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Many find ‘calling’ in selling Avon products

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Avon sales representatives are no longer just “ladies,” and they may not go “calling” door-to-door these days, but the cosmetic company for women is still going strong in southeast Queens.

More than 350 representatives report to the store on Jamaica Avenue, and new recruits are signing up every day, said 30-year sales veteran Patricia Simmons.

“We’re doing excellent right now,” she said. “We’ve got escalating sales.”

The company was started by David McConnell in 1886 as the California Perfume Co., based in lower Manhattan, and the perfumes were sold by one woman, the first “Avon Lady,” P.F.E. Albee. It wasn’t until 1928 that products — a toothbrush, talcum powder and a vanity set — were offered under the Avon name, and in 1939 the name was officially changed.

Now, Avon has grown beyond the cosmetics industry to offer jewelry, clothes, children’s toys, religious products, and diet and exercise products.

Avon came to Jamaica Avenue more than a decade ago, Simmons said. While the store does not sell merchandise off the shelf, sales representatives take turns manning the store to take orders from walk-in customers, as well as sign up new representatives.

“Each representative has the ability to sign up other representatives to count towards the leadership program,” Simmons said, referring to one of the many commission-based incentives the company offers. In the leadership program, a representative earns commissions off the sales of representatives she has recruited, Simmons said.

To start selling the products, representatives pay $10 for a tote bag filled with trial samples of products, as well as the order forms and catalogues, Simmons said. Avon gives its salespeople the merchandise on credit, meaning they do not need to collect money from customers when the order is placed, a policy that puts the customer at ease, Simmons said.

“They don’t have to worry that this person is leaving with their money and that they’re never going to see the items they ordered,” she said.

The representatives meet once a month to turn in their orders, and some do very well, Simmons said. In a three-month period, one saleswoman sold nearly $50,000 worth of products, with others selling an average of about $4,000, Simmons said.

“It’s a product that sells itself,” she said. “It’s been around for a long time. Everyone knows the product.”

The commissions work on a sliding scale, with greater payouts for greater sales. The minimum commission is 20 percent on total sales between $25 and $124, and the maximum is 50 percent for total orders over $1,500.

“I make more with my job at Avon than I do with my job at the Board of Education,” said Simmons, who did not want to name her job at the city agency.

Representatives are free to peddle their wares any way they choose, but few go “calling” as did the Avon representatives of years past.

“Some people still do go door-to-door, I guess, but most people sell it at their jobs or to their friends and families,” Simmons said.

Avon also offers certification as a beauty advisor, which allows salespeople to set up displays at department stores such as J.C. Penney or Sears, she said. Others also sell their products through fund-raisers at schools or other organizations.

“You’re your own owner,” Simmons said. “It’s your own business.”

Aside from their commissions, representatives also get discounts on their own orders, which is why Simmons signed up, she said.

“I wasn’t thinking about making money when I started, I just wanted the discount,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m tired of giving you my money. Sign me up.’ ”

And although there are just a few male Avon sales representatives, the men bring in higher sales totals, Simmons said.

“The representatives are mostly women, but the men do better sales. Every woman likes being flattered by a man.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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