Avon Experiences - Cheryl / Sewing

I read with interest your email on becoming an Avon representative once again. I have been an Avon representative myself for these past three years. I 'sell' Avon mostly to myself [I am a long time Avon junkie of sorts and like the 20% discount] and to family and friends, at my cost. Since I have a regular job, my Avon selling is merely casual in nature.

I began as an Avon representative to fill a need to do a short ethnographic study of the direct selling environment and its impact for women. I would be glad to share my study with you, although I do not paint a rosy picture of this selling environment. I have enjoyed using Avon products over the years [since I was 12 actually] as their skin care and make up products are quality products and great alternatives to the pricey department store ones.

Yet somehow the "pitch" to women of how great it would be to make money, work from home, set your own hours etc., falls far short of the reality of just how much time, effort, and cash [not everyone pays on time, cost of demos, samples, and supplies] it takes to keep an Avon business - going not to mention missing items in orders or missed deliveries entirely due to weather and liquid/makeup items shipped with their caps/tops loose or off and contents spilled into their shipping carton. Avon is quick to refund/replace however customers can be disappointed [which translates to disappointment directed to the Avon representative].

Like the few Mary Kay ladies who earn the pink Cadillac, few Avon reps, in relation to the vast, vast legions of Avon reps can turn Avon selling into a viable self supporting business. Profits seems more a trickle and of any substance. Avon does though heavily promote and hold up as role models, those very few who do turn their direct sell business into a viable work-from-home option. Just read their Representative Times for their success stories.

Just thought I would share my perspective.

Cheryl Ellex

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs COMM 577, Spring 2004 Cultural Microethnography April 12, 2004

The Ever-Changing Face of Women in the Workforce

Few groups are as marginalized in U.S. culture than those consisting of women attempting to start their own business. The ever-changing demographics of the U.S. workforce provide ample statistics that more and more women make up a larger percentage of the U.S workforce today than ever before. The 1999 U.S. Census show that between 1951 and 1997, the proportion of women who were in the labor force nearly tripled, from 23 percent to 62 percent and women-owned business enterprises account for 33 % of all U.S. businesses.

The Direct Sales Industry is a booming environment targeting a marginalized group - women who wish to venture into a home-based business. Women are being recruited into beginning their own business with sales pitches designed to appeal to women who seek independence, flexible working hours, unlimited income, recognition, and sure success with little initial investment and little risk. Recruits that sign-on to the organization's pitch are known as "representatives" or "consultants" and retain a status as independent contractors, a component essential to the industry in general. A look into women's role in the direct sales industry is not necessarily a realistic picture of the role of women in the marketplace.

Direct sales marketing is in the business of selling dreams. Acquiring quality, desirable products for little or no cost, working flexible hours to enjoy more time with family, the lure of easy income, and an effortless start-up are used as positive reinforcement of the "go-team-go" variety to come and be apart of the dream. You too can start earning right away.

Some of the dream promotion is attainable and attestable to as the few success stories (heroes) that are highly promoted as part of the organization¡¦s history (stories and myths) lead us to believe. Most of the proffered dream is ephemeral at best as a large percentage of all home-based businesses fail. In developing a cultural awareness of the intricacies and nuances of one such marginalized group, I opted for a personal look into how women see themselves in a direct-sell business, how company values are communicated to such women, and how competition with others in the same arena are handled. I became one of the legions known in earlier decades as, "The Avon Lady."

My experience as an ¡§Avon Representative¡¨ (modern term for the 90s and beyond) is not altogether unpleasant. I chose Avon for several reasons: it is a company with a proven track record (115 years of success), has high quality consumable product lines (so I would not need to continually search for new customers), is an ethical company (to avoid the medicine show, hustler type, Snake-Oil Direct Sales Company), and has a proven methodology for success (everyone buys beauty and personal care products). Besides all this, I am a long-time Avon junky. Getting started was easy. I asked an acquaintance how they started selling Avon products and was given a phone number. One phone call later, I received a prompt response from my soon-to-be local Avon district manager. I was relieved of $10.00 for my start-up kit that consisted of several fragrances samples, 10 brochures from two current "Campaigns," a three-ring binder titled Success by Design containing everything I needed to know about Avon past and present, numerous handouts, order book - I was on my way to independence, financial security, self-esteem, and sure success. I was also given a contact sheet with important local names and a schedule of monthly sales meetings. I am on my way to Valhalla.

An interesting observation of my chosen group is that the negative tactics of fear-peddling - using the intrigues of the gender wage gap- that the average American woman only takes home about 72 cents for every dollar the average man does, and the glass ceiling- those intangible barriers to success facing women at the highest echelons of American big business (Free Markets, Free Choices, 1995), are never really addressed and are not used as an enticement to come onboard. Opportunity costs of operating a home-based business are never mentioned. Such costs may be lack of guaranteed employee benefits; many competing roles and responsibilities (producer, promoter, bill collector, customer service representative); loss of home space use by family; interruptions; lack of self-discipline; little opportunity to delegate tasks to others; long hard hours, and legal requirements including zoning regulations (Tweeten and Zetocha, 1999). Instead, only the positive aspects of running a home-based business are ever mentioned such as: set your own hours; have fun while you work, start earning right away, mix family and work responsibilities; the rewards of self-determination and independence; increasing personal fulfillment; and setting and reaching personal goals. The starts up costs are minimal. Examples of start-up costs of just a few major players reveal:

- Avon ¡V ¡§The Company for Women.¡¨ Invest $10.00 for Success by Design, a start-up kit of sample fragrances, brochures, and promotional material.

- Mary Kay ¡V ¡§Enriching Women¡¦s Lives.¡¨ Invest $100.00 for company bag with sample products, and supplies.

- PartyLite ¡V ¡§In business for yourself, not by yourself.¡¨ Earn a Starter Kit with no cash investment.

- The Pampered Chef ¡V ¡§Imagine MORE.¡¨ Invest $90.00 for a Super Start Program and receive $350.00 worth of product and supplies.

- Tupperware ¡V ¡§Building an empire, bowl by bowl.¡¨ Invest $25.00 for a Taste of Tupperware Business Kit and receive $238.50 in products.

The real money in direct sales is in recruiting others, continually, and receiving additional and increasing cash bonuses for doing so. A soft-sell approach to recruiting others is initially mentioned when signing up for any of the direct sales companies. It is only after attending a sales or promotional meeting that the importance of recruiting others becomes apparent. I attended two local Avon sales meetings, one in early March and one in early April 2004. I bring my expectations to the first sales meeting.

I thought I would meet several women, like myself, who liked Avon products, would perhaps make a few extra dollars selling a quality product, and find a team spirit of cooperation and friendly competition. I am on time and ready to meet my new sales colleagues at the appointed place (The Retired Enlisted Members Club). I am introduced only to the smiling, kindly, elderly greeter/Avon representative/guerrilla marketer at the door. I am handed a packet of sample goodies, directed to move down the line to see some new Avon products, sign up for X quantities of some soon-to-be-popular (so I am assured) products and take a seat. I know only the district manager who is standing at the head of the large room who does not make eye contact with me. No one introduces themselves to me as I walk to an empty chair at the back of the room. I do not get the feeling that I should venture an introduction myself. The room contains about 30 chairs, and 25 are filled. All eyes are looking toward the front. I am uncomfortable in this room full of accomplished long-time guerrilla Avon marketers. The show is about to begin I guess.

The sales meeting begins with a roster of the names of those who have sold apparently astonishing (to me) quantities of Avon products over the past few months representing tens of thousands of dollars. The few names are about to be entered into the inner sanctum known as, ¡§The President¡¦s Club.¡¨ I am secretly surprised and not at all aware of how they were able to accomplish this feat. It is never revealed either. Apparently this is something to which I am to aspire to. It has all the appropriate trapping of an organization¡¦s cultural rite or ritual. The audience responds with appropriate oohs and ahs. Next the district manager informs that she needs to recruit more new representatives. She informs 20 more are needed by the next monthly sales meeting. As a group we are offered cash incentives and additional Avon products for free if we bring in more recruits to her. The next 30 minutes of the meeting is devoted to how to acquire more new recruits. We are reminded that in order to increase our sales, we must either sell more to existing customers or find new customers to sell to. We are assured it is easier to find new customers and at the same time ask them if they would want to be an Avon representative. We then make a sale and gain cash bonuses for signing up new recruits. The newest campaign brochure is discussed and a few new products are available to look at and are passed around. No one ever speaks to me or inquires as to who I am although I am obviously a newcomer. Although I am not made to feel unwelcome, I really am.

At the end of the my first Avon sales meeting the district manager casually mentions that I am a newcomer to the group, however I am "just" going to sell to family and friends and occasionally my work colleagues. I am apparently not perceived as a serious competitor (I really am not.). No one says anything like, "Welcome," or "Glad you are here." It is apparent to me that my newly acquired colleagues are only intent on pleasing the district manager by finding more recruits. The second sales meeting I went to is more of the same. I thought I was selling and buying Avon beauty and personal care products. I am really tasked with "selling" the company to other recruits. It appears to me that my colleagues get the message that selling Avon products seems secondary and selling the company to other recruits is primary. To this Avon junky it doesn't matter. I will continue down my path to Avon Valhalla at my own pace, setting my own flexible time, writing my own Avon success story in my own home-based business.

Just as American business is in the midst of cataclysmic change so too are disillusioned employees. Employees are seeking other work alternatives and are setting up small business in record numbers. As organizations try to morph themselves into global players in order to compete in the global marketplace by a process of corporate downsizing, right-sizing and often panic-sizing, scores of employees find themselves out of a job.

Organizations have been known to outsource the services their employees once performed, sometimes ironically to the former employees themselves. Former RIF¡¦d (Reduction in Force) employees may have the last laugh as technological advances have evened the score between small and large marketplace players. As we continue in the 21st century, technology and market forces have allowed for the exponential growth of home-based businesses and the end is nowhere in sight. I too now have my own home-based business and it was as conveyed to me, easy to start and with little risk.


¡§Free Markets, Free Choices: Women in the Workforce.¡¨ (1995). Pacific Research Institute. Available online http://www.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/social/gend-pay/

Tweeten, Kathleen and Dale Zetocha. (1999). ¡§Home-Based Business... Is It For Me?¡¨ Available online http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/yf/leaddev/eb44w.htm

U.S. Census. (1999). ¡§Census Bureau Facts for Features.¡¨ Available online http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/cb98-181.html

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