Defense of Direct Selling | Response to Forbes Article About Mary Kay

by Kevin on August 5, 2012

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The direct selling industry, profession, avocation, or whatever you would prefer to call it has been a mystery to many people for so many years.  I have mentioned this before that I was less than supportive when my wife decided to get into direct selling.  Like many people I thought it was either a pyramid or get rich quick scheme.  A lot of this opinion was based on the fact that there is a lot of emotion  both positive and negative.

There are people who are very positive about the industry because they are in it or are able to see the value in it.  On the other hand, there are people who are negative about the industry because they joined an opportunity and did not meet their goals in the industry (if they had stated goals) or possibly they simply did not understand the industry.

To speak more specifically than the industry of direct selling as a whole, let’s focus on Mary Kay for a moment.  The company is one of the most recognizable brands in direct sales and has been around for almost fifty years.  Part of being so recognizable is that there is good press that comes with that success from major players in the news like ABC and CBS.

Unfortunately being successful, as the Mary Kay company has been, also leaves Mary Kay as a target for negative press.  Recently, they have received less than favorable write ups in Harper’s Magazine and Forbes.  From what I gathered from both articles, I felt as if Mary Kay and the whole industry were under attack for what felt like unfair and very specific examples of experiences of a couple of people.  For the purpose of this article, I am going to touch on the article in Forbes

The article on was dated July 20, 2012 and written by Helaine Olen.  In the article, Helaine discusses one evening she spent going to a Mary Kay sales party as “depressing” and then goes on to make it seem as if the whole industry is preying on defenseless people with claims of riches awaiting them.  I can see a little bit of where Helaine is coming from because I used to be skeptical of the industry before I came to believe in the model and to see it as a long-term opportunity.

Let’s touch on some what was discussed in the article.

First – We will start off with the backstory.

The writer, Helaine, was invited to attend the party for a Mary Kay rep who was just starting out.  Apparently this woman joined Mary Kay because her husband lost his job and needed to bring an income.  Well, what’s wrong with that?  A lot of people lost their jobs the last few years.  We should be giving credit to this woman for having the courage try something new that was probably outside of her comfort zone to make more money for her family.

What I will say, however, is that I wish I knew more about the woman’s expectations going into this.  This business model is not a get rich quick scheme. In fact it really is not even a make money quickly opportunity.  It really is a make money slowly (with hard work, a lot of perseverance, and faith in oneself) opportunity.  If she needed money for her family in the short term, I really hope the Mary Kay opportunity was just a piece of the puzzle in how they earned additional money for their family.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of both the new direct seller and the person who sponsored them to be honest with themselves about the expectations of the business.  If there were wrong expectations, it is easy to say that the sponsor is to blame and think that they conned the new recruit to join on with promises of riches.  Any good direct seller with integrity would not make any promises about the business because it is just that, a business.  With a business comes risk.  Any credible company teaches their sellers not to make any sort of income promises, and as a member of the Direct Sales Association (DSA), Mary Kay must abide by a code of ethics which includes not making an income promises.

Also, I feel that there is some responsibility on the person joining on the opportunity.  Don’t get me wrong, if anyone does make false promises to get someone to join on, there should be accountability.  With that said, I personally don’t buy anything that costs more than about $20 without doing the research as well as going with my gut as to whether or not I am doing the right thing.  There is too much easily accessible information on the internet for someone not to do their homework.  If there was a false promise of quick riches, a rational person should be critical.

Second – The Party

The new seller was described as “nervous” and “desperate.”  Personally, those words seem a little insulting towards the woman.  Of course she was nervous, it was her first time.  Aren’t most people nervous the first time they do something especially if in front of other people?  I am sure the author was nervous the first time writing for Forbes or pitching an idea for a story to her boss the first time.

Calling her desperate seems unfair.  She might have been eager to sell products because her family needed the money.  Most likely, she was guilty of a mistake that a lot direct sellers make.  That is the mistake of being overzealous when first starting out.  I have seen it time and time again where new direct sellers get very passionate and try so hard to get their first few sales that they can be perceived as too eager or even desperate.  My wife went through this in the beginning, and now she is confident and well regarded leader in her company.

Third – Let’s talk about some of the claims about the industry.

One of the statements against the industry was that a short-seller had gone after Herbalife.  I am not really sure what was being insinuated but did get the feeling of a negative association.  What I do know is that there are positive associations with the industry between U.S. presidents and business moguls.  Bill Clinton, Robert Kiyosaki, Donald Trump, Suze Orman,  and Warren Buffett have all supported direct selling either through their publicly stated words or their actions in investing in direct selling companies.

There was also a statement about the concerns that companies in the business do not have to provide new sellers with “earnings claims, a list of previous legal actions against the firm, and its cancellation policy.”  There are three separate concepts here to touch on separately.

There cannot be false claims of earnings according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the DSA Code of Ethics.  Both entities have created standards and rules to protect consumers.  I will not say that there are not people who break these rules on purpose.  Their actions should be corrected because they give the industry a bad reputation.  However, it is not fair to lump an entire industry in with a few perceived bad apples (whether or not the woman in the story was affected by one).

When it comes to providing previous legal actions to new sellers, this to me is ridiculous.  I have never applied for a job and been told of a company’s previous legal actions against them.  Why should that be the case with direct selling?  Again, there is ample information on the internet that is readily available.  If we were informed of every legal action against a company any time we applied somewhere, we might not want to work anywhere and would base our decisions on just a small portion of the real information.  Forgive me for going a little off topic here.  We can afford to focus a little less about what is going on in our legal system.

As far as cancellation policy, DSA requires its member companies to “repurchase marketable inventory and sales aids purchased in the past 12 months for at least 90% of the purchase price if a direct seller decides to leave the business.”  Again, there are protections in place, and that gives people a full year to decide if it is right for them.  How many business opportunities come with that kind of protection to take away a good portion of the risk?


Maybe the woman who was the subject of this article quit or maybe she did not continue trying to sell to the author.  We really do not know.  If she did quit, maybe direct selling was not for her.  I give the woman a lot of credit for trying.  According to the DSA,  about four out of five direct sellers who have been with their company less than a year say that they will continue direct selling into the future.  It is possible that the woman in the article was a one out of five.

If you are interested in arming yourself with more information to help turn around some of the naysayers, check out the DSA website for facts about our industry.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about our industry.  We, as those vested in the industry, need to continue to be advocates for the business and operate our business with integrity and honesty.  Be a shining example to those around you!

What have you done to be a positive example for our industry?

  • Michelle Sanderson

    I could say a lot or a little – you pretty much said it all, and quite
    eloquently, therefore, I shall just say “Amen.” Nicely done.

    • Kevin Sanderson

      Thank you Michelle! It just seems like I have seen some articles lately that beat up on Mary Kay. We need more people to stick up for the industry as a whole as well as for MK. There are many positives that were barely touched on in the Forbes article.

      • Stacy

        Well said, and kuddos for supporting your spouse! As a MK sales director, I commend you for speaking out, standing firm and being fair!

        • Kevin Sanderson

          Thank you Stacy! I get a little fired up when I see press that is short-sided and does not give an accurate, fair story.

  • MK Secrets

    How can you comment on something you don’t know about? Were you at the party? Were you there with Helaine? Mary Kay directors make their money on other consultants purchasing inventory. They paint this beautiful vision of success, cars and prizes. I know MK directors and they lie about their personal sales and the number of parties they have a week. The only way to make money is by building a team and convincing a recruit to buy $600, $1800, $2400, or event $3600 in inventory. That is what multi-level marketing is all about and MK insiders claim they are not and better because you earn 50% of everything you sell.