and promotions while trying to achieve some ridiculous goal by June 30th? Will any of them compose a proper Profit & Loss Statement reflecting the sad reality of their “business”?

  6. If Mary Kay were really about retailing product, the incentives would be based on retail sales. Instead, all of the incentives are tied to ordering and recruiting. There is no bonus, commission or other corporate incentive for retailing the product.

    Mary Kay could quickly eliminate the pyramid stigma by paying the full commission only to the rep making the sale, but only after making an actual retail sale, with no up-line commissions. Also, they could have all new recruits report directly into the company, without an up-line. This would make them a true direct-sales company.

    Of course if MK did these things, no one would stick around, since no one is making money off retail sales. Rather, the money-makers in MK are profiting off the purchases made by the reps in their own down-line, with no dependence whatsoever on personal or down-line retail sales.

  7. You absolutely cannot earn the use of your Mary Kay car by only selling product. There are team member numbers you have to have before even starting qualification. That means recruiting. Recruiting means you, your director, her Senior Director and your National Sales Director all make money off of you recruiting and going into car qualification. It’s true that Mary Kay Consultants do not buy their product from their uplines, BUT their uplines are still making money on what the consultant buys from the company. Mary Kay Cosmetics is a multi-level marketing company shaped like a pyramid-period.
    Mary Kay Corporate must be seeing planes and living on Fantasy Island if they think otherwise.

    Wikipedia reminds us that it’s, “also called network marketing or pyramid selling, is a marketing strategy for the sale of products or services in which the revenue of the MLM company is derived from a non-salaried workforce selling the company’s products or services, while the earnings of the participants are derived from a pyramid-shaped or binary compensation commission system.” In other words, your recruiter, your SD and so on receive a percentage of your wholesale purchase from MK.

    Network Marketing
    Network marketing is dependent on person-to-person sales of a product or service. It involves RECRUITING a team of people. The leaders of these teams are compensated for the products they sell as well as the products their team members sell (otherwise known as their downline). It’s also known as multilevel marketing, referral marketing and consumer direct marketing.

    Large numbers of people at the bottom of the pyramid pay money to purchase products so that their upline can advance and profit from purchases of others who might join later. In other words, you were recruited and encouraged to buy lots of product (because you can’t sell from an empty wagon) and then encouraged to recruit others to do the same because you’ll got a commission off of their wholesale purchases. You teach them to recruit, etc. so that you become a senior consultant, a red jacket (star team builder), team leader, elite team builder, DIQ, SD, SSD, FES, ESSD, EESD, NIQ, NSD, SNSD, ENSD, then at the tippy top of the pyramid an EENSD.

    Career Path
    See “Pyramid.”

    Product Quality
    Mary Kay may be the best selling MLM brand because we know that the consultants ARE the CUSTOMERS! But it’s NOT the best-selling brand. Big difference. Huge. At PT, we would argue that the quality is equivalent to what you find at CVS and Walgreens.


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