Mary Kay Cosmetics

Mary  Kay Cosmetics is a direct  sales company specializing in beauty  products, especially  skin  care  and  makeup. The  company, begun in Dallas,  Texas  in 1963 by Mary  Kay Ash, is known for its conservative corporate culture and  the  pink Cadillacs  that  the  company offers as rewards for top  sellers. The  company operates through a multilevel system of marketing. Salespeople (almost  all are women) make the bulk of their  profits  not through their  own sales, but by recruiting other independent beauty  consultants to serve on their  sales team,  whom  they oversee as independent sales directors. The company sells products to consultants and directors at wholesale prices (traditionally half the market price) and the salespeople market those  products through skin  care classes,  usually  hosted by their  friends, neighbors, and  family members. Most  consultants work irregular and  infrequent hours selling Mary Kay products, and  the majority of consultants cannot rely on their  direct  sales income alone.

Critics  have compared the company to a pyramid scheme. Because  sales directors  and  the  corporation itself depend on the  purchase of products at wholesale prices  from  new consultants, the  corporate focus  is on continually enlisting new recruits and encouraging them  to buy large quantities of product to start  up their businesses. Detractors suggest  that  assisting consultants in selling  that  product, so that  they, too, will profit, is a secondary priority.

As founder, Mary Kay Ash served as the charismatic leader  of the company for nearly  four  decades. She died in 2001, but  the company continues to rely heavily on Ash’s image  and  writings  to motivate its sales force  and  recruit new  consultants. Ash’s autobiography, Mary  Kay, first published in 1981,  was a mixture of Christianity, self-help literature, and business advice, and it is offered as a motivational  guide to new consultants. Ash urged  her consultants to share  her priorities of “God  first,  family  second, career  third.” She  promised that  a well-managed career  selling  her  cosmetics would  make  fulfillment of those  priorities possible. According to company recruiting literature, Mary  Kay Cosmetics offers  a more supportive, flexible atmosphere for women than the  traditional business world.

The  company motto promises that  the priority  is “enriching women’s lives.” Ash encouraged consultants to sell products through parties, a sales strategy  perfected by Brownie  Wise at Tupperware in the 1950s  and  1960s.  Mary Kay describes the parties  as facials or skin care classes to emphasize the education and personalized attention that  a beauty  consultant can  offer her  customers. By conducting these events  in  the  home of the  consultants’ friends  or  family  members, the  guests can encounter significant peer pressure to purchase products. The  company has marketed its products as luxury items, priced  higher than most  drugstore cosmetics and  skin  care  products. In 2007,  the  company boasted 2.4  billion  dollars  of wholesale sales.

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