Avon is calling again

Avon is 50 this year but the company isn't in a mid-life crisis – recession has boosted its sales force. Just don't call them 'Ladies'. Emily Dugan reports

Ding Dong. What's that sound? It's the return of a kitsch Sixties icon. Many thought the Avon Lady had died out with bobby socks and free love, but the door-to-door pedlar of cheap cosmetics is back and business is booming.

Thanks to the recession and a celebrity revamp fronted by Reese Witherspoon, Avon is one of many direct selling companies making a comeback this year. Apparently Britons have been grabbing their best fixed smiles and garish lippy to claw their way out of the crunch sale by sale.

Whether it's a Tupperware party, a home makeover visit or simply delivering everyone's favourite waste of paper – the Betterware catalogue – an army of direct sellers are coming to a doorstep near you. A shortage of jobs, combined with the attraction of flexible hours and cheap start-up costs have given the unglamorous work a new lease of life.

Last year there were around 400,000 people working in direct sales, but since January it is estimated recruitment has grown between 10 and 15 per cent.

Richard Berry, director of the UK Direct Selling Association, says there are unprecedented numbers of people turning to the work. "Direct selling is almost uniquely immune to economic trends," explains Berry. "When you have a recession and people want a low-cost way of making an extra income, direct selling is a great option. The reason our members tend not to suffer from a drop in consumer demand is that the products they tend to sell are low-cost household and personal products, all of which are the last thing to suffer a downturn in demand. We expect the next annual figures to show a 5 per cent increase in total sales."

Avon cosmetics, which this year celebrates half a century of pressing the UK's doorbell buttons, seems an unlikely survivor of the downturn, but with 5.8 million sellers working worldwide it is doing better than ever. So who are today's Avon Ladies? For a start, they're not just ladies. Now called "representatives", Avon is increasingly recruiting men who have lost their jobs or want to supplement their incomes.

Five years ago Debbie Davis, 29, and Dave Carter, 40, left menial jobs in a printing factory and catering to sell for Avon. Now the Sunderland couple's teams are among the company's top sellers. Between them last year they had a net turnover of more than £2m, taking home more than £250,000 in earnings. Now they drive sports cars, take several holidays a year and are building an extension to their home.

"I've been paid £18,000 for the last three weeks", says Davis. "We used to be really skint. We never had any money and we needed extra income really quickly. After a few months it started to get really interesting. Every time we'd see the results we couldn't get over it."

And now thousands more are following their example. "Because of the credit crunch, people need the extra money. The last six months have been phenomenal growth, we've got loads more sellers. We've found there are quite a few people made redundant who are joining," explains Davis.

To begin working for Avon, a representative pays a start-up fee of £15 which is deducted from their first two orders. From then on for every £100 of products ordered, they receive a 20 per cent discount off the recommended brochure selling price, rising to 25 per cent for orders over £140. It is this discount which creates their earnings. But for the more ambitious seller, Avon's management scheme allows people to recruit and manage their own teams. It is this work that holds the elusive attraction of getting rich quick.

Pauline Brawn, 53, from Dorking, Surrey, started working for Avon part-time in January when money began to get tight. "My income has grown day by day. My husband retired and initially I just wanted a way to earn extra money but when the recession deepened we lost quite a lot as a result of banks and building societies and I wanted to maintain my lifestyle without going out and getting full-time work."

She makes no attempt to hide the company's anti-feminist image. "I went into it because I'm a girlie and all girlies like make-up. It struck me as a quite easy way to make money; there's nothing arduous about it, you just chat to friends and the products sell themselves."

And it's not just Avon that has had a deluge of interest for the opportunity to peddle household goods. The pattern is the same across the UK. Yvonne Clay, the head of brand at VIE At Home, which specialises in makeover parties and home visits, says this year has seen dramatic improvements in business. "This has been a really good year for us. We've had a 14 per cent increase in recruitment since January and we now have 10,000 consultants working for us."

Even Tupperware parties – the once fashionable choice of get-together for Seventies housewives – have made a comeback thanks to an increase in recruits. However, according to Tupperware HQ, they never actually went away.

"The Tupperware parties never really stopped", insists Matt Hall, manager of UK operations for Tupperware. "They're on the rise now and we've got a growing number of sales and consultants. The number of active sellers is up two per cent since this time last year."

It seems that no matter how deep the recession gets, there will always be a desire for useless homeware, superfluous make-up and alarmingly girlie makeover parties. As long as they're sold with a perfectly-lipsticked smile.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Life and Style
Kissing
life
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test