Mary Kay, Incorporated [Mary Kay Cosmetics]

By: Keli Flynn

Revised by: Katherine Kuehler Walters and Ann Kuehler

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: February 18, 2022

Mary Kay, Incorporated, often called Mary Kay Cosmetics, a fully integrated manufacturer and global distributor of more than 700 personal care and beauty products, is a privately held corporation headquartered in Addison, Dallas County, Texas, with multiple nationwide distribution centers and sales in more than thirty-five countries worldwide. In 2012 Mary Kay recorded $3 billion in sales and was one of the largest direct sellers of skincare products in the world. As of 2021, the firm employed approximately 5,000 employees and had a sales force of at least 2.4 million independent beauty consultants, and in 1984 claimed more women earning over $50,000 in annual commissions than any other United States company. Its 453,000-square-foot Lewisville manufacturing facility, which opened in 2018, replaced its Dallas facility built between 1968 and 1980 on over eleven acres, houses company operations, including processing, packaging, warehousing, offices, and research and development laboratories. The corporation's major symbol, the bumblebee, identifies Mary Kay with an insect that aerodynamically should not be able to fly, but does so anyway.

In 1963, with just $5,000, Mary Kay (Mary Kathlyn Wagner), a native of Hot Wells, Texas, started the company, then called Beauty by Mary Kay, with her son Richard's help in a tiny storefront in downtown Dallas. She based the company’s structure on her previous job in direct sales with Stanley Home Products. She started with Stanley in 1938 to make enough money to enable herself and her first husband to move out of her mother's house. She worked and was taking pre-med classes at the University of Houston when her husband deserted her. Her came fter Three weeks later she attended the company's annual Dallas convention, witnessed the year's Queen of Sales win an alligator handbag, and became determined to succeed at sales. Awarded only a trophy as the next year's winner, she later carried an alligator briefcase with her initials in gold. As a single mother, direct sales allowed her the flexibility she needed as a single mother. She enlisted her three children to pack products and began full time work for Stanley. Thisalso began her son Richard R. Rogers's lifetime career as her business partner.

Although Mary Kay displayed a talent for recruiting and marketing, she was denied the title of unit manager that she felt she deserved. In 1952 she left Stanley to work for World Gift Company, a Dallas home accessories firm, where she was instrumental in extending distribution to forty-three states in eleven years and was eventually made a member of the board of directors. When she still saw her ideas ignored after achieving board status, Mary Kay resigned in 1963. By listing successes and failures in her direct sales experience, Mary Kay wrote the outline for a new company that lacked only a product. She subsequently purchased the formulas of a group of skin care products and created her own line of skin care and cosmetics products. Of that original line, the extra emollient night cream is still in production.

Mary Kay's most important innovation was to utilize independent businesswomen by recruiting a sales force independent of her company. The firm sells its products at wholesale prices to a world-wide network of as many as 250,000 independent Mary Kay consultants, each of whom receives a 40 to 50 percent markup on products sold at retail prices through personal customer networks. Although not employees of Mary Kay in a traditional benefit sense, the sales force is educated in selling techniques by the company, which stresses that each "consider herself Mary Kay" to project the founder's charisma and selling ability. Consultants are encouraged to "fake it till you make it," with the understanding that "You are in business for yourself, but not by yourself." Top saleswomen receive pink Cadillacs, vacations, and diamond rings at annual seminars, which encourage them to set and reach personal goals, much like Mary Kay's alligator bag. The use of Mary Kay pink extends to its fleet of eighteen-wheeler trucks used to transport cosmetics to Mary Kay distribution centers.

Mary Kay Cosmetics expanded geographically in 1970, after a 1968 public offering in the over-the-counter stock market enabled the firm to open its first distribution center outside of Dallas. By 1976 the company was large enough to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and between 1973 to 1983 its stock price rose by 670 percent. By the 1990s national distribution centers were located in California, Georgia, New Jersey, and Illinois.

Mary Kay acquired its first subsidiary in the international market in Australia in 1971, followed by outlets in Canada in 1978, Argentina in 1980, Germany in 1986, Mexico in 1989, Taiwan in 1992, Japan in 1994, and China in 1995. In addition to the company’s primary manufacturing plant in Dallas, Texas, they also open their first overseas manufacturing plant in Hangzhou in 1995 to produce products for their Asian market. In 1996 wholesale sales reached $1 billion, and the company expanded into the Ukraine and the Czech Republic. The next year they opened a manufacturing plant in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, to supply their European market; however, the plant closed in 2003. In 2018 the Mary Kay Incorporation opened a 453,000 square-foot, $100 million facility for global manufacturing and research and development in Lewisville, Texas. Although they pulled out of Australia and New Zealand in 2020, the company was in nearly forty countries in 2021. Instead of pink Cadillacs, top sales directors received pink Opel convertibles in Australia, pink Ford Mondeos in Russia, pink Honda Civics in Brazil, and pink Mercedes-Benzes in China and most of Europe.

In 1985, through a leveraged buyout, the company was returned to private ownership by Richard Rogers and Mary Kay Ash. In 1991 Mary Kay announced a $3 million settlement with the Internal Revenue Service to end a $29 million claim by IRS officials resulting from the company's 1985 leveraged buyout by Mary Kay's family members. In response to the public criticism by animal rights groups in 1989, Mary Kay Cosmetics issued a moratorium on its use of laboratory animals for consumer product development and safety testing and formed a panel of experts to advise its researchers on alternatives. In the 1990s the company shared its findings with groups such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing and supported academic research on alternatives through direct grants to scientists at CAAT and the University of Texas.

Mary Kay was active in organizations dealing with health care issues both locally and nationally and guided the company to help with these concerns, especially when they concerned women (see WOMEN AND HEALTH). Later married to vitamin industry executive and retired wholesale manufacturer’s representative Mel Ash, she became a leader in the fight to find a cure for cancer after her husband’s death from the disease in 1980. She twice served as the honorary chairman of the Texas Breast Screening Project; lobbied for Texas legislation to require insurance companies to cover mammograms; participated in projects of the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the St. Paul Research Center, and the Dallas YWCA; and is a frequent speaker to women’s organizations and others. The firm contributes to the North Texas Food Bank and provides a mobile mammogram unit for members of its sales staff. In 1987 Mary Kay Ash became chairman emeritus and her son Richard took her place. She remained active in the company until she suffered a stroke in 1996. She later died on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2001.

In 1996 the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation was established and continued to fund breast cancer research and support for survivors of gender-based domestic violence. Between 2000 and 2001 the foundation donated $58 million to domestic violence shelters. The foundation also made a long-term commitment to aid the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women and the anti-poverty humanitarian organization, CARE. Mary Kay Incorporated donated nearly $10 million in monetary donations, product donations, and distribution support in countries where it operated during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

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Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1987. New York Times, November 23, 2001. Mary Kay Ash, Mary Kay (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1981). Kim Wright Wiley, "Cold Cream and Hard Cash," Savvy, June 1985. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Mary Kay Ash).

  • Women
  • Business
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Keli Flynn Revised by Katherine Kuehler Walters and Ann Kuehler, “Mary Kay, Incorporated [Mary Kay Cosmetics],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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October 1, 1995
February 18, 2022

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