Thursday 29 January 2015

The Avon ladies who won't be calling on you any more

Reese Witherspoon is one of Avons celebrity ambassadors.
The famous "Ding Dong Avon Calling" advertising campaign ran from the mid-1950s to 1967.

Avon Calling? Not any more, after the cosmetics giant dramatically pulled out of Ireland as part of a $400m cost-cutting initiative this week.

Up to 5,000 'Avon Ladies' across the country have been left jobless following the shock announcement by the US company on Monday.

For Avon veteran Valerie Ryan, it's the end of an era.

"When I was growing up, I remember my mum getting the Avon catalogue," says mum-of-four Valerie (54) from Crosshaven in Co Cork.

"Then, 17 years ago, when my own children were quite small, a friend asked me to come on board.

"The beauty of Avon was that you could go in at any level. You could just buy your own lipstick at discount or you could have 20 [sales] reps under you.

"It was ideal for me," adds the hairdresser. "I could do an hour here and there without being missing full-time from my family. I could drop the boys to rugby training and do an hour and then go and collect them.

"For me, it was just pocket money – it helped me buy my own lipstick and night cream. But I know other women who relied on it to pay the bills.

"It's very sad for us."

Since gracing doorsteps in 1886, the Avon Lady – famously portrayed by Dianne Wiest in Edward Scissorhands – has become one of the world's most enduring emblems of women's entrepreneurship.

Today, around 6.5 million reps worldwide, 99pc of whom are women, help shift four lipsticks every second for the brand through door-to-door sales, Avon parties and online.

Five decades after selling her first lipstick, former Avon Lady Pat O'Neill says she's still a fan of the products.

"Back then, you got your little suitcase full of samples and you went around door to door," recalls Pat, who's in her 80s.

"After I got married, I saw an ad recruiting sales reps. My husband bought my kit for me and I started off.

"But I soon got into it.

"The first time Valerie came to me I said: 'I was an Avon Lady long ago – I could never turn one away from my door'."

Despite almost $11bn in annual revenue and celebrity endorsements including Reese Witherspoon, Avon has not been without its own wrinkles recently.

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