My wife and I were just married and almost broke, but we had a host of supportive friends. Among them was a lady who was doing very well selling cosmetics and skin care products from her home. One day my wife and this friend cornered me and insisted that I had “just what it takes” to make a good living selling cosmetics. With little in the bank and bills mounting up, I didn’t put up much of a fight, and the next Monday I found myself in a garish modern building in Hollywood in a large classroom prettied up with vases of fake flowers and reeking of some overly sweet perfume.
I was the only man in a class of about fifty women. The instructor was one of those plastic women of indeterminate age—perfect figure and makeup, perfect hair, and clothes casually expensive but also perfect. She positively radiated enthusiasm, and bubbled with energy, talking quickly and constantly reminding us of the fabulous future that lay before us. She could have sold Bibles to the devil.
I attended beauty class every day for a week and learned a great deal about skin care and eyeshadow and moisturizing and pores and follicles, as well as quite a bit about the dangerous chemicals in some products. I also learned that the markup on cosmetics was enormous and that for most of the products, the container cost much more than the contents. When we came to the lesson on false eyelashes, I practiced on the lady sitting next to me and became quite skilled. She practiced on someone else.
On Friday we had a sickeningly sweet graduation ceremony complete with plastic roses and imitation parchment scrolls and piped in music. Then the plastic lady declared us all to be Cosmeticians. She also said that the company would help us in every way to achieve our dreams. After which she quickly passed out order forms for the cosmetics that we would need.
Interestingly, there was no reduction in price and no freebies for us new recruits. I carefully chose just the few basics I would need as our instructor pressured everybody to fill their car trunks with plenty of “product,” especially the higher priced items. I drove home genuinely believing that I had found something that I would really like and would actually bring in a lot of money. I even stopped at a printer and ordered a box of smartly attractive business cards.
We had been given no leads or even advice on how to find customers beyond the usual “start with your friends and relatives.” But we had been promised a major advertising campaign that would begin almost immediately.
For a week or two, I enthusiastically tackled every female who happened to come close. As a newcomer to California, I had few friends of my own, so I started with my wife’s numerous friends…only to find that many of them were also selling cosmetics. So I began talking to neighbors and then to friends of those neighbors. Eventually, I came very close to accosting complete strangers. But it was mostly a waste of time. The general reaction was puzzlement that a man should be in that business. There was a touch of suspicion, too. Even though I did get three or four appointments with women who were more curious about me than the cosmetics, I never sold enough to cover my initial expenses.
One morning when I was scanning the newspaper and looking for the great advertising campaign we had been promised, I came across a business article describing the sale of my company to one of the giant cosmetic companies. There were the usual statements about “cooperation” and “building a future together,” along with a photo of smiling officials shaking hands. But when I phoned, the line was dead. I immediately drove to Hollywood to get an explanation, but the logo and name had already been removed from the building and the huge front door was locked.
I was a cosmetician for barely a month. It was an interesting experience, I suppose, but it was also expensive and not very useful. My box of business cards arrived a few days later.