Value vs. volume: Discovering Mary Kay’s relevance in an industry saturated with celebrity makeup lines

October 27, 2019 – alike Editorial Team

In an age where beauty companies are constantly launching left and right, one can’t imagine going against the competition without aggressive digital marketing, prominent e-commerce channels and a strong social media presence. But somehow international brand Mary Kay continues to find a way to make it work without having to cover the digital bases.

The beauty company has carried on with the traditional direct-selling approach, deploying its products to the market solely through their independent beauty consultants. Mary Kay’s relevance in an industry now led by millennial icons like Kylie Jenner, Rihanna and Jeffree Star, is a testament to the longevity of their vision. While it’s easy to credit its billions' worth of global sales annually to the long history that’s attached to the brand or the familiarity of its name, for Asia Pacific region president KK Chua, the secret lies in the company’s very core.

Mary Kay Asia Pacific region president KK Chua

“We’ve survived 56 years now, and to be able to do that, our products have to be good. We have a very stringent product philosophy—we simply do not follow every trend. It’s always about science and effectiveness, and equally as important is being able to sell them through our beauty consultants,” Chua shared.

“When Mary Kay Ash started this company she said: If I’m able to change the life of a woman and make her believe that she can be the best that she can be, it’s going to come back and be rewarding,” he added.

We sat down with Mary Kay’s region president to talk about starting the brand in Asia Pacific and continuing its mission to change women’s lives—all hundreds and thousands of them.

What made you shift industries from movies to cosmetics?

When I was offered this job, my first reaction was Mary who? I then told my wife about the headhunterʼs offer and she became so excited about it and said I had to take the job. Itʼs a huge jump from movies to cosmetics, but when I started looking into the company, I realized what this company represents is very much representative of my value system in life. When what you do is what you believe in, you find passion.

A lot of people say that the movie industry is a dream industry, I think of Mary Kay just the same. Iʼve seen hundreds of thousands of lives changed. That's what continues to motivate me and helped China get to where it is today.

In your years with Mary Kay, what can you pinpoint as your proudest moment with the company?

It has to be was when I knew that what I did changed a womanʼs life. There are many jobs that give you a good pay and can bring you fame and fortune. But when you have a job that can change anotherʼs life, it is very moving.

I started Mary Kay China. Our philosophy is we want enrich peopleʼs lives. In our first batch of beauty consultants, there was a lady who was a single mother. She came from the north of China, her husband left her, she went down to live in Shanghai with her little girl, they rented a little dingy room and the only way they can sleep is side-by-side because of its size.

15 years later, this woman told me I should look up her daughter, who was studying business in King’s College, London. She had just returned from London herself, where she had purchased a flat in Kensington. It’s a very humbling experience that what I did in the job, not only changed the destiny of the mother, but of her daughter. That is the proudest moment of my life.

How about one thing you’ve learned about yourself in your long stint with the company?

That I don’t know very much. And that women don’t need men to solve their problems for them. Most of the time, they already have the solutions to most of their worries—all you have to do is listen.

What is it that still makes Mary Kay relevant in an age when the beauty industry is dominated by celebrity brands?

Celebrities make up their own brands in prospering themselves. Our company is focused on creating opportunities for women. Many of them are intelligent but are born into small villages. Many of them are hardworking but donʼt have enough opportunities to share. We give them that. It's about them. Itʼs something bigger and beyond us and whatever we do is to make these women’s lives better.

Why do you think your traditional model of business still works in such a digitally-driven market?

Technology now is what you call a disruptor in the economy. I think in the future, there’s bound to be an online element and the stronger need for an offline one. On the online bit, is where a lot of the e-commerce folks are scratching their heads because the only way they can sell right now is giving the cheapest price or convenience of purchase. 

But cheap prices and convenience aren’t exactly where the wants of people end—they want to feel important and connected. They want to be part of a community. The future of direct selling is evolving to not only embrace e-commerce but also to accentuate the offline interaction, and Mary Kay is on its way there.

How does the brand fare in this region where it’s home to a lot of beauty centrals like South Korea, Japan and Thailand?

I think it’s mainly because our products work. Our prices are reasonable and most importantly, I think our sales force is well trained even thought they’re very independent. There’s no better country connected by e-commerce than China, but there’s the consumer yearning to be serviced. I think that’s where we come in.

In China, we were once the number one brand. We have been unseated, but we have every intention to gain that place back. There are more than 10,000 brands in China alone, and to be able to be in the Top 5, we must be doing something right.