Why would a New-York-based cosmetics company that has been successfully selling makeup through retail channels for over 60 years decide to open a network marketing division? Founder and CEO Michele Gay says it started with her desire to reward customers for referring others and being brand advocates. When Michele’s niece Madison caught the vision and joined the new company, she quickly became instrumental in building the new brand through her blog and social media presence. The direct selling model combined with social and content marketing turned out to be the perfect way to engage the new generation.—J.G.

What gave you the idea to add a network marketing division in January 2015?
Michele: Our makeup artists, who are our primary customers, were referring their clients to us. We thought, “There has to be some way to reward them with some form of commission.” We wanted to show them that we appreciated the business. We looked at affiliate programs, but eventually figured out we’d all be better served with a direct sales model.

Madison and I are from New York, which is probably as unfriendly as you can get towards direct sales. My sister-in-law joined a company about eight years ago, and she has had a phenomenal journey. She’s probably one of the top five sellers worldwide in her company. I watched her work hard to get to a six-figure income, then a multiple-six-figure income over time, all while her kids didn’t feel like they were missing their mom.

When we looked at the direct sales model, I’d already had this moment of recognizing the benefits it could bring to women who want to stay home and raise their kids, but also be entrepreneurial and build a substantial income.
Madison: I think tons of people want to be involved in direct sales, but they don’t want to say it, because the idea scares them. We like to say we’re “not your mother’s direct sales line.” To appeal to today’s young people, we evolved it into a strong business model for the future.

Tell us more about this new model.
Michele: Here we have Madison, the Millennial generation, standing up and telling her peers, “This business is going to allow you all to become entrepreneurs and work at your own speed. You’re going to be the CEO of your company. You’re going to be the COO and the director of marketing. You’re going to do your own customer service. This business allows you to be all of that.”

A founder of our new company is now a 24-year-old, and we’re a successful parent company with great history and a strong business acumen.

Madison: The people who started direct selling are getting older and they either pass their businesses down to someone else, or they phase out. One of my goals is to bring on a lot more people in their 20s and early 30s, because we know Millennials spend about $600 billion a year on cosmetics, and they’re going to be around for a lot longer. The growth in cosmetic sales just from Millennials alone is staggering. It’s an important age group to get involved with.

Michele: Last June Madison started a blog, and that’s become one of our strategies. This blog is being shared with our customer base, as well as viewed by thousands of “Beauty Guides” each week.

How do you teach members to acquire customers and build teams?
Madison: One of the best ways I’ve seen people grow their own businesses is through social media and word of mouth. The reason our company grew to begin with is because of the quality of our products. Direct sales is buying products from someone you trust and consider to be your friend. Why would they steer you in the wrong direction? It creates instant trust.

Michele: Our Beauty Guides mostly do attraction marketing on their social media channels. They’re not aggressive. They’re never spamming. They’re not constantly cramming things down people’s throats. Many of our top leaders and top sellers never talk about a specific product in their social media content. They might post a picture of themselves in the car and say, “I’m really loving this lipstick combination I made today.” They’re piquing the curiosity of the viewer. Inevitably someone will ask, “What did you mix?” They’ll say, “I mixed Crème Brûlée and Sugar Plum.” They’re promoting the products in the comments, and only if solicited. That’s been a very successful strategy, because many of our Beauty Guides feel comfortable with that sort of promoting. It’s also customer-driven: the customer is asking for more information.
Madison: I was talking to one of our Beauty Guides the other day, and I said, “Instead of selling a product, you’re telling a product.” You just tell a story about a product, and the sale happens. You don’t have to work too hard at it. That’s what we find works.

People can see themselves selling it, because they don’t have to post blatantly promotional messages that would repel their friends.
Michele: Yes, they can just make it part of their life. That’s really what we’re asking them to do: simply talk about your lifestyle, and this is one component of it. We are also a party-plan company. Our Beauty Guides have a lot of success booking parties, because people want to see what professional makeup is, and how it is different from what you can get in department or chain stores. We pique their curiosity online and invite them to attend virtual or home parties.

Madison: Facebook Live is the thing now that people are using to demonstrate products. They add a link in the description, and viewers are enticed to buy the product as they’re watching in real time.

Michele: We’ve created the graphics for them to have these parties in a lot of different social media channels. Sometimes it’s simply through an email link. They’ll say, “I’m starting this party at this time. It closes at this time. Here’s the link.” Ready, set, go.
Madison: It proves that this business model can work for any generation. With the amount of information available online, especially for cosmetics, women are constantly searching, and it’s easy to buy this way.

Do you also promote the network marketing profession? Do you provide business training?
Michele: Absolutely, we teach people this is a profession.  We’re not a pyramid scheme. We’re not get-rich-quick. We attract leaders. We constantly talk about quality over quantity when it comes to recruitment, and our girls have learned that when you get the right people in who are ready to do it the right way, it makes your job easier and your growth potential a lot stronger. As soon as they come in, they get a cascade of training about products, about strategy, and the last training they receive is on branding. A lot of companies allow members to come up with all sorts of creative looks. We are very tight on our branding. Everything has to get approved. We put a lot out there for the girls to use in the resource library. We demonstrate to them who we are and who we are not. We’re not a bargain or discount brand. We are a professional, clean, modern, high quality brand.

Are you happy you started a network marketing company? Is it going the way you planned?
Michele: It’s going better than we planned. We have surpassed any expectation we set for ourselves.
Madison: In addition to high quality products that we love and use ourselves, we have created a strong culture. We treat our Beauty Guides like friends and family, and they feel that. It helps them stay with the company, and it attracts new people to the company organically.

We have about 2,700 active Beauty Guides right now. When we first started, each time we would get an order for a starter kit, we would get so excited we’d ring a bell in our office. Then it started growing so fast we couldn’t ring the bell anymore. We’d be wrapping starter kits till 2 AM by ourselves, because we grew so quickly.

What percentage of your distributors are makeup professionals?
Michele: About one third self-identify as professional makeup artists or estheticians, and two thirds say they’re not a pro. Our beauty guides who are in the profession are amazing about providing training to those who are not. Our culture is all about collaboration over competition.

Helping other people, whether they’re in your downline, upline, or in a different leg, is ultimately going to come back to you. Reach out beyond your responsibilities every day and watch your business grow.

The media says all these things about Millennials, how they’re the privileged and entitled generation. It’s fascinating for me to read this, because Madison is a dusk-till-dawn worker. Her drive is inspiring many of our leaders in her age group.

Last night I was talking to a girl who just joined and is already doing really well. She’s 28 years old, and I asked her, “Who do you identify with the most in our company, Madison or myself?” She said, “I identify with both of you, because I’m already a mother, but I’m in my 20s.” I thought it was interesting that she saw herself in both of us. We are truly bridging the gap to the next generation.