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Screen Shot 2013-07-07 at 11.54.17 AMEstee’ Lauder mirrored compact, back and front.  Circa late 90s.


Part one of three.


One morning in early 1999 I got a call at my Studio from an area code 212.  I knew that was Manhattan but I knew nobody in Manhattan.  

“May I speak to Ken Brown,” I heard in a crisp, well-enunciated female voice.

 “Good morning, this is Ken, how may I help you?”  

She told me her name and said she was in the corporate offices of Estee Lauder on Fifth Avenue in New York.  

“I have a question.”

 “Yes, how may I help you?” I replied.  

“Where are the other Ken Browns?”  

The question fascinated me and I didn’t quite know quite how to respond at that instant.  I took a deep breath and a pause. 

“Well, there are probably a few in the New York phone book; have you looked there?”  

Deep in my psyche, I KNEW why she was asking the question but wanted to play along for a moment.  She hastened to confirm my suspicions.  She was referring to other ‘Ken Brown-types’ who could do what I had been doing with their products for the past three years.  Then my pulse rate climbed about 20 points as we continued to talk.

What I didn’t realize over those past 3 years was that the events the company’s Oklahoma and Texas account executives had been booking me for were causing serious notice all the way up the food chain to corporate in NY.  

One Saturday in 1996 I was working a 4 hour gig for the Oscar de la Renta fragrance line, engraving their bottles in a major Dallas department store.  I had made that connection though an absolutely amazing chain of events 3 years earlier.  But that’s another story.  While I was personalizing those gorgeous bottles, a young woman from the Estee Lauder counter came across the department to where I was working.

 “Excuse me, Ken, but do you know Nancy F. at the Estee Lauder corporate offices in nearby Irving, Texas?”  

“Nope.  Should I?”  

She assured me I should.  Nancy was a regional director with about 20 underlings who handled the Dallas, Ft. Worth market.

The next day in my Studio I called Nancy F. and told her one of her lieutenants at Foley’s Town East had suggested I call her about the work I do.  Her sales associate could visualize my elegant script on the Lauder products and was anxious for Nancy to learn about it.  The phone call was brief, but long enough for me to give her the ‘Cliffs notes’ version of my skill.  I sensed she was keenly interested by her few questions.

 “Is your equipment portable?  Can you do any shape bottle or compact?  Can you engrave mirrors as well as metal?”  

Each of my answers was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”  

Inside of two minutes I had an appointment for 10:00 the next morning in her regional offices at Las Colinas, in Irving.  She asked me to bring my equipment and do a quick demonstration.  I had anticipated sitting across a conference table from her with a couple of bottles waiting for my drill.  I arrived a few minutes early.  As quickly as I came into the office the receptionist told me ‘they’ were expecting me.  They?  

She opened the door and there, at the head of a huge conference table, Nancy stood up to greet me.  Around that table sat a mix of about 20 male and female Estee Lauder account executives from Texas and Oklahoma.  I took a deep breath, feeling like I was there for an inquisition instead of a demonstration.  

Nancy introduced me, though they all were expecting me since she had told them I’d be there for a quick demonstration of my engraving.  I got set up and then was asked to speak and give a quick overview to her group.  I did and was then handed two fragrance bottles.  One was a BEAUTIFUL bottle….that’s both the description of the bottle and the name of the fragrance…and a PLEASURES bottle.  One curved front and back and the other round, tapering slightly at both ends.  

I engraved HAPPY BIRTHDAY on one and I LOVE YOU on the other…both took only about 2-3 minutes total.  They cooed.  They oohed.  They aahhed.  Nancy thanked me and asked if anyone had questions before I left.  The Oklahoma girl did.  She wanted to talk after the meeting.  Within a few minutes she came outside the room and we struck a deal for an event at SAKS FIFTH AVENUE in Tulsa coming up in about 2 weeks.  

I did that event.  It was a barn-burner!  Tami sent me an airline ticket, arranged for and paid for the hotel room, and met me at the airport.  We went straight to SAKS in the Utica Square shopping center.  There seemed to be a great urgency in getting to the store, though the event was still about 4 hours away from starting.  We arrived and I pulled my two small black cases of equipment trailing behind my quick steps trying to keep even with Tami.  We parked the equipment at my spot in the Estee’ Lauder area.  I met some of the sales ladies and then she asked me to follow her through the shoe department and back into the storeroom.

 “LOOK!” she exclaimed as she pointed to 4′ x 4′ metal shelves stacked floor to ceiling.  

“WHAT?” I exclaimed right back at her.  

“It’s all PRE-SELL!” she replied.  “They’ve sold six-thousand dollars worth of fragrance and compacts and you’re now that far behind before you even start…and that’s wonderful!!”  

I had a rush.  Not an adrenalin one, but a ‘what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-now?’ rush.  

The event was a raging success.  So successful that I could not finish it that day and into the evening.  There was still a mound of Saks sacks that I had not touched.  It was a ‘special points’ day or some specially-promoted store-wide event to get customers in the store for triple points for future purchases.  

Well, the Lauder part of the event worked beyond their wildest imagination.  Tami asked me if I could stay over until later-than-planned the next day.  I could.  She rearranged the return flight.  I came back the next morning and by noon I had finished all the purchases I couldn’t finish the evening before.   By the time all the literal dust had settled, it was a humongous sales day for the Lauder ladies and their hero, Tami, for bringing me in for something nobody had ever seen or heard of.

 Of course I had no idea that Tami had called (before any of us had texting and emailing on our phones!) Nancy, and Nancy had called New York before we had left the store for the airport. 

The whole bloomin’ chain of command knew about the success of our first engraving event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Triplets being born between lipstick and makeup at high noon would not have caused as much clamor as this new offering of personalization on Estee Lauder products to a somewhat elite crowd of ladies in Tulsa.  Of course the ripples from that first Lauder event caused….

Part two

• The continuation of the NY phone conversation  •The ultimate question from the caller  •The UPS delivery that was…and is still unbelievable

-Ken Brown

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

  1. jerry July 8, 2013 at 2:16 am #

    WOW! Dreams don’t even come close to that kind of business dropping in your lap.


  1. KEN BROWN ENGRAVING WANTS YOUR ANSWER TO A QUESTION. | Glass Calligraphy Engraving | Ken Brown - July 17, 2013

    […] The answer to Suzie’s question is simple.  It can be stated at least a couple of different ways in 4 words or less.  The three-part blog title was about an ‘ESTEE LAUDER MISTAKE OR MIRACLE?’  Suzie said the story was about neither.  The three blogs start here. […]

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