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The sales strategy behind a cosmetic giant


Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

Everyone knows Mary Kay Cosmetics as a multinational beauty corporate but may not know that it stems from an, at the time, revolutionary business model.


Shelley Walters of The Sales Counsel writes: Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics is the modern founders of sales. She did everything with such style and elegance and her legacy has made many a wealthy and successful woman.


Born in Texas to a middle-class family, Mary Kay (born Mary Kathleen Wagner) completed school and got married to raise her family. During World War II, while her husband was serving in the army, she sold books door-to-door to make ends meet, and it was here that her sales skills began to be honed.


After the war, she worked for Stanley Home Products, where she hosted demonstration ‘parties’ of the company’s products to homemakers like herself. In a world where women did not often work outside of the home, this was in itself ground-breaking and after some years at Stanley Home Products and subsequently at The World Gift Company, the intelligent and hardworking Mary Kay quit her job. She was frustrated by continuously being passed over for promotion in favour of the men that she herself had trained.


Her intent was to write a book aimed at women, to equip them with business skills and acumen to allow them to compete with their male counterparts in the business world. However, other things transpired for this powerhouse, although she did release several books, including her autobiography, later on in life.


In 1963, she launched Beauty by Mary Kay, a company created to equip and empower women in a business environment, with a start-up loan of $5,000. Her younger son stepped up to the managerial plate, taking the reins of the business alongside his mother.


Beauty by Mary Kay opened with one shopfront in Dallas, Texas, and from there grew in leaps and bounds. A first for its time in that it the company and business model was run by women for women, it lent on the sales principle of using your friends and neighbours (i.e. connections that you knew) to sell to. And all while equipping women with the skillset to become financially empowered.


As Mary Kay applied her nurturing nature to the company, her business model and sales culture thrived on reward and recognition. This ranged from acknowledging her top sales team members, to annual training and recognition seminars, to incentivising her salesforce with vacations or jewelry and even motor cars – yup, those iconic pink Cadillacs! With goals like these, her ladies steadily upped sales figures year on year, and Mary Kay Cosmetics boomed and soared.


Mary Kay and her partners, including her son Richard, took the multi-level marketing company public in 1968 and she remained active in Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. until suffering a stroke in 1996.


Richard was named CEO of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 2001 and continued the legacy his mother had put in place. As of 2014, Mary Kay Cosmetics had more than 3 million consultants worldwide and a wholesale volume in excess of $3 billion. Mary Kay herself was honoured as a leading female entrepreneur in American history, along with a number of other prestigious awards received both during her life and after her passing.


Her well-known quote – “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, 'Make me feel important.' Never forget this message when working with people.” – is one that is still as relevant today as it was back then and stands testament to the ground-breaking, game-changing and out of the box thinking Mary Kay went boldly with and without asking for permission.


A key takeaway

Mary Kay left her job and went out on her own because she was not being recognised for her talent. She never asked for permission to do that, so what would you do if you were not at all concerned with what others think?


Short exercise

Write down 3 things you would do differently if public opinion did not matter at all.


The above article was penned by Shelley Walters, the Founder of The Sales Counsel, a B2B sales training provider and the creator of Africa’s first Remote Selling School based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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