Times must be tough over at Mary Kay. Instead of focusing on “enriching women’s lives” as the company is so fond of saying, they’re instead busy running around suing all kinds of people. A couple of weeks ago, Mary Kay filed suit against Yahoo for including advertisements with Mary Kay keywords in their email service.
Frankly, I don’t think they’re going to get very far with this, since users of Yahoo’s email service likely agree to let Yahoo put advertising in the emails via the user agreement. And if you’re in Mary Kay and talking about Mary Kay in your emails, it’s likely that the advertising you agreed to is going to include Mary Kay items.
But back to the subject at hand…
The lawsuit filed last year against Touch of Pink Cosmetics wasn’t the slam-dunk Mary Kay apparently thought it would be. And they still haven’t come out winners in that one. But they must press forward and keep suing liquidators. The latest targets of the Mary Kay attack are Karla Balladeres and Pink Face Cosmetics . (Remember how Mary Kay objected to Touch of Pink using the word or color “pink” because it’s so closely associated with Mary Kay??? This lawsuit makes no mention of Mary Kay’s exclusive right to use pink, but it’s interesting anyway.)
The lawsuit says that Karla became a Mary Kay consultant in July 2005, and goes on to quote the beauty consultant agreement at length. Of course, the main points repeated are that the consultant agrees not to sell in retail establishments, to protect the May Kay trademarks, and to get approval from Mary Kay before using the Mary Kay name in any advertising. Karla became a sales director on March 1, 2008, and the lawsuit goes on to quote the sales director agreement .
Here’s where it gets good… Karla has been running pinkfacecosmetics.com and has had a store on eBay. Mary Kay found out and terminated her consultant and director agreements, effective July 2, 2009. Mary Kay says Karla contacted them and said this was a case of mistaken identity, so they reinstated her agreements to give her time to clear her name. The lawsuit says:
On information and belief, Ms. Balladares provided intentionally misleading or fraudulent information to Mary Kay to maintain her status as an Independent Beauty Consultant and Independent Sales Director for the purpose of continuing her fraud against Mary Kay. More specifically, Ms. Balladares informed Mary Kay that she had been working with a police detective and that the detective provided her with the identities of two people, one of which allegedly owned Pink Face Cosmetics, and the other allegedly owned a P.O. Box associated with Pink Face Cosmetics. Mary Kay believes this information is untrue, as Mary Kay continues to find information that identifies Ms. Balladares as the owner of Pink Face Cosmetics.
Karla’s contracts were ultimately terminated on July 16, 2009. Check out this statement in the lawsuit:
Because she is no longer a Mary Kay independent Beauty Consultatn, Ms. Balladares no longer has the ability to purchase Mary Kay products directly from Mary Kay; nor does she have any contractual right or license to use the Mary Kay marks.
That was very cleverly worded. They’re right… she doesn’t have a “contractual right” to use the marks, but she still has a legal right to use the name Mary Kay. Someone who legally possess items that are authentic Mary Kay products has the legal right to tell others that the products are “Mary Kay” brand, and using the Mary Kay name in that regard is not trademark infringement (although Mary Kay is trying to make it so that it is).
The lawsuit then goes on to say that Karla recruited people to become beauty consultants so that they could provide products to Pink Face Cosmetics. Are they serious? We all know the economics of this. A consultant purchases a product from Mary Kay for $10, with a sugggested retail price of $20. Pink Face Cosmetics pays $5 for that product, and if they’re like other liquidators, they hope to sell the product for $10 on the website. What consultant in their right mind is going to be recruited for the purpose of supplying products to Pink Face? Basic math would tell them they will lose money every time.
Like in the Touch of Pink Cosmetics lawsuit, Karla is being accused of “inducing” women to violate their beauty consultant agreements with Mary Kay.
And the heart of the lawsuit is the use of the Mary Kay name. Mary Kay is saying that Karla is using their name without authorization. Again, if Karla is selling authentic Mary Kay products, the law allows her to identify the name brand. But th lawsuit says:
Defendants’ unauthorized use of Mary Kay’s trademarks and name has confused or is likely to confuse consumers as to the affiliation, connection, or association of Defendants with Mary Kay, as well as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of Defendants’ goods, services, or commercial activities by Mary Kay. As a result of the confusion that has been or is likely to be engendered by Defendants’ activities, May Kay’s trademarks and associated valuable goodwill are therefore being irreparably harmed.
Then Mary Kay goes on to make complaints similar to the issues in the Touch of Pink lawsuit. They say Karla was purchasing keyword advertising from Google and other search engines using the words “Mary Kay.” That advertising often shows up on web pages with the words “Sponsored By” inserted by the company selling the advertising. Common sense users of the internet know this means that particular web page is “sponsored” by those paying for the advertising shown, but Mary Kay is trying to stretch this to mean that the advertising showing up is somewhow affiliated with or approved by Mary Kay. (Nice try, but that’s just silly.)
And Mary Kay says Pink Face Cosmetics is destroying relationships:
Defendants’s misconduct has harmed and continues to harm Mary Kay, its Independent Beauty Consultants, and its trademarks. Specifically, the continued willful and deceitful acts of Defendants have resulted in the loss of business, including the actual loss of valuable business relationships exisitng between Mary Kay and its Independent Beauty Consultants, harm to its reputation and goodwill. On information and belief, the intentional interference by the Defendants with Mary Kay’s contractual relationships also has resulted in the loss of sales opprotunities for other Independent Beauty Consultatns. The loss of sales opportunities for its Independent Beauty Consultants is deterimental to Mary Kay and its business model.
So what they’re essentially saying is that Pink Face sells cosmetics to customers because their prices are lower than that of beauty consultants. Guess what Mary Kay? That’s called competition. And no one is required to sell their products at higher prices just so they don’t make a sale instead of a competitor making a sale. Further, Mary Kay can’t claim any sort of loss on behalf of the consultants who didn’t sell their junk. That loss (if any) would be to the consultant, not to Mary Kay Inc.
But I suppose the company is right in one regard: The business of liquidating Mary Kay products is detrimental to the “business model” because it shows women that:
- The products are overpriced at retail
- The products are difficult to sell at retail
- The market is flooded with Mary Kay products
- The Mary Kay business isn’t viable for most consultants
Once those things are made clear to the public, it becomes more difficult to recruit new marks into the scheme. The problem with this is that Mary Kay doesn’t have any legal right to stop others from doing things that reveal what a sham the purported “business” of an Independent Beauty Consultant is.
The lawsuit goes on about the trademark issue, and claims that Pink Face Cosmetics isn’t entitled to use the Mary Kay name because it’s causing confusion and harming their goodwill.
Karla Balladares and Pink Face Cosmetics are being sued for:
- Breach of contract – She violated her consultant and director agreements.
- Fraud – She made false statements to Mary Kay and recruited consultants into Mary Kay to provide products to Pink Face.
- Interference with contract – She induced women to breach their contracts with Mary Kay. (Like in the Touch of Pink lawsuit, I can’t see an actual harm to Mary Kay in this. She was purchasing products from consultants that they had purchased from Mary Kay. Therefore Mary Kay already made all the profit on those products that they could. How is reselling those products harmful to Mary Kay?)
- Unfair competition – No explanation is provided for this part.
- Trademark infringement – She is using Mary Kay’s goodwill by using the name Mary Kay in the Pink Face business.
- More unfair competition
- More trademark infringement
- Attorneys fees – Mary Kay wants Karla to pay their fees to litigate this matter.
- Unjust enrichment – Mary Kay says she has been “circumventing” Mary Kay’s “direct sales model,” and has been receiving commissions and prizes constituting unjust enrichment.
What do we know about this liquidator? The Pink Face Cosmetics website is currently showing the following message:
Pink Face Cosmetics is curently closed for Maintenance. We are working so Hard to continue offering the Best Products and Prices in Market. We are in the process to add new Products.
Thanks for Choosing Us and Please Check Back Later.
But here’s what the site looked like just a week ago (click on the image to see it full size):
You’ll see a disclaimer on that page which is almost identical to the one Touch of Pink Cosmetics has been using recently:
Pink Face Cosmetics is not endorsed by, affiliated with or approved by Mary Kay Inc. We assist concultants to liquidate their inventory. We offer Mary Kay Products at great discount. Most of our items are discontinued, past shelf life or expired, which is why we can offer you such great prices.
And it would appear that they did a sloppy job of copying from Touch of Pink. Here’s what they say about their services:
Whoops! Might want to take out “Touch of Pink”!
And you’ll find this on the “About” page for Pink Face:
Here’s what is currently up on eBay for Pink Face:
Now I’m not condoning what Karla did. If the lawsuit correctly recites the facts, Karla was in volation of her consultant and director contracts. Unfortunately, those contracts are very restrictive and while people are operating under them, they take a risk engaging in any sort of liquidation or side business related to Mary Kay products.
However, I am questioning Mary Kay’s repeated filing of lawsuits claiming trademark infringement. They’re clearly trying to scare everyone away from liquidating the products. Like I said above, if the truth gets out about what a poor opportunity is for consultants, recruiting becomes more difficult. The liquidators simply illustrate the problem… and I can see why Mary Kay is scared.
The company is going to scare the world into not (lawfully) reselling the products which consultants and directors have so difficult a time selling (thanks to the products being overpriced, of marginal quality, regularly made obsolete by the company, and simply because too much product is being pushed out on the market via the recruiting pyramid scheme)… well they’re going to have to file lawsuits that have the potential for big money. Big dollars equals big fear of the corporate giant.