A woman claims she found herself working for just £1.17 an hour after becoming caught up in a 'cult-like' multi-level marketing company as she warned others of being drawn into similar schemes.
Nicolette Smith, 50, from Buckinghamshire, spent 15 years working for Mary Kay Cosmetics, which encourages members to promote and sell beauty products and makeup and bring new recruits into the business.
The original member, known as a distributor, is paid a percentage of their recruits' sales. New recruits become the distributor's network and are, in turn, encouraged to make sales to earn money, which is funnelled up the company.
Nicolette, one of the company's UK ambassadors, enjoyed early success and was once dubbed the 'Queen of sales' within her team.
However over time she realised the promises of wealth were not being realised and ultimately she was left with a paltry monthly profit of £35, while the top directors at the business earned thousands.
Mary Kay has been contacted for comment.
Now Nicolette is speaking out to warn others against the dangers of multi-level marketing schemes, known as MLMs, which have seen a surge in popularity due to the rise of social media.
MLMs entice people with the promise of 'being your own boss', flexible working, and incentives like sports cars, holidays and summits overseas.
The industry is worth an estimated £1.3trillion a year and is particularly popular with women, many of whom are stay-at-home mothers.
MLMS are not illegal, although some have been likened to 'pyramid schemes'.
Nicolette joined Mary Kay - which sells skincare, makeup, body creams, fragrances, gift boxes and men's grooming - in 2011 and left early last year and made her own website freefrommlm.com, where she warns others of her story.
A basic consultant for the company doesn't earn any commission, according to Mary Kay's infographic, but the progression chart makes it look easy to climb the ranks.
Someone in the position of future sales director, which is four ranks up from the bottom, earns eight to 12 per cent commission from his or her team.
Nicolette's journey into Mary Kay started off positive, and she often won the 'Queen of Sales' award given to independent consultants for the company.
However, the process is not as straightforward as it appears, according to Nicolette, and there are charges like fuel and postage that are taken off the sales figures.
'I worked hard and if I got £500 a month it looked good but in reality that meant I got £200 and that was before expenses,' she told FEMAIL.
'So take off at least £3 an order for postage, and the fuel for the car if I had to hand deliver a parcel.
'The cost of packaging and adding in a 'gift' with purchase meant taking off another £3 from each order.
'I paid £20 a month for network meetings and annual membership. So £400 profit was then eventually whittled down to £35 a month. So £1.17 an hour.'
Nicolette also took issue with the cult-like culture within Mary Kay.
She said: 'I still have an office full of MLM related c**p, it's been a process, the cult aspect is very much out there with Mary Kay.
'I still have my red jacket, pins and tiara, which were all symbols of my so called success within the company.'
She continued: 'We weren't allowed to wear trousers when conducting business, it would always be skirts or dresses with tights. We also weren't allowed to wear open toed shoes.
'They were a bit more lenient with a business suit and trousers, but hardly anyone wore that because we knew that we would be sneered at.'
Mary Kay has different colours attributed to different ranks within the sales team.
Nicolette was 'Red' rank which meant that she was a Star Recruiter and had three to four team members. She still had to pay £69 for the jacket, despite having 'earned' it. When the team expands, members are then given a red scarf to pair with the jacket.
To be a Mary Kay director you have to have recruited 28 people on to your team and the suit costs in the region of £500 according to Nicolette.
Currently the UK has only two top directors classed as National Sales Directors (NSDs) and their suit would 'cost £1000'.
Nicolette said: 'The suits for directors costs around £1,000 and would change every year, so those ladies would have to buy a new suit every year and spend that amount of money.
'It felt like a cult because at meetings there was a lot of singing and clapping and when an NSD walked in the room everyone had to stand up like she's a Queen.
'There's clear segregation when it comes to ranks. Everyone in the company worships the founder Mary Kay Ash, people even had framed pictures of her on their desks.'
Top Mary Kay consultants continue to scoop up awards.
Gema Aznar, a Mary Kay manager, was chosen as one of the '500 Most Influential Women in Spain' in YoDona magazine's annual list in 2019.
In the same year Viktoriia Zoria-Iatsenko, General Manager of Mary Kay Ukraine, received the 'Top 25 Business Women in Ukraine' award in the Beauty Industry category from the Vlast Deneg magazine.
Like Nicolette, others have had a bad experience with the company and have taken to their own blogs to warn others of their experience.
Blogger Kalyn Brooke worked for the company for a total of nine days and said on her site 'I attended a Mary Kay debut with a family member, and enjoyed listening to the speeches from women who were obviously so excited about the product.
'I wasn't particularly happy about my current direct sales company, and thought a fresh start with Mary Kay might be just what I needed to help our income out a little bit.
'I had to spend more money than what the starter kit required. There's the additional business cards, MK website, and a credit card processing program, among other incidentals.
'I was strongly encouraged to buy a significant amount of inventory. A great deal, for sure, but again, more money. I declined.
'Then my first order came in. I was ecstatic! But when I tried to submit it, that 50 per cent discount I had been promised wouldn't go through.
'I went ahead and coughed up more money toward inventory to secure my discount. I was currently almost $500 in the hole, and I had yet to place that one order.'
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