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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Mary Kay making itself up for a new, global generation

By Gillian May-Lian Wee
Knight Ridder News Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C. When Debi Moore started selling Mary Kay cosmetics nearly three decades ago, she lugged around bags full of skin-care products into the living rooms of stay-at-home moms.

Now, her daughter, Taylor, wants to sell those products in Europe.

"I'm passionate about helping women feel great," said Taylor, 23, at a recent women's networking event in Mooresville, N.C., where her mother, one of Mary Kay's top saleswomen in the nation, gave a speech. "Our generation has taken it by storm. We're starting a new image of Mary Kay."

Once famous for its pink-clad sales army, the Dallas company is trying to update its appearance and attract new customers at home and in foreign markets.

Mary Kay recently launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, targeting the young, cosmopolitan set.

The direct seller of skin care and cosmetics also is selling a piece of Americana to more than 30 countries, including China and Russia. In fact, China is the company's second-largest market outside the United States.

Demand for Mary Kay personally ordered and delivered could soar because of its convenience, analysts say. As more women in developing nations begin working, they'll want more beauty products without the hassle of shopping in stores.

"Being American is a plus," said Alan Shao, a professor of marketing and international business at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Belk College of Business.

Shao said Mary Kay still struggles with its image of being an old-fashioned brand for middle-aged women. But he said its efforts to remake itself as a younger, trendier product could work with continued advertising.

"If done right, it can be a hip product," he said.

With the company's trademark diamond-studded bumblebee pin on the left shoulder of her fuchsia St. John jacket, which she received as a sales reward, Debi epitomizes the Mary Kay woman. She made Mary Kay a full-time career after she earned more selling cosmetics part-time for six months than she did teaching middle school in a year.

Over time, she earned $3.5 million in commissions and incentives, including countless diamond rings, five-star travel and 14 pink Cadillacs. She and her family moved to Cornelius, N.C., from Ohio 11 years ago because they were sick of the cold.

As a senior national sales director, Debi is responsible for about 5,000 saleswomen. She wishes she could speak Chinese and take advantage of the company's boom in the world's most populous country.

"Huge, huge," says Debi, whose blonde-streaked pixie coiffure and narrow figure belie her 51 years. "It's like popcorn happening."

Taylor, her daughter, could fulfill that international dream. In July, she quit her corporate public relations job after six weeks to chase the Mary Kay dream of balancing God, family and work.

Taylor graduated in May from North Carolina State University after studying communications and Spanish.

In four months, she sold enough cosmetics to win a sport-utility vehicle from the company and become a sales director. Her objective is to develop a market in Spain, where she spent a semester in college.

Growing up in a "pink bubble," what both mother and daughter call their family's lifestyle financed by a Mary Kay career, Taylor learned it was possible to balance money and family. She also sold Mary Kay items part-time in college at 18.

Taylor supervises more than 50 consultants around the nation and like her, many of them are starting at 18. Her selling point to customers: a free facial. Beyond that, there's something for everyone: shaving cream for husbands, makeup, anti-aging cream for women and lotions and shower gels for teenagers.

"We went everywhere we wanted in life," she said. "I want the lifestyle I grew up with, and want to be around for my kids."

As people increasingly appreciate the convenience of products such as Mary Kay cosmetics, the direct sales industry has grown.

The industry hit $29.55 billion in retail sales in 2003, up from $28.69 billion the previous year, according to figures from the Washington-based Direct Selling Association. In 2003, there were about 13.3 million salespeople, more than double the 6.3 million in 1994.

About 80 percent of the sales force is female. Thirty-six percent of direct sales come from the South.