PROFILE: In the pink

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

There’s a party going on at the Ironton City Center and everyone is in a festive mood, laughing, chatting and casting off the cares of the day. There’s a table laden with pizzas, cookies and sodas that everyone is diving into. And there are decorations galore, all glittery, sparkly and pink.

Wherever the eye can see, it’s pink and not just your garden rose variety of pink, at all. It’s not hot pink. Not pale pink. Not even candy cane pink. No, this shade is Mary Kay Ash pink and with the right kind of woman it’s pink that can be turned into a lot of green.

Deb Barker has shown she is that kind of woman as she dresses in her navy power suit, ruby red 3-inch heels and perfectly manicured nails.

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The perfect hostess and the perfect businesswoman. And it’s the blue blazer that makes up part of her ensemble that is a visible sign of her financial success.

By having it in her closet, it means that in just seven years she is already a Mary Kay director.

“Mary Kay is my ministry,” said Barker, who believes she was led to sell the skin care and makeup line through what she calls divine intervention. It’s a story — call it a testimony — the Ironton woman eagerly shares with anyone who will listen. And a lot of those who do listen end up seeing the light and signing up.

That’s why the party she hosted recently was more than a time to introduce a group of women to a new cosmetic line.

It was her pulpit as she preached with the passion of the convert on how selling creams, lotions and powders can transform more than a woman’s face.

It can change her life. Barker knows that for a fact; it’s what happened to this onetime banking executive and she’s not looking back.

“I was chained to the corporate world, chained to my office,” Barker said. “To the outside world, I probably did look as if I had it all. But I wasn’t happy.”

Sporadically she had used some of the products from the company that in 2008 had $2.6 billion in wholesale sales. But as she joked to the women that night at the city center, no matter how much she hated her day job, she wasn’t about to start selling lipstick out of the back of her car.

That all changed when she got a phone call from her son one morning. Stuck in traffic in Cincinnati, her son had the radio flipped on to a talk channel. There he listened to the stories of women who talked about ways they found success in the working world.

Then one listener called in to talk about the Mary Kay opportunity.

Barker’s son told his mother later, “I can’t explain it, but I just really felt God’s presence on it and I want you to check in on this.”

Ironically, Barker had an appointment with her Mary Kay consultant the next day.

“No one had ever told me about the business side of Mary Kay,” Barker said. But that evening she went through the pamphlets that detail how to become a Mary Kay consultant, the proper terminology, by the way, not a sales rep.

“I went through all four brochures and thought this is the best kept secret in Lawrence County,” she said. “Sign me up.”

Two months after she started selling, Barker quit her corporate job and focused all her energies on finding women who would buy Mary Kay and sell it.

“It has been a whirlwind,” she said. “I could see I would reap what I sowed. In the corporate world, many times you work really hard and the person next to you gets the promotion.”

That’s not the case with Mary Kay where consultants earn 50 percent of what they sell, plus a variety of lucrative bonuses for upper sales goals. None more well-known than the Mary Kay pink Cadillac.

But being your own boss doesn’t mean an instant ticket to success.

Even in a one-woman operation, a business plan, simultaneously feasible and ambitious, has to be created, then implemented. However this time it’s without the typical support groups found in the corporate world.

“When you are your own boss sometimes it is hard to be disciplined,” Barker said. “But if you hold two facials or parties a week, you will climb to the top. I just kept at it.”

And at it and at it. No one is ever overlooked as a potential client for Barker who has never met a stranger. That’s how she has garnered team members from California, Tennessee and Cincinnati and a six-figure income.

“I do it by talking to women,” she said. “I approach women at the mall and give them a business card.”

Also the cards used for door prize drawings at Mary Kay parties are kept and the information logged for possible future use.

Once when she was getting on an airplane and carrying a Mary Kay product case, with the name pointing out for all to see, a fellow passenger asked her about the cosmetic line. For the rest of the trip Barker gave her a trans-continental sales pitch.

“By the time the airplane trip was over, I had recruited her and her friend,” she said. “It is all about getting out of your comfort zone.”