Why Mary Kay Began Selling Wigs & Stopped

11-07-2016 8:59 AM

Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoy this article, which we adapted from a 1970s oral history that Richard Rogers gave to business students at the University of North Texas.

In 1963, Mary Kay Ash set out to build a quality sales force. She knew that would take time. But she needed to make money to pay overhead costs right away.

So she chose to sell fashion wigs in addition to cosmetics and skin care. At the time, these wigs cost about $350. And they were very difficult to find. You couldn’t find them in department stores.

Mary Kay thought this exclusive item blended well with cosmetics. She was right. Wigs were very profitable. However, selling wigs was also a high-risk business with lots of returns.

The biggest problem came from hairdressers convincing the customers to buy something they didn’t want. A customer would order a wig. When it came in, the stylist would take it out of the box, cut it and style it before the woman picked it up.

Then when the customer came to try on the wig, she might decide she wanted a swirl of hair a different way. Well, the stylist would often refuse to change it — insisting that she looked gorgeous.

So the woman often left without paying for the wig or returned it the next day after her husband told her it looked awful. Mary Kay and Richard took those used wigs, restyled them and put them on mannequins and then sold them at a discount.

After the cosmetic business began to stabilize, Mary Kay and Richard decided to stop selling wigs. By then, department stores carried wigs, and the price had dropped dramatically. So wigs were no longer an exclusive or highly profitable item.

Please come back to the blog on Thursday when we feature Jeanna Doyle and her new book, Wig ED: What to Look for When Looking for a Wig. Millions of women cope with hair loss for a variety of reasons including cancer. This is the first book to address how to buy and take care of a wig. You won’t want to miss it!