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ATLANTA — Celebrating its 125th birthday this year, Avon kicked off the “Avon Believe World Tour” last month in Atlanta, where a crowd of about 6,000 ecstatic Avon direct-sales representatives filled one of the massive halls of the Georgia International Convention Center.
Avon is taking its Believe tour to five more U.S. cities and 10 international cities, including Istanbul, Shanghai, Manila, Warsaw, São Paulo, New Delhi, Moscow and Johannesburg. The latest stop was Los Angeles with actor Patrick Dempsey. Other celebrities Avon expects to make appearances in cities include Fergie, Zoe Saldana, Suze Orman and Yasmin Le Bon. Avon heads next to London on March 29, and will be in New York City and Chicago in April.
Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, who is Avon’s global ambassador, joined Avon chief executive officer Andrea Jung on the stage in Atlanta, where they announced the creation of a new $1 million Avon Global Believe Fund that will launch a pioneering global effort to support women’s domestic violence shelters and agencies in each of the 16 cities on the tour. The Avon Foundation of Women will partner with the National Network to End Domestic Violence to identify and fund an international network of nonprofit organizations to help victims of domestic violence and their families.
“As a company for women,” Jung said, “Avon feels an obligation and responsibility to play a leadership role in helping to improve the lives of women around the world, and we truly believe we can make a difference.”
Avon has made financial donations to other major organizations to stop violence against women, and its Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and Avon Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer have raised more than $390 million in the U.S. since 2003.
Jung, elegantly dressed in a navy dress by designer Monique Lhuillier, also announced endeavors Avon is undertaking this year, including an antiaging product breakthrough that she said little about, except that it will launch in the U.S. in the fourth quarter. Avon will introduce Tiny Tillia, a new category for moms and babies, in the South, which is Avon’s biggest region, in April.
“Avon delivers beauty breakthroughs,” Jung said. “We were the first company with retinol technology…and we introduced an at-home eye lift in 2005, innovative lipsticks in 2008, and breakthrough hair care in 2010.” By the end of 2011, all customers making an online purchase will be attached to a sales rep, and Avon has developed an e-brochure to send online customers. Currently, more than 60 percent of Avon users order online.
Avon’s founder in 1886, David McConnell, believed that women should have a chance at financial independence, Jung said. “His belief has been successfully transfered to the 21st century.”
Jung also told her enthusiastic reps that Avon was investing $20 million more in support for them, mostly for bonuses such as offering $150 for each new recruit. It was one of the many occasions during the afternoon that the reps erupted into loud cheers and pounded hot pink, tubular balloons emblazoned with the word Believe.
Witherspoon, who has been Avon’s global ambassador for three years, isn’t new to the company. Growing up in Nashville, Tenn., she would save her money and order Avon products from her mother’s friend, who, by the way, is still an Avon rep. Witherspoon uses Avon and has an Avon perfume named for her: In Bloom by Reese Witherspoon.
Witherspoon said she first started getting involved in women’s and children’s advocacy organizations after reading “The Measure of Our Success” while she was attending Stanford University. “I started working with children’s charities, and I discovered that the most important thing you can do for children is empower their mothers,” she said. When she first started with Avon, she added, “I was really impressed by their business model — giving women the opportunity to start their own businesses.”
Angelique Agee, who was honored as a new senior executive unit leader, would agree with that. She started her career with Avon as a rather reluctant sales rep in Mobile, Ala. Her grandmother tried to persuade her to start selling Avon products, but she said no. When her grandmother died four months later, she decided to sell Avon part time for extra money in addition to doing her full-time job. When she was laid off in 2005, Agee was already making nearly as much with Avon and decided to go full time with the beauty company. “My earnings doubled after about three months,” she said.
While Agee still sells to her Avon customer base, her primary purpose now is mentoring and teaching others how to sell. “I’m so proud to be part of this wonderful company,” Agee said.