What would lead a perfectly handsome, 25-year-old man to regularly shoot botox into his face? The first rule of being a smart boy: Always look good.
It’s that same drive which leads perfectly gorgeous young women to load their chests with silicone, who now have handsome counterparts in those legions of straight, attractive men you see looking a little out of place in the department store cosmetics section.
You might think they’re just regular salespeople, but they aren’t – these guys are freelancers, and they’re called “smart boys.”
Suited up and mobbed by women with fancy purses and hard cash, a smart boy’s job is to lure them in with his hot appearance, flattering compliments and minutes of sincere attention. His job is to sell stuff – mostly cosmetics – and he is perfectly placed in that venue most-clogged with ladies, the shopping mall.
A gender-balancing answer to the legions of “pretties” paid to stand around stores and events to promote products, smart boys say that while pretties rely on physical assets to draw men’s attention, their job is more complex and more sensitive because they have to deal with the complicated needs of women.
“We’re like the main blood vessel of the mall, “ said Boy, 25, who’s worked in the industry for five years. “There are shoppers. There are revenues here. Companies have to find a way to keep earning.”
Boy spoke to us about his experiences being a smart boy but was too anxious about his public image to use his real name.
From Dior and Chanel to Korea’s Sulwhasoo, smart boys are often the first gate to the beauty-products counter. They are freelancers, jumping from one brand to another as a tool to amplify brand awareness. At a minimum, anyone interested in good-looking men will be tempted to check out the pretty face standing in front of the counter.
According to our smart boy Boy, the original intent to using men to promote beauty products was not to attract female customers but to draw male customers by showing it was normal for men to buy and use cosmetics.
But it wasn’t the men who came.
“It was intended to create a perspective that men can use beauty products too,” Boy said. “But the outcome turned out the opposite. When men are put at the cosmetics counter, they attract women.”
As their purpose shifted to competing over women customers, they grew to understand what set them apart.
While pretties are made to dress provocatively to attract men at exhibitions such as the annual Motor Show, smart boys rely less on looks to win female customers than they do their personality, empathy and conversationalism.
“I’ve said things like ‘You would look beautiful with this lipstick on!’ And she was like ‘really?’ At the end she said she’d come back to buy from me again,” Boy bragged.
Smart boys are generally used by marketers to draw in customers from the hallway to take a look at the products. Sometimes they’re used to hand out samples, making it easier to engage with customers.
Smart boys have been moving in on the territory of traditional “beauty assistants,” who have a reputation for being sour and making customers feel unwelcome and intimidated.
By having hot men approach the ladies, Boy said it decreases the tension before having to speak with the beauty assistants, who actually have more knowledge about the products. Smart boys typically receive only a 10-minute briefing before their hour starts.
“It’s a bad feeling having those sales girls talking to you,” Boy said. “But we’re guys, we can approach them easily.”
After the customers are hooked, smart boys will transfer them to the beauty assistant or get their help to make the sale together.
The art of flirting (and not getting picked up)
So how do you appeal to a typical woman roaming the shopping mall? You need a sweet mouth and ready supply of one-liners.
“I just try to come up with lines that don’t piss them off,” Boy chuckled.
As using their charm is an important part of the job, when it comes to selling products, smart boys just say what women want to hear. And they keep dishing out the compliments as the women try more and more products.
“Oh, that’s pretty on you!” is one simple, sure-fire line Boy told Coconuts.
Smart boys sometimes carry on general conversations with customers and risk stepping into personal territory. Faced with a friendly, sympathetic personality who’s paying attention and listening, women sometimes cannot help but ask for their digits.
“One time I worked for Lancome, and a woman with a kid complimented me that I was such a great salesperson, and she asked for my number,” Boy said. “So I just told her my phone is dead. I was new to the business back then.’”
However, Boy said now he doesn’t mind giving his number if he really has to.
“You never know who you have to work with some day,” Boy said. “When I’m out there, I try to be nice to everyone. If they text me, I answer, but just to be polite, nothing more.”
When asked what type of women enjoy his flirting the most, Boy said middle-aged women in their 50s.
“Yep, the ladies with traditional, big hair,” he said.
Competition: The face is everything
While it’s tempting to think of smart boying as easy money, there is, unsurprisingly, acid competition among them. More than just a pretty face is needed to stand out, but it’s still indispensable.
“It’s only easy if you’re part-time, but if you take it as a career, it’s quite exhausting,” he said. “You have to constantly improve yourself to get more money.”
To “improve” himself, Boy had his nose rebuilt and started regular botox injections, because nothing less than overperfection is expected to sell cosmetics and facial treatments.
Language skills are another advantage to making sales with foreign women.
“I can speak English quite well,” Boy said. “But that’s not enough, some smart boys even speak fluent Chinese.”
The job itself pays THB2,000 to 4,000 a day, depending on experience and reputation. Stories are that some people are willing to fake their portfolio for a chance to get into the business.
“I know some guys and girls who would just dress up and stand around events to build up their portfolio,” Boy said. “It’s easy money, and people will do anything to get it. So I’m not surprised when some people trade sex for a job.”
Smart boys range from 18 to 35. Most enter the business through agents, who generally take 25 percent of their income but in return take the heat from companies if something goes wrong.
But once you’re in, you’re in.
“(Being a) smart boy is a way to make money when you’re young. It’s not a career that lasts forever,” Boy said. “I plan to do it for two more years. Who would hire me after that?”
Boy said it is unnatural for someone beyond their 30s to be working as a smart boy, as the industry grows and younger faces join.
And his advice: Don’t be a big bitch.
“If you want to be in the business in the long run and make a career out of it, respect the older smart boys,” he said. “Connections are very important. They will talk to other employers about you. So you should behave yourself. Don’t slack off. Don’t be too picky.”
Boy said he will try to become a pilot when he’s older, but for now his smart boy schedule is fully booked, and he’s out there working the ladies just about every day.