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If you see a modern Cadillac in a certain shade of pink, you might recognize it as a Mary Kay car. You know, Mary Kay? The well-dressed, charismatic women often of a certain age who sell cute jewelry and cosmetics? No? It’s a multi-level marketing company, sometimes described as a pyramid scheme, and its signature pink-painted Cadillacs are one of its worst deals.

In a chat with Mike Spinelli and the rest of the Car Bibles crew, we reminisced about seeing the gaudy pink cars driven by hardworking makeup saleswomen. Mike casually said, “Hah, I knew someone who won one of those pink Cadillacs.” I explained: “Oh, those Cadillacs weren’t free. You had to pay for them.” Spinelli, and most of the CB team, had no clue. Our editor Andrew Collins didn’t even realize they were connected to a company. “I thought that was somebody putting their own name on their car as a chrome emblem,” he said. “Or maybe it was a local dealer-created trim level?” Clearly, there’s a dearth of knowledge about Mary Kay among car enthusiasts that needs to be rectified.

How do these “free” (or not so free) Mary Kay cars work?

Well, I have some personal experience here. I grew up in a religious community in a small-to-medium-sized metropolitan area with not so many job opportunities. In the very patriarchal religion I grew up in, women were generally discouraged from working too much outside the home, especially if they were married. Yet most jobs their husbands held were barely enough to support the family, leading the wives of the household to drum up some money.

Enter Mary Kay. Or Avon. Or Cutco. Or Tupperware. This stuff still exists today, it’s just moved to Facebook and other social media platforms with companies like LuLaRoe, SeneGence and others. Or any other number of direct marketing companies that promise full-time level income while working from home in your spare time. The allure and ease offered by these potential business opportunities are attractive. They’re staffed by recruiters who sing praises of the company and how much money they’re making, or all the perks the job offers. But they’ve had their fair share of problems, nightmare stories, and lawsuits, too.

In my childhood, a Mary Kay rep was likely a smiling woman, well-put-together, selling cosmetics and seemingly paying her bills, driving a brand new light pink Cadillac, that she asserts was a company car. From the outside, it looked to me like a more carefree, worry-free life, very different from the financial struggles that my mom and her friends went through.

When I was about 12 or so, I asked my mom why she didn’t try selling Mary Kay (she sold Avon off and on) so that she could get a free car. My childhood was filled with my parents driving crapboxes that couldn’t drive out of town — a free car from her employment would have been a godsend and made our lives so much easier. It was a no-brainer, why the hell hadn’t she done this?

She explained to me that the car wasn’t free, but a lease offered to you after you’ve done a whole bunch of shit for the company. A whole bunch of shit, that would likely put her in the hole. 

I realized I never really confirmed the details myself. I figured I’d go to the source: the Mary Kay website. Surely, they’ll have a very straightforward pitch of commissions, potential benefits, perks, and other things, right? I searched through the entire website, and I couldn’t get hard numbers about any perks or benefits. Under “Exciting Incentives”, Mary Kay says: “Put yourself in the driver’s seat with an opportunity to earn the use of a Mary Kay Career Car, one of the best car incentive programs in the direct-selling industry.”

OK, how is it the best? It doesn’t say, it just asserts that it’s better than the other direct selling programs, and then fails to explain how it works.

The Mary Kay FAQ section wasn’t any better, with nearly all answers about Mary Kay’s pay scale or benefits being answered in vagueries instead of hard numbers. There’s a lot of callbacks to the words of founder Mary Kay Ash (whose iconic Pink Cadillac is why Mary Kay Cosmetics use pink Cadillacs), but nothing concrete.

Frustrated, I went to the source. I sent an email to Mary Kay’s press contact, asking a simple question: How does the Career Car program work? They sent me this:

“Firstly, we are so grateful for your interest in Mary Kay, but unfortunately, we must politely decline commenting at this time. Once again, thank you for reaching out and for your kind words. We wish you the very best and hope you and yours take care during these crazy times. Have a great rest of your week!”

At least they were nice, I guess. Interestingly enough, between the above email, and the publication of this article, Mary Kay added an additional tab about the Career Car program. It has some statistics about the cars themselves, but not much else in the way of how the program works. Did somebody think to stick that in there as opposed to offering me a comment? Well, since we got a “no comment,” I guess we’ll never know.

Since Mary Kay’s reps wouldn’t answer, I went to Pinktruth.com; a site that claims to be dedicated to the darker aspects behind Mary Kay. I watched a few YouTube videos and read some Reddit threads until I found this document from 2020, allegedly leaked from Mary Kay, that is a cut-and-dried description of how the Career Car program works. You can check out the entirety of Pinktruth’s upload of the “2020 Mary Kay Advance Brochure” here, but we’ll pull-quote the relevant bits here.

Side note: Mary Kay is often lumped into the “Multi-Level Marketing” pyramid because, it kind of doesn’t really work unless you’ve got underlings working below you, also hawking the goods. To qualify for the lowest tier car, you must become a “Grand Achiever,” in Mary Kay speak. The Grand Achiever car was a Chevrolet Cruze — at least until the Cruze was canceled. To become a Grand Achiever, you have to:

  • Have 16 active Mary Kay downline consultants.
  • Have generated at least $23,000 in wholesale production; Only $5,000 of your personal production counts towards that number. The rest must come from your team. This means, yes, your team must be buying $23,000 worth of wholesale goods. And $5,000 of that number, must’ve come from your own pocket.

The brochure includes many tables that break down incentives, we copied the “Grand Achiever Unit Co-op Lease Payment Schedule” here for you:

Quarterly Net Adjusted Unit Wholesale ProductionMonthly Lease Co-Op Payment
$20,500 or more$0
$17,500-$20,499$42.50
$15,500-$17,499$85
$13,500-$15,499$127.50
$11,500-$13,499$212.50
$9,500-$11,499$297.50
$0-$9,499$425
Quoted from Pinktruth’s copy of the “2020 Mary Kay Advance Brochure”

Before the Cruze was canceled, it wasn’t uncommon to lease one for less than $250 per month. So $425 a month plus conscription into a cosmetics sales company doesn’t seem like a great deal. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s a lease, for two years only, using terms you can’t negotiate.

If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “downline,” that’s common vernacular in multi-level marketing operations (did anybody see On Becoming A God In Central Florida?). It basically refers to people you’ve recruited to join the operation.

After you qualify, you must maintain a certain standard each month to keep the car. If your team has six active members and purchase at least $5,750 worth of Mary Kay wholesale goods each month, then sure, your Chevy Cruze is free. If you slip below that then you owe Mary Kay money. If you slip too far, then that car is theirs. This is all in that “2020 Mary Kay Advance Brochure” linked above.

This is for gross wholesale production; Mary Kay consultants can make “up to” 50 percent commission on each product sold, that is if they’re selling the products at the full suggested retail price. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how scary these numbers can become; with the potential for consultants to spend thousands of dollars on products that might not sell.

To qualify for a pink Cadillac, your team must purchase a whopping $102,000 worth of Mary Kay wholesale goods per calendar year. To maintain your qualifications for that Cadillac, your team must continually purchase at least $50,000 per quarter of Mary Kay goods. Or, in layman’s terms, this person and their team need to move at least $16,700 worth of wholesale merchandise, per month. Keep in mind, this is for a Cadillac XT5 lease, not an Escalade, and a consultant’s real-world profit is completely immaterial to this lease deal.

Those Pink Mary Kay Cadillacs Cost a Lot More Than Money
Currently, you can lease an XT5 for less than half of what Mary Kay offers its Career Car program for. Screenshot: Cadillac’s website

Mary Kay’s average pay is a bit harder to track down. Indeed, Glassdoor and other places offer a very wide delta between sales consultant wages. These wages are all self-reported, and Mary Kay themselves don’t comment, in fact, their FAQ says that selling Mary Kay is “individual and unique” and thus “impossible to guarantee that a particular level of income can be earned.” The FTC’s pretty clear though; many people who join direct or multi-level marketing companies don’t really make any money.

Such is the life of most direct marketing sales consultants. Profits are minimal unless you have a huge downline, so the real “job” is recruiting other people in on the program. The potential for loss is huge; many people have destroyed themselves financially trying to make this all work. Consumer watchdog Truth In Advertising has as recently as March called out Mary Kay for deceptive representations of income, in part because of how the pink Cadillac program was marketed to prospective recruits. The complaint was escalated to the BBB National Programs’ Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council, which did rule that Mary Kay had been making deceptive income claims.

So are the Cadillacs free? Sure, sort of, for a very small minority. For everyone else, you’re probably being ripped off.

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Correction 8/14/2021: The Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council is a non-profit organization in the BBB National Programs’, independent of the BBB. The piece has been updated to reflect as such.”

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