Part 1 in a 2-part story
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- Inspired by founder Mary Kay Ash, whose success story has an "I have a dream" quality to it, few Mary Kay beauty consultants ever achieve pink Cadillac status, the storied top sales prize that has become the company's historic signature.
But those who sign on and stay on board may get a glimpse of the glamour it represents, as well as a chance to participate in the motivational camaraderie the firm is famous for. National sales seminars are just such an example, such as the one Mary Ann Pender Prince and about 50,000 other independent beauty consultants recently attended in Dallas, Texas.
And all of them are encouraged by the organization to document and share their stories with "sister consultants," said Prince, who joined the famous cosmetics company's sisterhood nearly nine years ago.
MK history in a nutshell
The small "storefront" operation that Mary Kay Ash launched in 1963 with nine sales-women grew into an international "family" hundreds of thousands strong. It was her "dream company," but her rise to fame and fortune came later in life.
Born in rural Texas at the end of World War I, as a child, Ash cared for her sick father while her mother worked to support the family. Later, as a single mom, she set professional goals for herself that few women aspired to in that era. When she founded the company, Ash was a grandmother, retired after a successful sales career.
The founder's story is told in an autobiography first published in 1981: "Miracles Happen, The Life and Timeless Principals of the Founder of Mary Kay Inc." Likely a must-read for the company's beauty consultants, the book is dedicated to "the thousands of women who dared to step out of their comfort zones and use their God-given talents and abilities" to achieve success.
While each MK consultant's story is unique, the story Prince tells about her start as an independent Mary Kay beauty consultant is as inspirational as that of Ash herself.
Prince said she achieved her "current status" after overcoming near-fatal complications from a congenital health condition she's struggled with most of her life.
With characteristic enthusiasm, disarming honesty and attention to detail, Prince prepared a chronicle of her progress in the eight years since she came on board. "I come ... from a VERY different place," she wrote, dutifully doing her homework.
Nightmare story, happy ending
Hospitalized in 2002 for what she thought would be a "quick fix" to a recurring problem with a short hospital stay, she ended up in the hospital for four months after two surgeries. Residual paralysis led to another month in a rehab hospital.
The morning she was set to go home, her husband, Gary, got a call from the hospital. His wife would not be released after all. Instead, she was in surgery again after a seizure that signaled a bacterial infection in her brain. "Incredible repercussions" followed, she said.
Her hospital stay stretched to another three months, with her ability to walk "severely compromised." Her eyes were damaged, too, necessitating 13 different eyeglass prescriptions over the next year. And three years after surgery, she still couldn't walk.
Resentful of the "round-the-clock" care she had to have then, Prince recalls how her caregivers would come and go "at any time" while she couldn't even answer the door. Her schedule was grueling. Physical therapy every other day, occupational therapy on opposite days, visiting nurses twice a week and 32 pills a day.
Church visitors, town organizations and local restaurants reached out to help, providing family meals and transportation for her kids so they could participate in sports and other activities while she was "out of commission." With Gary at work, they also had to have after-school care, she said.
Years of this housebound routine depressed her; she felt useless and isolated, Prince said.
Joining Mary Kay changed all that, but not in quite the way one might expect.
One afternoon, an evangelical church visitor from another town came to see her and after a "pleasant enough visit," left Prince with parting words she would never forget.
"Mary Ann, you have GOT to get out of this house!" the woman said. And she made it happen, arranging with Gary to come back that evening to pick her up for a Mary Kay party.
At the party, Prince was treated as though she were just like everyone else there, she said, even though her eyes were crossed and she couldn't walk without assistance. Taking her cue from her hostess and other guests, she participated and began to see herself as a consultant, too. "I could do this!" she mused at the time.
The next morning, she called the company to find out how to get started as a Mary Kay beauty consultant, selling the company's cosmetics. "The rest is history," she said.
Now, almost nine years later, she's become a kind of evangelist herself, not only touting the firm's beauty products in a variety of innovative ways but advising those who host Mary Kay parties that there might be a "diamond in the rough" among their guests. Someone like Prince herself, for whom "the MK opportunity" was a chance to succeed, despite physical challenges, opening the door to a new and rewarding career.
"You may not single out everyone, but at least mention the MK opportunity," she said.
Prince always does, broaching the subject with every client, one way or another. "You don't have to be pushy, just informative," she said.
End of part 1.