In business for more than 40 years, Mary Kay Cosmetics offers about 200 skin care and makeup products to its devoted customers. It also creates job opportunities for the budding entrepreneur, whether part or full time, because Mary Kay sells all of its products through representatives and at-home demonstrations.


Mary Kay Ash spent 25 years building her career in direct marketing sales, ending up as a national training director with World Gift. After training a number of men and watching several of them obtain a promotion above her, she quit. Following her resignation, she started writing a book of advice on how women could obtain the opportunities that were denied her. However, instead of finishing the book, Mary Kay decided to create the opportunities for women through her own direct sales company.


Mary Kay wanted to offer a product that would not only make her business a success, but would be something that customers would find useful. Back when she sold Stanley Home Products in the first 20 years of her career, Mary Kay met a cosmetologist at one of her home parties that recently developed a skin care product. After the cosmetologist died in 1961, Mary Kay purchased the formula from her daughter.


In 1963, Mary Kay and her husband (who died a month before the company started), rented a small office space in the Dallas/Houston, Texas, area and recruited nine sales representatives, known as “beauty consultants,” for the product. Mary Kay’s son and daughter soon joined ranks with the family business. A Dallas-based company manufactured the Mary Kay products and consultants sold the merchandise through home parties, called “skin care classes.”


Mary Kay wanted to make her company stand out as something completely different. Her goal was to provide women with opportunities that weren’t readily available in the business world through a rewarding career and flexible work schedule. She offered all consultants a 50 percent discount on the products. Recruiter bonuses came out of company earnings, rather than out of consultant earnings. The “skin care classes” emphasized teaching rather than selling the product, with a maximum of six guests per party. Initially, payment and delivery of the product were during the party and the products offered were limited so that consultants knew them well.


In 1967, Mary Kay Cosmetics went public and was the first woman-chaired company on the New York Stock Exchanged. For the next 15 years, sales grew at a rate of 28 percent per year. When sales slowed, Mary Kay Cosmetics increased the compensation for consultants. By 1977, there were four distribution centers and an eight-story headquarters in Dallas. In 1984 and 1993, Mary Kay Cosmetics was among the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” and in 1993, it became a Fortune 500 company. In 1978, Mary Kay went international, opening facilities in Canada, Germany, Argentina, Spain and Asia.