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The story of selling – the visionary Estée Lauder

Shelley Walters

Shelley Walters of The Sales Counsel and keynote speaker at the World Spa & Wellness Convention, writes: This month, in South Africa, we celebrate women across the world and no such conversation could be complete without exploring the impact that women have had on sales.

There is hardly a woman who has not heard of the world-famous Estée Lauder brand and their cosmetics ranges. What is a lot less known is the story of how Estée went from being a little girl with dreams, to a world-leading businesswoman who created a brand and a business that would serve millions of customer with thousands of products over many decades.

The truth of the story of Estée is far more fascinating and inspiring than even the glossiest magazines would hint at. As Estée herself once said: “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.”

Estee as an adult was described as “full of energy, always on the go, fidgety and quite hyperactive. Life is in a constant motion for her and she devours it powerfully. She has a great ability to put thoughts into action, and there is no wait once she sets her mind on something”.

She was known for her passion and drive, which rivalled that of many of the young men of her age in those days. Estée was regarded as a ‘challenger’ of conventions and beliefs, and for breaking moulds and shattering glass ceilings.

A passion from her youth

Born in Queens in New York to a Hungarian mother and a Czech father, Estée’s early years were uneventful until her interest in the beauty industry was sparked while still in high school. During one vacation, her Hungarian uncle came to stay with the family. Estee was smart and curious, so she asked him how he made the face creams that he sold. He showed her how to create rich skin creams in their kitchen. The creams became such a success that before they knew it, they had to move production out of her mother’s kitchen and into the stables at the back of the house.

Her uncle taught her not only the recipes for the creams, but also how to apply the products and what their benefits were. Thus the combination of opportunity, the right character, a booming market and an undeniable work ethic was born!

Once Estée married her husband Joseph Lauter in the early 1930s, they moved to Manhattan. The couple then corrected their surname to its original spelling of Lauder (the spelling error had occurred many years prior when Joseph’s family had emigrated from Austria to America) and so began their journey.

Estée used to apply face creams to ladies who were in the hair salon, while they sat under the dryers. After much perseverance, she and Joseph official launched their company in 1946, almost immediately receiving a larger order from Saks Fifth Avenue – to the princely tune (back in those days) of US$800!

Every woman can be beautiful

Estée believed that every woman, no matter who she was or whatever her social standing, could be beautiful, and it was armed with this philosophy, creativity and a tenacity like no other, that she tackled the cosmetics industry.

She seemed to have an uncanny knack and ‘feeling’ for what women wanted, and was the epitome of a sales lady and a marketer, skilled beyond her time.

Estée pioneered the ‘Gift with Purchase’ concept. Of course this was subsequently copied by many other brands and is still used today to sell cosmetics. She always believed in the ‘High Touch’ service – that sales staff needed to ‘touch’ customers, put the products on their faces and explain the ingredients and benefits.

With their advertising campaigns, Estée always insisted that they only have one face of the brand at a time, and print campaigns were thoroughly thought out and designed by Estée herself. She also attended almost every single store opening in person, staying on in that city or town to train the beauty advisors in-store and to chat with magazine editors and store buyers in person.

Word of mouth

I love Estée’s mantra of “Telephone, Telegraph, Tell a Woman”. In an age before social media or social selling, she already knew that if someone liked your product, they would share about it by telling their friends. This was the person-to-person recommendation that we are always striving for in sales, even today!

Back in the 1950s, perfume was only worn on special occasions and was usually gifted to a woman by a man. Estée wanted to change that and allow women to buy their own perfume. So she launched her ‘Youth-Dew’ bath oil, which was scented and doubled as perfume. Sales of this product skyrocketed.

The launch of brands like Aramis and Clinique saw the success of Estée Lauder cemented into the history books, and she welcomed her family members into the business before retiring in 1995 and ultimately passing away in 2004.

Today, Estée Lauder products are sold to women in over 150 countries, and the brand continues to evolve, innovate and maintain her core values of respect for the individual, integrity, generosity of spirit and entrepreneurship. (Information was sourced from the Estée Lauder Companies website - https://www.elcompanies.com/)

This article was penned by Shelley Walters, who is the Founder of The Sales Counsel, a B2B sales training provider and the creator of Africa’s first Remote Selling School based in Johannesburg. www.shelleywalters.com

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