Friday, January 22, 2016

Ding-Dong, Avon Calling.

My mother’s friend Helen was an Avon Lady.
Many the time I crossed Main Street and pumped up the rickety back stairs in Helen’s three decker, cash in hand, to pick up my mother’s Avon order.
Other than hand cream, I don’t remember what my mother bought from Avon. She did wear makeup – powder and lipstick – so maybe that was among the wares. Hair setting lotion might have been in there, too. I do know that she had some on hand at one point, because my brother Rick, then aged 2, swallowed a bottle full of it and had to be taken to the ER to have is stomach pumped out. I remember when he came back that the blood vessels around his mouth were broken, I guess from his screaming. (I was not yet familiar with broken blood vessels, as I had not yet broken all the blood vessels around my mouth, from chin to nostrils, by sucking all the oxygen out of a rubber tumbler, turning said tumbler into a blood vessel smashing vacuum.)
My mother was a customer of Helen’s for years. Well into my adulthood, a tube of Avon hand lotion was an inevitable stocking stuffer for me and my sisters.
But did I ever buy anything from an Avon Lady? Not that I recall.
Over the years, I did end up going to a couple of Tupperware parties. (Do they still play the game with the ball you shove shapes into?) But Avon? I don’t remember anyone I know, anyone my age, who sold Avon.
I believe that the house party cosmetic of choice for my generation was Mary Kay, reeling in its coterie of sellers with the promise of taking a ride on the freeway of love in a pink Cadillac, earned by pushing a Cadillac trunk-load full of MK.
I’m guessing there’s nothing the matter with either Avon or Mary Kay cosmetics. Probably not all that different than the Estee Lauder I get at Macy’s. (At least I think that Estee’s what I use. I’m too lazy to get up and look, but the colors are black and gold, and it’s whoever took over for Prescriptives, which became my makeup of choice once I decided – can’t remember why now – to abandon Clinique.)
But there’s no one I know knocking on my door asking me to an Avon Party, or a Mary Kay Party, for that matter. And both my mother and Helen are long dead.
As far as I knew, Avon no longer existed.
But they do and, according to Bloomberg, “investors are cheering Avon's latest road map to recovery.” A private equity firm is acquiring most of its North American business, and share prices rose on this news.
The direct-selling beauty brand promised to cut costs, boost revenue and modernize its technology, products, marketing, and shipping processes. That all sounds good to investors who have watched Avon fumble away an $11 billion takeover offer from Coty in 2012, followed by an 88 percent drop in shares over the next three years. (Source: Bloomberg)
The plans to get Avon on a more positive course will include some much needed IT investment:
For heaven's sake, many of the company's six million sales representatives are still expected to sell products using paper pamphlets rather than the snazzy iPad app and mobile ordering the company now envisions.
Six million sales reps? That must be worldwide, not North America. North America’s population is roughly 500 million. Surely, there isn’t one Avon Lady (or Gentleman) for each 83 citizens of US+Mexico+Canada+Islands. I know that for many, selling Avon isn’t a full time gig. It’s a second job, a stay-at-home-mom job. It’s pin money.
Still, that’s a lot of sales reps, and I’m guessing that Cerberus, the PE firm acquiring them, won’t be carrying quite so many of them when they get through their cost cutting/investing. Even if these six million aren’t paid employees, my guess is that the pin money folks making a few bucks a month will be history. No snazzy iPad app for them, thank you.
I’m actually rooting for Avon.
I like old-timey brands, even those that I don’t actually use.

Who wants to live in a world where there’s no Ding-Dong, Avon Calling? Hope they put that as a sound effect in the snazzy iPad app…

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