Dawn Parrino never expected to make a living selling cosmetics door to door. Now, after 11 years working for Avon she couldn't be more pleased with the results. Parrino says she originally joined the company to make some extra pocket money.
"I had decided, you know, I need to earn some extra money without compromising what I believe in, being a mother and a parent. And all of a sudden the idea just popped into my head. The name Avon just -- I was like Avon. I'm gonna do Avon."
So for $10 Parrino joined Avon and in one week she pocketed $800.
"I was amazed. I was astonished. I didn't think it could be possible. I thought I'd make just a little extra pocket money and here I was making a significant amount of money."
What began as an attempt to offset some costs at home became the source of funding for her children's private school education, family vacations and even mortgage payments.
The Avon Co. got its start selling perfume in 1886 and has grown into the world's largest direct seller of cosmetics. The company spans the world, with 5.5 million representatives globally, and 500,000 in the United States. These reps, like Parrino, form the heart and soul of the brand.
Zuleyka Puente, a full-time social worker, wanted to earn some extra cash for her wedding in May, so she began working for Avon in her spare time. She says she loved being an Avon representative from her very first sale.
"I love the interacting with the customers. People light up when you go, 'I have your Avon order,'" she said.
To attract new reps and maintain its base, Avon has introduced incentives such as free online sales training, direct access to financial advisers and even gas money.
"With gas prices fluctuating so much, you get a card and they fill it up with money for gas, which is great," said Puente.
The economic downturn has boosted the number of Avon ladies, and although people's budgets are tight, Avon CEO Andrea Jung says the company hasn't taken a hit.
"We're still selling four lipsticks per second, every second of the day, which is incredible! We just came off a quarter where the cosmetic sales were very good all around the world," said Jung.
Asked why people are reining in their spending, but sales are still up, Jung says people still want to take care of themselves, as long as it's for a reasonable price.
"If you look at some of the statistics, when consumers do pull back, cosmetics and personal-care items are some of the last things they give up. The little luxuries, affordable luxuries, especially when there's great value," said Jung.
Given the economic crisis, Jung says now more than ever, being an Avon sales rep provides the perfect opportunity to boost your income. For those who aren't so keen on the idea of going door to door she says the nervousness disappears.
"We hear over and over again, after the first two or three times, you'll be surprised how the nerves go away. You'd be surprised how easy it is, particularly if you're making that kind of money."
Stories like Parrino's and Puente's are what Jung calls "the infamous Avon story."
"For very little money down, you can, in fact, change your life. There's $800, there's women that make six figures. You get as much out of it as you put in. For some people, it's about supplement, additional family income. That's never been more relevant than now."
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