Avon Is Still Trying

Image via AP.

In an era that has seen seemingly every third young woman in America attempt to sell her friends, family, and Facebook acquaintances something like LulaRoe leggings or It Works! wraps, it’s ironic that the fortunes of Avon, the 131-year-old direct-selling behemoth, have slid so far. But they’re trying.

Last year private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management took over the ailing company’s North American business, and the Wall Street Journal has checked in with how the turnaround is proceeding. It’s going!


The plan is to “refocus on selling cosmetics and skin-care products to a group often overlooked by the beauty industry: lower-income, aging women in the U.S. heartland.” That means no to a plethora of non-beauty items like $59.99 crockpot slow cookers, yes to reinvigorating its cosmetic lines and trying to sell nutritional products which, for instance, “eventually will include supplements for women entering menopause.” They’ve also increased commissions, so their army of female sales reps can hope to make more money.

It’s just that there are some cultural clashes.

One big challenge for Cerberus, whose private-equity portfolio includes the No. 2 U.S. supermarket chain and one of the world’s biggest gun makers, is meshing with Avon’s unique army of more than 200,000 North American representatives, most of them women.

Cerberus executives say they were uncomfortable at first receiving hugs and kisses, a common Avon greeting. “There was a lot of touching,” says Mr. Mayer. “I wasn’t used to it.”

Mr. Mayer also isn’t accustomed to a workforce not directly beholden to its bosses. “You’ve got hundreds of thousands of representatives who you can excite or train or influence or disappoint,” he said. “But you cannot control.”

Watch out for those rogue Avon Ladies!

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