Mary Kay Inc. Chairman and CEO David Holl discusses the launch of the company’s virtual reality platform Suite 13, women’s empowerment and leadership, and how staying relevant was built into its solid foundation—starting with its visionary Founder Mary Kay Ash.
David Holl, Mary Kay Inc. on …
Q: Mary Kay Inc. remains one of the top direct selling companies in the world. What are the main reasons for its continued success?
A: When you have a solid foundation, it’s easier to strive and achieve more. Mary Kay’s success—from the first skincare party in 1963 to our digital transformation of the past few years—can be traced directly back to our rock-solid foundation. It’s not just lip service for Mary Kay: our thousands of employees and millions of independent beauty consultants (IBCs) truly believe in our founding ideals of entrepreneurship, innovation, hard work, and giving back. That’s how we stay successful.
Q: Like most companies, Mary Kay has faced its share of challenges over the last few years, particularly regarding the pandemic. How did the company meet the challenges brought on by health mandates and changing consumer buying habits?
A: Our people have a track record of meeting the moment—we’ve seen our fair share of challenges over the last 60 years—and Mary Kay’s response to the global pandemic was no different.
The pandemic came at an interesting time for us and probably for direct selling as a whole. Leading up to March 2020, we already had undertaken great efforts to modernize the way our IBCs run their businesses and the way they interact with their customers. It’s fair to say that the pandemic sped up those efforts. We’ve made incredible digital strides over the last two years.
Our IBCs, as usual, led the way. I know I should expect it at this point, but their adaptability, creativity, and entrepreneurship continue to amaze me. They adopted new selling methods, revolutionized what in-home parties looked like, and used social media to an even greater extent. There was no hole in the service they provided their customers. And our employees were there to support them every step of the way.
Q: In 2021, Mary Kay launched an immersive virtual experience platform. How is Suite 13 helping to tell the Mary Kay story, and what has been the response from customers and Mary Kay’s Independent Beauty Consultants?
A: Suite 13 is an example of an amazing digital transformation. The experience leverages virtual reality to digitize a Mary Kay pop-up showroom. IBCs can take their customers on a tour through the 360-degree, 3D beauty experience where they can virtually browse the beauty brand’s portfolio of skincare and color cosmetics. While they are there, they can explore the company and its iconic founder, Mary Kay Ash.
IBCs and their customers love it. It provides Independent Beauty Consultants the flexibility of a digital business that can introduce the Mary Kay brand everywhere at any time. It elevates the way they build relationships with their customers by sharing an immersive beauty experience.
Q: Mary Kay is not only a success here in the United States. The company has received several prestigious awards in Europe for championing women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. Is there one award that has meant the most to you and the company?
A: That’s a hard one. We’re proud of every award that recognizes our global employees. I’m particularly proud of our Kincentric employee awards in Europe. According to the Kincentric survey, almost eight of ten participating Mary Kay employees responded yes to the statement, “Mary Kay inspires me to do my best work every day.”
Perhaps Melinda Foster Sellers, our Chief People Officer, said it best. “We have a simple employment philosophy at Mary Kay: if our employees come to work every day believing they’re helping make the world a better place, then we’re on the right track.” That’s how we keep our employees engaged in nearly forty countries around the world—because they all know their part of something larger. They’re all in, and they’re the reason we’re where we are today, supporting millions of IBCs around the globe.
Q: Mary Kay has an ongoing commitment to propelling women into leadership roles. What advice would you give to anyone starting a direct selling business about the importance of having women represented in executive positions?
A: The concept of this business was dreamt up—and achieved—by a woman who was ahead of her time. So, the question of whether a company can benefit from more women in executive positions is something we answered nearly sixty years ago. From the beginning, we recognized that people of all backgrounds are equal and crucial partners in our success. Diversity of thought is one of our many strengths.
We have a saying at Mary Kay: “One woman can.” That’s not just referring to Mary Kay Ash’s journey to build this company, but every woman’s journey to further herself and her family through entrepreneurship, perseverance, and hard work.
Q: What must Mary Kay do to stay relevant in today’s marketplace and in the future? What do you foresee for the beauty and cosmetics sector?
A: Mary Kay stays relevant by continuing to focus on her—that’s our internal shorthand for saying we must focus on our IBCs—helping IBCs meet their customers’ needs through digital and product innovation. At every step, it’s crucial that our IBCs feel they have the tools, training, and resources needed to continue to grow their businesses organically. Our goal is to make it easier for them to do business, easier to stay in touch with their customer, and easier to promote our award-winning products.
Q: Direct selling has enjoyed much popularity and increased growth over the last few years. Why is now a good time to start a direct selling business?
A: The research is clear: more than ever, consumers don’t just care about what they’re buying, but who they’re buying from. Direct selling allows consumers to purchase the goods and services they need and want from people they can connect with—not from faceless digital organizations or brick-and-mortar locations. They can purchase directly from the single mom down the street, the recent graduate in their book club, or an old friend or colleague. Consumers want to feel good about their purchases and where their money is going. It’s a great time to start a direct selling business.
Q: What do you see as direct selling’s greatest opportunity in the next 12 to 24 months?
A: In 2022 and beyond, we will see a heightened emphasis on personal experience, as consumers will want to engage with brands and products—and not just in the digital arena. I think Mary Kay, and direct selling in general, are poised to succeed for years to come.
Q: What do you see as direct selling’s greatest challenge(s)?
A: As the world reopens following the pandemic, the pendulum will swing in the direction of consumers who are exhausted from quarantining on and off for the past two years. Though there may be a short-term increase in sales, the labor shortage likely will create competition, drawing potential direct sellers away from exploring entrepreneurial endeavors. However, I think the heightened interest in the gig economy will help with that challenge.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a direct selling business?
A: It’s all about the foundation. If you believe in what you’re selling, believe in what you’re doing, believe in the incredible opportunity, and most of all—believe in yourself—then the sky’s the limit.