In a surprising move, Tyra Banks has quit her second show in as many months.
Banks stunned the world (OK, a diminishing slice of it) in October with her announcement that she was bringing America’s Next Top Model to a close at the end of this cycle.1
And now she’s quitting her own syndicated talk show, FABLife, before anyone even figured out what the hell station it’s on and when. Banks has only been at FABLife for two months, and in fact cross-promoted FABLife on Top Model just a week ago.
Banks says she wants to focus her energies on her Tyra Beauty cosmetics line, which will not be a shock to anyone who follows Top Model. Banks has for several cycles been popping into hair and makeup sessions to tout her expertise, and of late she’s been bringing in her own products as well, complete with mandatory clips of the models saying how great they are. This cycle, Tyra spent an entire Top Model episode having the models shoot an extended commercial for the line, and on an earlier episode had two of the eventual Top Four pose as dolls in Tyra Beauty–branded boxes.
Tyra Beauty is problematic. Banks is nothing if not ambitious, and has always patterned herself on lofty role models. It’s almost certain that in starting this line, she was thinking about the remarkable Madam C.J. Walker, who started a hair care product line for African-American women that grew into a cosmetics empire. Walker became a self-made millionaire, donated massive amounts to charity and education, and provided a way for her salespeople, black women known as Walker Agents, to gain a level of financial independence that they had never had before. In short, she made a ton of money and did genuine good in the world.
Tyra Banks probably does aspire to do both. For that to happen, she would need to:
- Attach her name to high-quality products.
- Make them available at a reasonable price point.
- Work hard to create and maintain a win-win system that’s set up to make both her and her “beautytainers” money.
Of course the success of the company remains to be seen, but there are reasons to believe that her execution may be…imperfect. The reviews for Tyra products are mixed, with most reviewers very enthusiastic about some of her products, baffled by others, and OK with those in the middle.
The reviews on Tyra’s site play a little fast and loose with the averages. If you look at the page for Smack My Fat Lash (Yes really.), you’ll see what looks like a five-star average. But if you click through, there are actually a couple of one- and two-star reviews in there. Overall, shady website review averaging and terrible double entendre product names aside, Tyra doesn’t seem to have skimped on production.
But the price point is tricky. Tyra says makeup is the great beauty equalizer, but that Smack My Fat Lash mascara costs $24.
In contrast, mascara from Covergirl, a former Top Model partner, will run you from $6–8. Revlon costs even less. Tyra’s lipstick is also $24, compared to about $8 for L’Oreal, $5 from Maybelline, and $10 from Rimmel London. Maybe it’s the commissioned mobile sales force? Not quite. Avon lipstick runs from $8–11 and Mary Kay is $10–18. A complete look “Tyover” makeup bundle will run you about $100, and the cheapest is $85.
I’m not sure who Tyra thinks her market is, but she’s cutting out a lot of the young viewers to whom she’s been so diligently flacking her brand. She also doesn’t seem to have thought all the way through how her representatives – Hold on to your cranium, because she calls them “beautytainers” – will be able to find buyers. She’s aiming this at young women and (by implication) lower-income women who want to take on part-time or side work in order to move up in the world, and those are probably not women who can drop $25 on lipstick. To whom are they meant to sell?
And, indeed, when one delves into the website, screwing over the beautytainers becomes a bit of a theme. Tyra wants the casual observer to believe that her business model is Tupperware, with women holding parties to do product demos. But in fact, her main business model is Amway. Tyra’s salespeople are meant to keep recruiting other beautytainers underneath them and collect a percentage of their profits.
Remember how you got your last job and then handed your boss some money for hiring you? Of course you don’t, but that’s what happens here. You have to pay Tyra’s company $60 just to sign up as a beautytainer. Then, to get your starter kit of products, you have to pay another $80–$139. You’ll also be paying Tyra a monthly “technology fee” for the privilege of selling her stuff and recruiting her new sales force. Tyra says that this project is about empowering women, but this is a new usage of “empowering” that I’m not familiar with.
You’ll get a commission on your sales, but remember that even if you’re selling online, you’ll be directly competing with Tyra’s website, from which people can order directly. Even if you make a sale, there is literally no reason for that person to contact you when he or she finally blows through that $24 Cheek in a Stick.
I’m not saying it won’t work. Tyra Banks has been nothing if not savvy about marketing herself. I just wish she’d given a little more thought to that fierce sales army.