What started out as a simple solution to a nagging problem turned into a lifelong career for a Minot woman.
Lee Clouse has been selling Mary Kay products for more than 35 years, spending the last 33 years in a management role. She originally became interested in selling Mary Kay because of how difficult it was finding someone to buy it from.
"At that time there weren't very many consultants, and consultants just don't advertise in the paper and stuff like that," Clouse said. "So it was very hard to find someone to buy the product from."
Lee Clouse sits next to a cosmetics display in her office April 30. The display, much like Clouse’s office, combines her love of antique collecting with her passion for Mary Kay products.
Her husband, Cal, was in the Air Force at the time, and the problem became even more vexing to Clouse when they moved to the Philippines from 1974 to 1976. She had a friend stateside who had agreed to send Clouse products, but the situation was less than ideal.
"That was well before (easy long-distance communication). It was relay phones, and you didn't call home, it was write a letter," Clouse said. "And so I would write her a letter and say I needed this, this and this, and she was pretty good about sending it to me."
One particular time Clouse didn't get the product when she needed it, and was forced to buy something close at the base exchange. After trying it at home and being severely disappointed, Clouse vowed never to use anything but Mary Kay again.
"I remember saying that out loud, and as soon as my stuff came in I threw the other stuff in the garbage," Clouse said.
When they moved back to Minot Air Force Base, which was their second time in the Magic City, Clouse began her search for a consultant to reliably get products from. Word got around and a consultant finally called her one day. During one of their conversations, Clouse mentioned how difficult it was finding and keeping a consultant on base because everybody was always moving away sooner or later.
"She said, 'Well why don't you do it yourself?' At first I said no, no, no, I have no experience," Clouse said. "I was a stay-at-home mom, I didn't know anything about how to run a business."
The consultant tried to convince Clouse by telling her about the company's training program, and Clouse's husband told her to just try it and see how she liked it.
"I was going to do it for six months and see how I liked it, and it's 35 years later," Clouse said with a laugh. "I loved it. I loved helping women look good and feel good. I loved being able to get my product when I want it."
She also loves the flexibility Mary Kay offers, with no quotas, no territories for consultants to fight over, and extremely flexible working hours.
After her husband's retirement from the Air Force, Clouse said they realized Minot is where they wanted to stay, and they've been here ever since.
"When he retired from the Air Force we just stayed. We have five children and they were in high school and junior high, and they didn't want to leave," Clouse said. "And we liked Minot, so we stayed."
Clouse is currently an independent senior sales director, and said her rise to a management position was once again thanks to there being so few other consultants around at the time.
"I did not know of any management people when I became a consultant. The person who sponsored me into the company, a week after that she's gone, they transferred," Clouse said. "And so I didn't know any other Mary Kay people."
Since consultants have no territories, just customers, Clouse's director at the time was in Omaha, Neb. With the director's guidance, Clouse started training other consultants, and the director eventually told her she should just go into management herself since she was already doing everything the position entailed, but wasn't getting paid for the added responsibility. It didn't take much more convincing to get Clouse to move up.
"I really think it's important that people are trained, they know what they're doing. Education to me is real important in the business," Clouse said. "Education and motivation."
In her role as director, Clouse holds weekly meetings with local consultants for education and motivation. She also publishes a monthly newsletter and is in phone and email contact with her consultants, who are spread out all over the country, again, because there are no territories. Clouse said many of those consultants are friends or family of consultants she has in Minot.
One of the unique perks Clouse has enjoyed over the years is the use of 18 different cars which Mary Kay leased for her. That used to be a benefit only offered to management, but Clouse said it is now offered to all consultants with at least five other consultants on their team. Qualifying for a free car is based strictly on sales volume of a consultant's or director's team. If you qualify, Mary Kay pays 85 percent of the insurance, and all licensing, sales tax and leasing fees. There is also no mileage restriction on the car, so Clouse can drive it as much as she wants. About all she has to pay for is gas and the occasional oil change.
"You can use the car for whatever you want to use it for, and then you requalify every two years," Clouse said. "I remember telling my husband when I got my first car, I said if all I need to do really is continue to build my business and build my team, I'm not going to buy another car. So I haven't."
Clouse currently has a Chevrolet Equinox, and will be upgrading to a fully loaded, pink Cadillac SRX crossover this June.
When she's not selling Mary Kay, Clouse likes to collect antiques, many of which decorate the home office she uses for her business. She also does some decorating for her friends and goes to auction sales with her husband. Two daughters and a son still live in Minot, while her other two sons live in Utah and Arkansas. Of her 13 grandchildren, three live in Minot.
Mary Kay has certainly given Clouse much over the years. However, perhaps the biggest gift of all isn't being able to try out different products or drive shiny, new cars, but the opportunity to build so many lasting friendships, both with fellow consultants and with clients. In fact, Clouse makes sure to send every client a birthday card every year just to let them know she's thinking of them.
"Many of our customers become good friends because it's very personal working with people with their skin products and stuff," Clouse said. "So a lot of customers become good friends of yours, they're not just a customer or a client. They're friends."
Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to email@example.com.