Based in New York City and the undisputed queen of eyeshadow, lipliners, and blusher, Avon is a standout in the cosmetics industry. With 2.7 million sales reps (a.k.a. those gregarious, rosy-cheeked "Avon Ladies") worldwide, including 500,000 in the United States, Avon is on the upswing. Replacing the image of dowdy, door-to-door saleswomen with brisk and stylish go-getters, Avon hopes to attract new consumers domestically. The company is already sparkling overseas, however, where approximately two-thirds of its revenue is generated. Strong in Europe and the Pacific, Avon is now hitting markets in China, India, and Russia. The company is also on a diet, having trimmed 30 percent of its brands and redirected the money into advertising.
Avon started in New York City with David McConnell, a door-to-door bookseller who sought a more profitable product. McConnell had long been making his own perfume as a gift for his customers; in 1886 he decided to forgo literature in favor of fragrances. Thanks to his successful recruitment of "Avon ladies," those perky and pushy promoters of beauty must-haves, the company reached the $1 million sales mark by 1920. In the 1950s, Avon went global with operations in Latin America. With a multimillion dollar technology division, Avon is having no problem keeping up with the rapid pace of the information age. The company's 360+ employee IT organization assists with over two million online transactions and 40 million custom orders daily. Meanwhile, the company's global communications network links Avon operations in almost 50 countries.
From batteries to powder puffs
Today, Avon products include clothing, cosmetics, fragrances, toiletries, and accessories. Many of its brand names are instantly recognizable, such as Anew, Avon Skin Care, Skin-So-Soft, Avon Color, Far Away, Rare Gold, Josie, Natori, and Millenia. Moreover, the company consistently creates new products like the Avon Barbie Doll, which sold 40 million in 1996 (making the chestified plastic damsel one of the largest product launches in Avon's history). The company is also heavily involved in numerous women's initiatives, including The Breast Cancer Awareness Crusade; Avon Running, a global circuit that promotes the significance of fitness; the Women of Enterprise Program, which celebrates women entrepreneurs; and the Avon Worldwide Fund, which raises money for women's health care services. Ironically, the person in charge of Avon's makeover was actually a man: Charles Perrin, the former leader of Duracell. He seems to have done an exceptional job. With 1998 sales reaching $5.2 billion, Avon ranked 308th in the Fortune 500.
Time for a makeover
Avon has taken lots of steps to try and shed its somewhat cheap image. The company has opened a four-floor luxury center and spa at the prestigious Trump Tower in New York City (with unlikely neighbors Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman). The company is tired of being perceived as selling products that are outdated and passe, and is quick to point out that many of Avon's research and development efforts have been copied by higher-priced competitors. For the first time ever, the company has asked customers to come to them by opening quick-stop Avon Express Centers in malls across America. The company is also looking to grow through a new global advertising campaign. CEO Andrea Jung hopes to turn Avon into one of the world's top three beauty brands (it currently ranks sixth), partly through continued global expansion - the company has entered 18 new markets since 1990, including Russia, China, and nations throughout Central Europe.
Manning the helm
In November 1999 Avon announced that for the first time in its history, a woman would assume the role of chief executive. The new CEO, Andrea Jung, was expected to fill the position at some point but most suspected that her appointment would not happen for a few years. Avon's flagging stock price and woeful earnings prompted management to accelerate their succession plans. Jung has all of the right credentials for success and aims to take the company into the 21st century with a renewed global emphasis and an aggressive expansion of Internet-based services. In December 1999, Jung announced that Avon would spend $30 million to relaunch its web site in June 2000, as well as spend $60 million on Internet-related activities in the next three years. Avon 's new web site will feature personalized web pages for each Avon representative, allowing her to order products and check supplies for customers, and providing an Avon lady for each visitor to the site. In 1999 direct online sales made up less than two percent of Avon's $5.3 billion in sales, which led to a profit of $956 million.
Persons wishing to join the ranks of Avon's 2.7 million sales representatives should call Avon's job hotline or review Avon's employment web page, located at www.avon.com/about/careers/careers.html. Those seeking employment at Avon's corporate headquarters should send a resume, cover letter, and any employment questions to Avon's Human Resources department at Avon Products, Inc.; 1251 Avenue of the Americas; New York, NY 10020-1196.
Avon offers an array of first-rate benefits including medical, dental, vision, life insurance, supplemental life insurance, short-term disability, long-term disability, and business travel accident insurance. The company also offers a "family-friendly package" that includes a health care spending account, an elder care spending account, company match for child care expenses, and employee assistance plan, and adoption assistance.
Avon insiders report high job satisfaction. "We enjoy the immediate rewards of working independently and building up our own business," brags one representative. Employees are allowed to be "flexible" when arranging their schedules. Some report setting a "fast, aggressive pace," while others prefer a "relaxed, laid-back" schedule. Workers earn perks and bonuses according to the quantity of goods they sell, with top sellers receiving as much as "a 50 percent commission."
World in its hand
Insiders specify that Avon's corporate offices have a "formal atmosphere." Nevertheless, the "sometimes stifling feel of the place" can offer employees "valuable opportunities" to learn from Avon's "vast sales and marketing experience." Furthermore, the fact that Avon dabbles in both domestic and international markets reassures insiders of the company's "huge global reach."
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