BRANDON — The Pink Cadi-shack is packed.
Women file through the office door with powdered faces and lipsticked smiles. They wear black skirt suits and heels. Some sport the coveted red jacket, a status symbol within the pink bubble of Mary Kay cosmetics.
Up front is the woman they are all here to see. Joyce Recenello is beaming in her chocolate skirt suit, an outfit reserved only for senior directors. Swarovski crystal brooches sparkle with every hug she gives. Pins adorn her jacket, including a photo of the blond, bouffanted Mary Kay Ash and a golden "$500,000."
"Yay! I'm so excited you're here! Thanks for coming!" Recenello is saying.
She says "yay!" a lot. And why shouldn't she? She's living the dream. She cruises the suburbs of Brandon in her sixth pink Cadillac. She wears a diamond cocktail ring. She's got nine others in her jewelry box at home. All, and much more, are prizes from Mary Kay.
At 62, she makes more than $100,000 a year selling moisturizer and lipstick.
When she speaks at a recent meeting in Brandon, the women smile and clap. They can't wait to hear her secrets. The story of how she got here is right out of the Mary Kay manual. It's all about transformation . . .
She flashes perfectly manicured nails. She looks a decade younger than she is. Her skin is smooth, protected by years of age-fighting moisturizer. Her mauve-colored lips and taupe-shadowed eyelids coordinate with her java suit.
"I always say, 'I'm 63 in September, I feel like I'm 30 and I look 45,' " she says, giggling. "But hey, Mary Kay always said when you start feeling good on the outside, you start feeling good on the inside. Isn't that exciting?"
Eighteen years ago, she barely knew how to blend her foundation. And who knows what her pores were doing back then.
She was 45, trying to piece her life back together. Her marriage had ended when her husband left her for another woman.
She thinks life might have been different if the Tupperware thing had worked out. During their 17 years together, she hosted and attended plastic container parties. He always went with her to the seminars and conventions. But the company structure stifled growth. She didn't make much off Tupperware. The career and the marriage crumbled together.
"I would have forgiven him and taken him back," Recenello says. "But he didn't want me."
With no job, she signed up to sell Mary Kay. It was 1991.
Recenello purchased the full inventory — $3,000 in products — she would need to fill orders. Then she read Room at the Top, a book that profiled company sales directors, including the queen of pink herself, Mary Kay.
Most important, she learned that only F.E.A.R. — False Evidence Appearing Real — would keep her from reaching her goals. If she took that out of the equation of her life, what could stop her?
"Nothing!" she says. "The only reason I'm here is because Mary Kay said 'Get started and don't quit.' Isn't that great? I'm so excited!"
• • •
In the pink bubble, nothing is cold. You make warm chatter with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. You learn to step out of yourself and into other people. And if you can't, consider running around your dining room table six times.
"Then pick up your phone, breathless, and tell her about the free makeovers and products," Recenello says. "Mary Kay always said that everyone wears a sign around their neck that says, 'Make me feel special.' "
She had to learn the ways of eye shadow and lipliner. For example, always make a "C" with your accent shadow around the outer edges of the eye. Blush should always be applied on the apples of your cheeks, at least two fingers away from your nose.
She became a devotee of face wash, moisturizer and foundation. It is, after all, your pollution armor.
Soon she found herself wanting to touch her face all the time because it felt so soft. "My skin just felt so nice," she says. "And I felt more feminine."
Within a few months, she said, she was banking $400 to $500 a week, working 15 to 20 hours. She got busy dialing the numbers of family and friends, signing them up to become part of her "unit" — Mary Kay speak for a pack of saleswomen. In the first year she won a car.
Now her crew is on track to sell $650,000 worth of merchandise this year. She has nearly 200 people in 25 states and Puerto Rico. Those people have people. It's hard to say exactly how many lives she's touched after all these years.
"It's the lifestyles of the rich and famous," she says. "It's a paycheck of the heart. It's what we do, it's what we give. And it started with a $100 starter kit. Remember, National Sales Director also stands for 'Never Stop Dreaming'!"
• • •
It was her mother who launched her career in Mary Kay. The 80-year-old let Recenello take out a loan on her CD so her daughter would have what she needed for facials and products to sell.
It was also her mother who comforted her when it was hard to keep smiling.
Once, Recenello remembers crying when an appointment canceled on her at the last minute. She had been counting on the session for her first sales star, so she could attend a special dinner with a national sales director. It would be her first time meeting one.
"She said, 'I'll have a party,' and called up a few ladies from the senior center," Recenello says, laughing at the memories.
When they finally got around to the facial back at her mother's house, the ladies washed their faces and then put on a mask.
"The mask was on their eyes and in their hair. It was all over the place," she recalls. "But those ladies were so sweet. I sold $45, an eyebrow pencil and a lipstick. By the time I took them home, it had been a five-hour class. But I made my star."
When doctors diagnosed her mom with Alzheimer's, the flexible Mary Kay work schedule allowed Recenello to care for her while she worked. She did many facials from home, with her mother sitting by her side.
"The doorbell would ring, and she would say, 'Joyce, put the coffee on, we got company!' "
• • •
Hers is a pink world. In her kitchen, she has a pink toaster, a pink slow cooker, a pink coffee pot, a pink blender and a pink microwave.
Her cell phone? A pink flip phone. Her laptop computer? A Pepto Bismol-colored Gateway.
After Recenello's mom died in 1996, she moved to Brandon from Fort Lauderdale. She lives with Pierre, her toy poodle, in a three-bedroom, two-bath stucco house. Her daughter, son and grandchildren live nearby.
She keeps products all over the house, ready to go in plastic-wrapped gift packages. She'll never forget that time a man down the street came knocking on Christmas Eve. He needed a gift for his wife.
Most of her Mary Kay work gets done out by the pool with the help of assistants.
Her days start and end with Mary Kay face wash at her bathroom sink. She sandwiches makeovers, facials and meetings in between.
Everyone she meets is a potential customer. Random ladies at the grocery store and bank become friends who buy makeup. She usually points out how nice a woman's skin might be, or how great her cheekbones are.
Then she offers her a free chance to be pampered at the Pink Cadi-shack. Who can say no?
"This business is so much fun," Recenello says. "I get to play with makeup all day. People don't understand and think that it's for people who don't have anything else. But it's a real, genuine business. I love what I do. My life is a party."
She looks back and takes pride in who she has become. It's not so bad for a kid from the New Jersey projects who didn't make it to college.
Her only regret is that she didn't find out about Mary Kay earlier. Just think of where she could be if she had started out selling makeup instead of Tupperware.
She doesn't dwell on it. Frowning causes wrinkles.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.