FOR generations the Avon Lady has been familiar as the ultimate doorstep seller.
But despite calling itself the “company for women”, Avon cosmetics, one of the largest direct-selling companies in the world, is looking to recruit more men.
Douglas Ruffhead, based in Dunfermline, has been working for the US giant for five years. He is one of a growing number of men to have taken the Avon route.
Ruffhead is an advanced team leader and estimates he makes about £15,000 a year on a part-time basis, with Avon sales being one of three jobs he does.
“I am also a research consultant. I am used to dealing with people all the time,” he said. “One day I was recruiting for one of my surveys and I met someone who was recruiting for Avon. It paid a better commission. You are your own boss, you do hours to suit your own needs.”
Tracey Eydmann, a sales leader also based in Fife, is building up her Avon sales team after leaving a career as an accountant for a US firm in the Netherlands. She manages 20 sales representatives in Fife, including a man who she is training to be a sales leader.
She said: “Men seem to be quite good at it. They have a different outlook and maybe they have an idea of what women want.”
Avon representatives get a 25 per cent cut on sales of more than £150 per month, while the company offers incentives and bonuses for managing more reps and retaining recruits.
In 2011 – the latest year for which there are accounts – Avon UK’s turnover fell to £313 million, against £329m in 2010. But the firm boosted its pre-tax profits to £25.5m from £4m.
According to the Direct Selling Association (DSA), more people in the UK are taking up self-employed sales roles for so-called multi-level marketing companies. It claims that UK direct sales in 2012 contributed £1.5 billion to the economy, against £1.4bn in 2011, which “shows that the direct-selling sector is buoyant and still growing despite difficult economic times”.
Avon is 125 years old but the market has new entrants all the time. Neal’s Yard, which has 60 stores worldwide selling high-end organic cosmetics, recently revealed it has more than 5,000 “independent consultants” representing its direct-selling division, NYR Organic, in the UK. Last month it launched a “social selling” operation in Ireland. The DSA has 41 member companies, which it says account for £2bn in sales annually and represent 80 per cent of direct sales in the UK.
Yet direct selling has to deal with an image issue which has sometimes impacted on its reputation. Every organisation involved in the sector is required by law to add a disclaimer to its marketing and recruitment material alerting anyone dealing with direct sellers to avoid the pitfalls and illegal practices.
Eydmann said she has no objection to the phrase “pyramid selling”: “But we are not pyramid sellers. This is how it always worked. There are people out there making quite a lot of money out of this.”
Even so, she observes it will take a long time before she is able to match her previous salary. “You would think with the state of the economy it would be easier to recruit new salespeople. But I think it is harder. As a sales leader you have got to look after your representatives and keep them motivated. It is a bit harder to get people to spend money.
“At the moment I am only a sales leader, but I have a sales leader beneath me and if I train up another sales leader I become an advanced sales leader. Your earnings grow with your status.
“Eventually I will be able to earn the same kind of money I earned in the corporate world. It is hard work but eventually I will get there.”