I remember as a little girl there were three special events that triggered my mother to dress me in my best frock. The first was a trip to the city to shop at David Jones, the second, less pleasant, was a visit to the dentist. And the third, more frequent special occasion, was waiting for Dawn to call.
Dawn was Mum’s Avon Lady, a rather glamorous and very enthusiastic visitor, responsible for replenishing my mother’s mystical beauty supplies. Among them were the pale pink moisturiser Dew Kiss, and Unforgettable, apparently, a must-have talc for 60s housewives.
Whether Dew Kiss was responsible for my mother’s great skin, I never found out. I did discover, however, that Unforgettable was named for a reason. I can still remember the scent of this floral talc wafting down the hallway to who knows where following a liberal application after Mum’s morning shower.
We didn’t have a doorbell, always a regret, but Dawn would still cheerily call out ‘ding-dong’ to announce her arrival as she rapped on the kitchen door, ready for a cuppa and a chat.
The caramel slice was laid out on the best china and Mum would have the tea brewing while our very own Avon Lady spread out her wares on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, I hung around hoping to be rewarded at the end of business with a spray of perfume and a dab of lipstick.
After 55 years in Australia, Avon’s door-to-door services will cease as the company tries to return to long-term sustainable profitable growth, focusing instead on markets with the greatest potential. Apparently, that doesn’t include Australia and New Zealand.
Online competition, easy access to modern products and an increase in the number of working women are contributing factors to Avon’s global demise, an inevitable consequence for a company founded in 1886 by an unsuccessful door-to-door book salesman.
David H McConnell developed a rose-scented perfume to offer as a gift to encourage his New York customers to buy his books. While indifference about his books remained, the perfume was a hit, encouraging him to set up the California Perfume Company instead. After his death in 1937, the company was renamed Avon, as a tribute to Shakespeare’s hometown Stratford-on-Avon.
Persis Foster Eames Albee was McConnell’s first Avon Lady, who at age 50, married with two children and in need of extra money, started visiting homes in her horse and buggy selling the Little Dot Perfume Set. She later recruited other women, training them to conduct “low pressure, informal house calls”.
More than 130 years later, there are six million Avon reps in more than 100 countries, nearly 2,500 of whom operating in Australia and New Zealand. Avon launched in Australia in 1963 and New Zealand in 1978, while a factory boasting a production line producing 3,000 lipsticks an hour was opened in 1968 at Frenchs Forest in Sydney’s north.
It wasn’t until the 90s that I came in contact with Avon again. This time it was en masse. I was working for an events management company in the UK when America’s top Avon earners, 300 of them, were rewarded with a week-long trip to London.
Having only ever experienced the rather genteel Dawn one-on-one, I wasn’t prepared for the barrage of these hard-nosed American businesswomen. Dripping in bling and armed in formidable maquillage, these oligarchs raked in six-figure salaries. They oozed attitude and charm, were finely honed and accomplished. These were no ding-dongs.
No doubt among the Avon reps about to lose their livelihoods in Australia and New Zealand there will be women like those Americans who’ve earned the big bucks selling door-to-door.
But I also imagine there will be many more like Dawn, who had been enjoying the extra income and the chance for a cuppa, a chat and a caramel slice.
Unforgettable. They will be missed.
Image source: Youtube