By  on September 22, 2011

Andrea Jung has served at the helm of Avon Products Inc. since 1999, and she still firmly believes the company is more about empowering women than making products.

“[The founding of the company] was really about selling economic independence. Fast-forward 125 years, that’s what I think of our company. Not as a lipstick or skin care company,” said Jung during CEW’s Newsmaker Forum Wednesday night at the Harmonie Club in Manhattan. The forum was moderated by Jill Scalamandre, chief marketing officer of Chrysallis.

Jung recalled a story of a woman in Turkey who has lost her home and belongings during the devastating earthquake there in 2003.

“Her husband didn’t want her to work, but she began to sell Avon while he worked, and she became our top senior executive unit leader and made enough to buy a home and belongings,” Jung said. “She says she is one of the only women in her village whose husband comes home and cooks dinner for her.”

And while Avon is the largest engine of women’s economic opportunity in the world, it is also the largest engine of lipstick in the world, selling four lipsticks every second. It makes 1,000 new products every year.

To keep the direct-sell model relevant in the age of technology, Avon has evolved it over time.

“If you look at the last 10 years’ direct sales in every major geography, direct sales has continued to gain share. I think that the perception is [direct selling is] more antiquated [and that] the Internet and modern retail formats have either eclipsed it or made it far more difficult, but if you look at every geography, even developing markets, the last 10 years have been good ones.”

By implementing e-tools, Facebook, a virtual Avon store and a pdf file of an Avon brochure, among other social media and digital efforts, Avon, said Jung, has evolved with the times.

The company has 20 Twitter feeds and two million followers and fans.

“Seventy percent of Avon reps do business online,” said Jung.

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