You’ve probably spotted Mary Kay pink Cadillacs driving around your town.
The only people who get to drive in pink Cadillac splendor are superstars whose multilevel sales teams have sold at least $100,000 in Mary Kay products in six months.
It’s one of the most easily recognized sales incentives in the world.
Not many people outside the company know that these independent sales directors ought to be driving Lincolns.
That’s what Mary Kay Ash really wanted in 1967, when the first lady of cosmetics decided to indulge herself with a luxury car and flaunt the success of her company in the process.
She got “little lady-ied” by a local Lincoln dealership, says Crayton Webb, vice president of corporate communications at Mary Kay Inc. “The guy in so many words said, ‘Little lady, go home and get your husband, and when you come back, we’ll get you into that Lincoln.’ That didn’t sit too well with her.”
Mary Kay was probably summarily dismissed before she ever mentioned that she wanted her vehicle to match the color of her cosmetics compact.
A Cadillac dealer in Fort Worth was more than happy to take her money for a 1968 Sedan de Ville and order it in powder pink. General Motors resurrected a retired paint color, Mountain Laurel, that it had offered briefly in the mid-’50s. Think Elvis Presley and his 1954 Fleetwood.
After Mary Kay got her de Ville, a number of sales directors bought clones.
That was Mary Kay’s “aha” moment. She and her son, Richard Rogers, realized that these billboards on wheels could be a way to rev up their multilevel direct-marketing organization.
In 1969, Mary Kay traded in her first de Ville and leased six 1970 sedans — the five others for her independent sales leaders.
In the 45 years since, more than 22,000 U.S. independent beauty consultants have hit the magic number to drive a leased “career car” for two years. There are 1,300 tooling the byways today, including one driven by a guy.
While the details of that long-ago mishandled Lincoln encounter are hazy — even to company historians — the tale is inculcated as a company core value, say Laura Beitler, vice president of recognition and events at Mary Kay.
Not being one to bad-mouth, Mary Kay never named the offending Lincoln dealership. She told her tale to reinforce her steadfast belief in the golden rule.
“It’s a great customer service lesson about how when someone treats you with respect, it can have a lasting impact,” Beitler says. “Think about it. Had that Lincoln dealer treated Mary Kay the way the Cadillac dealer did, the course of history would probably have changed.”
Who knows, the Town Car might still be around.
Now the Cadillacs awarded to the top salespeople come in exclusive Mary Kay pearlized pink. The recipients wouldn’t have it any other shade, Beitler says. The ones who qualify can take $900 a month in cash instead, but 92 percent pick up new wheels at their local dealerships.
“When you see one driving down the road, it’s hard to miss,” Beitler says. “They love that attention. It’s such a fun way for them to show off what great success they’ve had in the Mary Kay business.”
The cars are factory-ordered, and the paint color is exclusive to Mary Kay.
Of the two Caddies currently offered — CTS sedans and SRX SUVs — the latter is the most popular by far.
So far this year, 477 salespeople have qualified for Cadillacs.
“One of the most exciting things of my job is seeing that once-in-a-lifetime moment when a woman takes the keys to her first pink Cadillac,” Beitler says. 2,300 U.S. rising stars have qualified for other types of cars.
Those who bring in $75,000 in six months can claim a black BMW 320i, a new offering this year. Salespeople at the next level lower get to choose a black Chevy Equinox or a Chevy Cruze in white or lipstick red.
The car program has gone global. Nearly 11,000 women in 22 foreign countries have qualified for cars this year. Cadillacs are available only in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. In China, Russia and several European countries, the highest award is a pink Mercedes-Benz ; in Spain, it’s a Mini Cooper; and in Brazil, it’s a Chevy Captiva.
At the end of the lease, most American salespeople re-qualify. They usually turn in one Cadillac and drive off in another.
Others opt to buy the vehicle and take the cash reward for the next two years. They get a good deal, Beitler says, because it costs a lot to repaint the cars white and resell them at auction.
Either disposition is worth the effort, Beitler says. You simply can’t have pink pretenders on the road.