One of the most enduring and iconic images of women's entrepreneurship is the Avon Lady. For more than 125 years, Avon Representatives have brought beauty into the lives of women -- first at home through door-to-door sales, then in the workplace to colleagues and friends, and now online. Through economic boom times, depressions, world wars and other crises, what's united Representatives over the decades and across continents is their dedication to building personal relationships with the customers they serve. It’s a commitment that’s both timeless and universal.
Read about the evolving role of Avon Representatives worldwide since 1886:
Founder David H. McConnell handpicked Mrs. Persis Foster Eames Albee to become the company’s first Representative and affectionately dubbed her the “Mother of the California Perfume Company.” Mrs. P.F.E. Albee of New Hampshire was 50 when she began selling perfumes for McConnell. She traveled by horse and buggy and by train, offering perfumes such as the inaugural single-note scents – Violet, White Rose, Heliotrope, Lily-of-the-Valley and Hyacinth – door-to-door throughout the Northeast section of the United States. In a letter to McConnell, Mrs. Albee wrote, “I know of no line of work so lucrative, pleasant and satisfactory as this.” The legendary Mrs. Albee is still considered a role model for Avon Representatives today and is credited with creating the company’s system for distributing products.
Viola Morse didn’t have a car when she became a Representative at the age of 36. She’d walk 3-4 miles a day carrying her demo bag to visit customers, even in the harshest Massachusetts winters. But Morse didn’t mind. She loved running her business and used her Avon earnings to send her children to college. Her dedication knew no bounds, and this became even more apparent after Avon hired her to manage her sales district. One evening, following a day of recruiting Representatives, she encountered a storm that flooded the roadways and essentially paralyzed her town. Morse was forced to abandon her car (purchased two years after starting her Avon business) but not before diligently gathering her recruiting materials.
Her son was surveying the flooded streets in a boat as part of the town’s rescue efforts and surprisingly encountered his stranded mother. He shuttled her and her stacks of rescued recruiting literature across the flooded road to safety. For the Morses, Avon was a family affair.
“We lived Avon in my household,” Morse’s daughter, Carol Dorsey, fondly recalls. Dorsey and her sister both became Avon Representatives themselves, helped their mother assemble customers’ product delivery bags and mimeographed their mother’s “Avon Angel Bulletin” newsletter, listing Morse’s top 10 “angels” (achievers). Morse, who passed away in 1995, sold Avon for 11 years. Daughter Carol remembers, “I was very proud of her. She was very accomplished at what she was doing.”
Milena Maria Gavazzi Paredi began selling Avon in 1966 during the company’s first year in Italy. The 69-year-old’s Avon business is still thriving. To Paredi, Avon means the chance to do something different and to meet a lot of people. She became a Representative after hearing her mother’s friend talk about what a wonderful earnings opportunity it would be. Like many Representatives, she first used her earnings to buy products for herself and for customer demonstrations. Her biggest sellers that first year with Avon were fragrances – Topaz, Charisma and various cream sachets - as well as bubble bath. Today, her customers seem to have a penchant for the Faraway fragrance line and Glimmersticks makeup.
“This is the only company where you can make people successful and change their lives. … It was fate that I was placed in this company to give earnings opportunities to dealers (Representatives in the Philippines),” says Soledad Lacson Pena. Pena has been selling Avon since the company first entered the Philippines in 1978. In fact, since the 1960s, she had been working for Beautifont, the Philippine company Avon acquired upon entering the market. Pena began selling Avon so she could assist her husband in covering the family’s basic living expenses: clothing, food and utility bills. She also contributed to her children’s schooling, helping to pay their tuition at highly competitive schools and colleges. Since Pena launched her Avon business, she and her team have never had a day without any sales. This tech-savvy 70-year-old uses the Internet to communicate with her team and get reports. She also promotes Avon products through text blasts.
“Avon gives me the feeling of self-significance. I can earn a stable income and have confidence in tomorrow,” says Larisa Nuzdhina. Nuzhdina started selling Avon in 1997 after retiring because she didn’t want to simply “do nothing.” After just two campaigns, she became a Sales Leader. At first, she used her earnings to purchase Avon cosmetics and later a new flat, garage and her own office. She’s won two cars from Avon … and at the age of 65 got a driver’s license so she could start driving. Nuzdhina exclaims, “Thanks to Avon for changing my life!”
Until she started selling Avon, Natividad Bravo’s life was one of hardship and struggle. An orphan with a less-than-ideal childhood, she was on her own by the age of 15. During one of the more challenging times in Mexico as the country's currency was collapsing, Bravo started her Avon business and success quickly followed.
Bravo had a knack for direct selling and was even more intensely focused on her business after a pair of tragedies struck – the sudden death of her husband followed by the death of one of her four sons from cancer. For Bravo, Avon has always been a bright spot in her life. She’s won numerous awards, traveled extensively and built a home for her family.
Rather than go door-to-door, she has always preferred finding customers in public gathering spaces such as the market. When Bravo began selling Avon, the company’s most popular products were Fonet, Sunware, Elegante, Charisma and Flamingo.
Irina Minca already has a team of more than 600 people … and she’s only 23. Minca knows her way around the social media world and is savvy when it comes to leveraging the Internet for her business. She reads “every forum or blog that is related to Avon so I can make a good impression on my customers by knowing everything about the company” and frequently posts comments. Every day she reads AvonSpaceblog, voted “Best Company Blog” in Romania. She also collects customers’ orders online.
Minca started selling Avon in 2005 as a way to earn extra money. This young Representative has been so successful that she’s already been able to buy not only clothes and cosmetics but also a computer and car with her Avon earnings. Minca says Avon has helped her develop in many ways and has made her more responsible. She calls Avon “my hobby, my family, my business.”