KEN BROWN ENGRAVING NOW CAN TELL…and ask the question: WAS IT AN ESTEE LAUDER MISTAKE OR MIRACLE? Part two of three.

Ken Brown’s full web site •••

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 8.56.28 AMTwo other Estee’ Lauder mirrored compacts.  Circa late 90s.

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Part two of three

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Of course the ripples from that first Lauder event caused my phone to ring for others in rapid succession.  All could plainly see that the addition of personalization on their compacts, fragrance bottles, and shiny metal lipstick tubes was having a giant impact on their sales.

Between that first event in Tulsa, and the call from the lady at Lauder corporate who asked, “Where are the other Ken Browns?,” there were dozens and dozens of events for them.  All had been in only in Texas and Oklahoma and they were booked by several account executives in that room where I did the demo for Nancy and her team.  In Oklahoma it was only in Oklahoma City, Norman, and Tulsa.  Most all the events were Dillard’s department stores.  

In Texas I worked in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and smaller venues in McAllen, Wichita Falls, and Tyler, Texas.  Still, through all those many events I didn’t realize just what an impact this new dimension was having on the sales and corporate.  Indeed, I was crazy busy at each and they kept raising the bar in their expectations.  I kept up with their every wish and exceeded many of them.  

So, when the call came from corporate and the question was asked about others possessing my skill, I had a sense quite soon why I got the call.  I explained I was a long-experienced Calligrapher with a history in teaching, writing instruction books, and traveling internationally for Hunt Manufacturing in Philadlephia.  Hunt was the company who began distributing my instruction books on learning Calligraphy; they also funded the series, KEN BROWN’S CALLIGRAPHY FOR EVERYONE on Public Television that ran from 1984-1996.  Finally when she realized I was the only individual in the country who had married a dental drill with professional-grade lettering, she asked,

“Can you teach what you do?”  Of course I told her I could, having never given that a thought before that moment. 

“We could use other people like you!  When could you provide others you’ve trained?”  

“Yes, I’m certain I could teach my skill with the drill; I’ve done it successfully for over 30 years with pen and ink.  Let me give that some thought.”  

She was good with that.  There was no timeline set and no pressing dates for me to get back to her.  Meanwhile the local Lauder people were continuing to call me for events in the cities I mentioned earlier. 

Several months passed after that first NY conversation, then I got another unforgettable call from the Lauder offices.  This time from another lady handling special events in Manhattan and surrounding areas.

 “Hi, Ken.  This is Sue from Estee Lauder in New York.  I want to see if we can schedule you to come up for a two-week stay and work a number of stores here.”  

“Sure, I’d love that.”  

“If we can pick dates that work for you, we’ll fly you up, put you in a nice hotel, and take care of all your transportation and food while here.”  

“Great!  Let’s talk!”  

We discussed my fee and some other particulars.  She was cool with every detail.  In addition to my fee, I was even gutsy enough to ask for a large round of fragrances for Gail and me when she shipped the samples I’d engrave for store samples before I arrived there.  No sweat.

She chose two weeks in October, 2000, that would work for both of us.  The trip would be routine as for the travel and knowing what to do when I got there.  A month or so before the arrival date I got airline tickets.  They arranged for a driver to pick me up at LaGuardia Airport.  All was set.  

As the time approached for my departure from Dallas, I thought of every detail countless times.  Burs.  Extra drill.  Extra compressor.  Rub ‘N Buff.  Enough clothes.  Remember, this is 14 days in New York with no chance to run down to Michael’s and grab some more color.  No wiggle room for any contingencies not covered.  It all had to work flawlessly.  

On the agreed date, I flew to New York.  My equipment preceded me on this one.  To make absolutely certain there was no snafu in checking my equipment as extra baggage (cannot even IMAGINE the cost of doing that with current baggage rules!)  and having it be lost, the Lauder folks agreed to give me their FedEx number so I could button everything up and ship it straight to Bloomingdales at 59th and 3rd Ave.  I arrived at LaGuardia.  The driver and limo were there for me.  They knew my hotel.  I didn’t.

Gail and I had been to NY several times so I was somewhat familiar with where I was and enjoyed the drive into Manhattan from the airport.  As we got into the city, I asked the driver where we were going.  “The Plaza.”  

The PLAZA?”

 “Yes, they’re expecting you to check in this afternoon.”  

“Oh, I see.”  

I played it cool, though I was expecting the mid-town Holiday Inn close to Stage Deli and my anticipated pastrami sandwich 9″ tall and a cream soda!  None such for Estee Lauder.  Only First Class accommodations for their guests.  I checked into the Plaza Hotel and felt like royalty.  A tall cut above what I expected.  

The next morning Sue met me in the lobby just after I had come down from brushing my teeth after a $42. breakfast including orange juice, two eggs, and toast.  No meat.  We walked the short distance to the legendary Bloomingdales department store.  It was a heady experience.  Started to ask her to pinch me to make sure it was all real.  Decided we didn’t know each other quite well enough so I braved the experience and decided it was real.  For that Monday and the next 4 days, I was in that store, in the Estee’ Lauder department, engraving bottles and compacts non-stop.  I was in my element!  

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 12.01.56 PM They gave me the weekend off to do as I pleased.  Gail arrived Saturday morning and we had a grand time for two days before she left early Monday.  The next week I was squired around Long Island to various other Bloomingdales as well as a Neiman Marcus in New Jersey.  After a long Monday of engraving, I was taken back to the hotel.  

I went straight to the bar on ground level in the northeast corner of that great hotel.  Malcolm, the mustached and fit-looking bartender already knew my favorite and brought it right away.  It was a welcome whistle-wetter after a long day on Long Island. I was at the short end of the bar, next to the 59th street window looking straight at the south end of Central Park.  

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 11.40.34 AM

As I sat there contemplating the previous week, and the second one now well under way, my thoughts strayed to the conversation with the lady in the Lauder offices just across Fifth Avenue from where I sat.  Surely she knew I was in town, though I wouldn’t have a chance to follow up on our earlier conversation about classes and teaching others my engraving method.  While finishing my cocktail, I scrawled a few hasty notes on a paper napkin outlining how I thought an engraving class would be put together.  

Within the next half an hour, I had the genesis of the format, content, and length of a seminar.  I even walked to the concierge to consult a calendar (none on my archaic flip phone!) and set the first Ken Brown Professional Engraving Seminar for Memorial Day weekend, 2001.  When the two weeks in New York were wrapped, I headed home to get back into my familiar groove.  Christmas was nearing and I knew it would be crazy.  

Before the dust had settled in NY, and I was back home planning a busy season in local stores, I got a call to come back.  This time for 4 days.  On the second trip I did Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Macy’s on 34th Avenue.  Stayed at the Plaza again.  Incredible times.  

Fast forward to early April, 2001.  My class outline was coming together.  In my rather minimal promotional efforts, I managed to get 5 people to sign up for my first class Memorial Day weekend.  I was traveling a lot and most of my contacts were personal with artists I met at several art shows, as well as those who were seeing a very young, not very sophisticated Ken Brown website at the time.  We were about 6 weeks out from the class.  Compacts had been a part of the Lauder landscape since the beginning for me and I knew they would be for students I hoped to see from various areas of the country.  

How could I get some compacts for classes?

 Lauder wanted me to teach.  Students would need how to know how to do compacts if I sent them out into the world.  So, I wrote a letter to the lady who made the first call so she’d understand and know my request.  Told her I’d be happy if someone at the manufacturing facility would raid the trash bin and send duds that had been scratched or otherwise chunked there by quality control.  Some mirrored lids would be great.  Some unattached backs would be terrific.  Just asked her to send a box of whatever they could scrape up from the assembly area.  

Three week later Brad, my UPS driver, who always came to the front door with a miscellaneous box or two every once in a while came in the front door with instructions to meet him at the back door.  That was strange.  No explanation.  He drove away and I went to the back of my studio in a 7-office, stand alone strip office building.  By the time I had the back door open, Brad was setting boxes on the pavement.  I stood there speechless as he…..

Part three, final.

•Rest of the UPS delivery   •My immediate fear and exultation   •Twelve years later

-Ken Brown

2 Responses to KEN BROWN ENGRAVING NOW CAN TELL…and ask the question: WAS IT AN ESTEE LAUDER MISTAKE OR MIRACLE? Part two of three.

  1. Marianne July 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Always enjoy your postings! Hope all is well!

  2. Tony July 8, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Great story Ken, looking forward to part 3.
    Best Regards,
    Tony