NEW YORK — When poring over products like De-Luscious Lip Plumping Pots or Matte-nificent Oil Absorbing Powder, Deborah Fine, Avon Future president, is thinking as much about tomorrow’s customers as she is today’s.

For Fine, Avon’s Mark line of products sold to and by young women — which turns one this month — will be the vehicle for ensuring that the 118-year-old company thrives long into the future.

“Our mission was to create the next generation of Avon,” Fine said recently from her office in Avon Global Headquarters, high above the Avenue of the Americas. “Avon gave women the right to economic independence before they had the right to vote. We are passing the baton to the next generation, who will someday be able to say that Avon gave them economic independence before the first female president took office.”

At first blush, Mark might seem insignificant to the cosmetics behemoth, just a single business unit of a global company. Though performing strongly in its first year — with $10 million in sales during the second quarter — Mark’s estimated 2004 sales of $35 million to $40 million are a drop in the bucket compared with Avon’s annual revenues totaling $6.8 billion.

The average price of a mark product is $8.40, with prices ranging from $20 for a luxe utility bag down to $3.50 for a tube of “grin and bare” lip tint. It’s popular “Hook Ups” -- tubes of lip gloss, mascara and eyeshadow that snap together for portability -- are only $5.

But the line’s importance can’t be judged solely in dollars — executives view Mark as part of its movement to build aging Avon’s next generation of customers and sellers.

“It is clear that this business is transforming itself,” Avon chairman and chief executive officer Andrea Jung told investors during a recent conference. “The signs of transformation are everywhere when you see the younger, highly professional representatives both in the core as well as the Mark representatives.”

The company is toiling not only to make Mark profitable, but also to make it a ubiquitous presence in youth culture. To that end, Avon is expanding Mark’s territory, creating strategic marketing alliances with brands like Nextel, New Line Cinema and MTV. Flashy new commercials are airing across the country, Mark’s “magalogue” is reaching 7 million young women every month, and message boards at are buzzing with comments from some of Mark’s 20,000 representatives and loyal customers alike. Even a character on the soap opera “Passions” is peddling Mark products.Fine also views the line almost philosophically as a solution for young people looking for stable employment, calling Mark “lip gloss with an earnings opportunity.” She rattles off numerous instances of Mark reps paying for college text books with their commission or starting a charity for a sick friend.

Back in 2001, Avon was eager to harness the $75 billion spending power of the country’s 17.5 million females between 16 and 24. For some younger women, the Avon brand conjured images of a kindly older woman selling cosmetics door-to-door to their mothers and grandmothers. Communicating to youthful consumers would require more than just a line of trendy products, which Avon has dabbled in with its Color Trend line. Avon needed a clean slate to create an entirely new concept, a way to build both its customer base and its sales force.

Avon Future was born.

Fine was brought over from the publishing world to head the global business unit. Her 23 years’ experience in the magazine industry — serving as a vice president and publisher at Glamour and publisher of Bride’s — gave her an eye for what trends pop from the pages and push consumers to the checkouts. Her charge was to take what made Avon famous — direct selling — and reinvent it for a younger set.

“Each piece of this business had to be created from scratch. It needed to look and feel different, to have credibility with this new generation,” Fine says. “It’s a 100-year-old concept. How do we then make working relationships with this generation?”

When the Mark line was launched, Avon predicted its U.S. sales would reach $100 million during 2004, its first full year of operation. But executives based that number on the assumption that Mark would “cannibalize” other areas of Avon’s business, Fine said, drawing sales away from the company’s other products. But Mark’s business so far has been fully incremental, meaning its sales aren’t cutting into other areas.

“That’s a Herculean accomplishment. The business process is 100 percent incremental,” Fine said. “The core business is still doing what it needs to do.”

Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. analyst Andrew Shore is a little disappointed with Mark’s results, but he nonetheless calls the concept “brilliant.” His concern is more with the target audience than Avon — he fears young reps will be irresponsible and young customers won’t be brand loyal. He thinks recruiting the daughters of Avon reps to sell specifically Mark products — a move Avon has already made — will help make Mark permanent.Julia Kaziewicz is just such a rep. On a recent Thursday night, more than a dozen 20-something women crammed into her Upper East Side apartment. Flowing cocktails and copious gossip might have been the draw, but the Mark products became the stars.

Perusing a card table covered in lip glosses, bronzers and eye shadows, one of the young women asks, “How awesome is Clean Machine?” A chorus of praise for the facial cleanser filled the place, a handful of devotees preaching its wonders to the unconverted among the group. As the cacophony died down, Kaziewicz said with drop-dead sincerity, “It is the best facial wash I’ve used in my life.”

Though her praise of products is effusive, Kaziewicz doesn’t ever make a big pitch, never interrupts the flow of conversation to force her products down anyone’s throats. But they buy nonetheless, taking her aside from time to time to place orders. (That night alone, she made $400 in sales.) For Kaziewicz, the party atmosphere is what makes Mark events successful. “We’d be doing this anyway,” she said between sips of Mark punch, a mix of pineapple juice, orange juice and rum. “It’s about having a good time.”

A graduate student in English at New York University, Kaziewicz had little exposure to Avon growing up in Long Island. But she always had a love for cosmetics and “pulling a look together,” so when she read about Mark in a magazine last summer, she was sold.

“I already work full time and go to school, so I needed a different way to make money. I have a really busy lifestyle, so this works for me,” she said. “I threw a party in December, and it just blew up from there.”

Kaziewicz, 23, is now the number-three seller out of Mark’s 20,000 representatives, with sales of more than $5,000 year to date.

“You’d think Manhattan would be hard because you can get makeup everywhere. But [Mark] is so inexpensive and such high quality,” she said. “I never thought I’d sell Avon, but I love it.”

To continue reading this article...

To Read the Full Article

Tap into our Global Network

Of Industry Leaders and Designers

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus