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Belief in a Mission: Avon Marks 125 Years

Jeff Falk
Avon Speaks to GCI

GCI: What are the challenges of being successful? And what are the challenges of operating a business model that relies on such a large number of representatives globally?

Avon: Operating through 6.5 million representatives in more than 100 countries is definitely an advantage for Avon. In fact, our direct-sales business model allows us to quickly enter new markets without the typical start-up time and expense that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers experience. It is the powerful relationship each representative establishes with her customers that makes our business so successful.

Of course, the challenge is to continue to raise the bar; the company cannot simply rely on past successes, but must continue to offer first-to-market beauty breakthroughs and maintain its robust innovation pipeline.

GCI: As Avon became a company recognized as a long-standing leader in beauty, was there an inherent risk of being undervalued by consumers? Have there been points in the company’s history when consumers gravitated away from Avon products, or certain categories of Avon products, because they simply associate the company with products that maybe their mothers or grandmothers used and not the company’s current portfolio?

Avon: Avon provides cutting-edge, often first-to-market beauty technologies at affordable prices. That price point is our advantage, and customers appreciate the excellent value that our products provide. Certainly during the economic climate in recent years, our products became even more attractive to consumers who might have previously paid more for comparable products from department stores.

We’ve seen some external research that indicates as the economy improves, consumers will be less likely to resume old spending habits on higher-priced products, especially if more affordable alternatives are available.

GCI: How does Avon’s values and guiding principles, very altruistic lists, impact how and what Avon produces? How are these values and principles applied when developing products? Does that resonate differently with consumers?

Avon: Avon’s vision is to be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women globally. Avon is a company where purpose and product are inextricably linked. Empowering women is central to everything the company does.

A key component of the Avon earnings opportunity (and path to financial independence) entails giving women the chance to sell breakthrough beauty products so they can build their businesses. Being financially empowered impacts not only a woman’s income but also her access to health care, educational opportunities and personal safety.

Avon strives to help women look and feel their best with its products and through its philanthropy, including its vital breast cancer and domestic violence initiatives.

For 125 years, every Avon representative and Avon associate has been very proud that we do well by doing good. The Avon Foundation for Women has raised and donated more than $800 million to causes that matter most to women. We’re the largest corporate supporter of the breast cancer cause, and we’ve taken on violence against women and initiatives around the world to end that epidemic, as well.

GCI: How does the Avon representatives business model impact or influence how the company approaches product development and innovation today? What kind of feedback comes directly from representatives and does it continue to shape the company?

Avon: With Avon’s representatives on the frontline touching their 300 million customers on a regular basis with a high degree of personal service, feedback comes in very quickly. This helps marketers take the pulse of how a product is doing, allowing them to funnel the appropriate information to other relevant functions within the company. This can be especially useful when it comes to newly launched products.

GCI: In categories that have been lackluster industry wide, notably fragrance, Avon has performed better than many. What has been the company’s approach to find opportunities and sales where many do not?

Avon: With the company’s origins as California Perfume Company, fragrance has always been a key part of our business. One hundred twenty five years later, Avon’s strategic partnerships with both celebrities and couture fashion houses bring aspirational names into the homes of consumers everywhere at masstige prices, giving new meaning to the phrase “from runway to reality.” With Avon, Lacroix, Ungaro, Herve Leger, Reese Witherspoon and Fergie scents are all obtainable.

GCI: With the vast differences between 1886 and 2011 (mindsets, technology, culture, etc.), how has the company nurtured the Avon representatives business model to maintain both relevancy and viability?

Avon: Direct selling with Avon is just as relevant today as it was 125 years ago. It’s still an enterprise that offers flexibility and freedom to define the work-family balance. It’s still a field in which there are no prerequisites when it comes to education and experience, and which has a minimal cost of entry. Avon representatives have always stood for the empowerment of women, and that’s a concept that never goes out of style no matter what corner of the globe a woman calls home.

Avon is the world’s largest micro-lender and the largest engine of economic opportunity. Time and again, the company has innovated this traditional form of selling, tweaking its direct-selling model to fit seamlessly into representatives’ and customers’ lives. Most recently, Avon has had to find ways to adapt to the sea change in the way people now communicate, connect and shop thanks to the Internet. The solution: a collection of digital tools so representatives can use the technology that has become so central to their daily lives—tools that help Avon’s representatives run their businesses and reach customers as never before.

GCI: What are the similarities in consumers 125 years ago and today, and what do these similarities tell us about deep-seated consumer habits?

Avon: Since the very beginning, Avon representatives have made personal relationships the heart of their businesses. In the late 19th century, direct selling with Avon connected women who were otherwise isolated and immersed in domestic life, in what the company calls “the original social network.” What’s more, women were able to get personalized beauty advice, which was somewhat of a novelty at the time.

Ironically, the human-interaction component is becoming a rarity in today’s increasingly impersonal digital age. Yet, Avon representatives continue to deliver high-quality service to customers, addressing their individual needs, questions and concerns. What do women want? Someone to advise them on what lipstick shades will work best and what skin care products are most suitable for them.

GCI: With such a global scope, what has Avon found to be the commonality in consumers across markets and cultures? How does the company navigate the differences?

Avon: Every day, Avon brings beauty to the lives of women all over the world. At Avon, beauty means finding the right lipstick shade for a customer, providing an earnings opportunity so a woman can support her family and even enabling a woman to get her first mammogram. Globally, beauty is about women looking and feeling their best. It’s about championing economic empowerment and improving the lives of women around the world. Having these universal concepts incorporated as definitive core values and principles has helped Avon transcend cultural nuances in order to focus in on what brings us all together. It’s our vision to be the company that “best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women—globally.” So whether we are in the U.S., South Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, or Latin America, this is something we hold ourselves to in everything that we do.

GCI: How does the company balance its portfolio of iconic products with the search and execution of the next “big” product launch? How do you support the types of products that helped make the company what it is and that consumers expect from Avon while fostering new launches and advances?

Avon: Avon has a proven history of delivering first-to-market beauty technologies, making the company a perennial game changer. Time and again, Avon and its global team of scientists working from seven global satellite R&D facilities have led the industry in giving consumers breakthrough products that marry beauty and innovation—light-adjusting makeup, more durable mascara, better-hydrating lipstick, revolutionary anti-aging skin care products, and an at-home alternative to pricey, in-salon smoothing treatments—the list goes on and on. Avon gives women around the globe products that help them look and feel their best.

While we cater to the consumers who love us for our traditional portfolio of products, our renowned global R&D network works hard to bottle up its latest cutting-edge beauty breakthroughs. These breakthroughs often are introduced by way of extending our existing lines, refreshing the formulas for existing ones or even by creating new space ultimately offering Avon customers a comprehensive selection for each and every need. We didn’t start out with our range of recognized brand names like Avon Color, Anew, Skin-So-Soft, Advance Techniques, Avon Naturals and Mark, but they have certainly found their place in women’s makeup bags all over the world.

GCI: Is there a common thread that runs through the history of the Avon lady over the 125 years? Is there a common trait or drive?

Avon: Belief is the fuel that has propelled Avon to become the number-one direct selling company and the largest engine of economic opportunity for women on earth. As we enter our 125th year, we celebrate this belief in our company, our representatives and our future. We also celebrate our belief in our mission as the company for women to improve women’s lives and make a difference. Our belief in our purpose has been our guiding compass for 125 years and will continue be.