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That Time I Was Duped As An Avon Sales Rep

I learned a very valuable lesson as a young salesperson

It was early 2000s — perhaps 2002 or 2003, and I was looking for a side job I can do after school and after my full time job at Verizon(I was a busy bee). I then remembered my mom used to sell Avon products back in the day, and decided, “Heck! Maybe I can do this too!”

For those of you not familiar with Avon, it is one of the largest, beauty companies global. It was founded by David H. McConnell — a salesman of books who later figured he’d rather sell perfumes around late 1800s. It used to be called the California Perfume Company, but later in 1892 became known as Avon. Check out Wikpedia for more information.

Since then, Avon is known for their shiny catalogues of famous perfumes(I love Mesmerize!), cosmetics and the fact that it is more of a pyramid marketing “scheme”. You sell Avon, but you “earn more” when you bring on an associate. This typically happens at Avon parties.

My goal overall was to quit Verizon and work for Avon full time. I got tired of showing up to work at 7am and leaving at 7pm, only to chase after the public transportation to make it to my 8pm night class at the local community college. I’d rather just sell whenever I want.

On weekend mornings, I went door to door, hanging Avon catalogues on the screen doors. At the time, I lived with my dad and so most people in the neighborhood knew who I was, and even said they will buy from me.

I would take the bus on my days off and go further downtown and try to sell there. I only went during the day, of course because drug dealers and other questionables creeped out at night in those seedy areas.

Once at home, I would tally up how many catalogues I placed on doors and even those I spoke to face to face. At this time, Avon was rolling out their new Avon website for us sellers to sell directly online! This was brand new, but I was used to face to face selling, so I never paid that portion any mind.

One thing I truly enjoyed, is that the rep that took me under her wing would get me on Saturdays so we’d go to the big Avon building for a meeting. The building was large, gray and with no sign out front, but inside there were a circle of foldable chairs and trinkets, cosmetics and perfumes galore — along with samples! All decked out on these clear tables and glass cases.

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After leaving there, I would feel pumped up to make more sales — and they were trickling in….slowly, but surely. I would carry my large blue Avon bag to work often. My bag held the little planner, catalogues and samples, all ready for a potential client.

Overtime, I heard I could not do that anymore, so I would have to sell outside of the company, which was understandable.

One day, an older woman called me up (found my number on a business card) and ordered $105.00 worth of items for herself and her family. I was overjoyed.

I did the one thing you should never do.

I put in an order for all $105.00 of the order. Of course, this was at no cost to me, because I knew for sure I would have the woman’s money to pay for all of the items.

One week rolls by.

Two weeks.

I give her a call at least twice per week and her crackly, dry voice was always so upbeat: “I still want that Disney purse for my granddaughter. I sure will have the money!” She tells me.

Three weeks.

Then four.

Then, I get a call from my senior rep’s senior.

She literally visited me at my father’s house. Her hair and face reminded me of Daria(that 90s cartoon show).

She sweeps her hair behind her ears and adjusts her black rimmed glasses. Her smile is a thin line, forced. “Have a seat.” I offer her.

“Erica…I’ll get to the point. You have over one hundred dollars worth of product here.” She glances at my dad’s wooden living room table, with the glass center. I have all of the woman’s items lined up and neat on top of it: The perfumes, some samples, and the gifts for her grand kids. These items bought me joy, but now I look at them and wince.

The Senior Rep continues, “Are you ready to pay for these items yourself?”

I choke. “P-pay?” A pause. “Me?”

“Yes,” she nods solemnly. “These items have to be accounted for, or you can no longer order items and sell our products. Worst case scenario, is this goes on your credit.”

I frown. I literally just got out of a bad credit deal with Sprint. My dad had helped me pay for half of that, but now I am being told if I don’t sell these items to make up the difference in profit, I will have to pay for them myself and at this time, Verizon had let me go anyway (one bad call where I rushed the customer off because I was going to be late for my classes is what sealed the deal — oops).

I had no money.

I didn’t save.

I was in trouble.

I wasn’t able to sell off the items. A year later — or maybe a little less, I get a nice mail stating what I owe Avon and was being sent to Collections. In the meantime, I just focused on school and decided to do work study in the reading lab.

One day, while waiting for the bus, I noticed a young woman with an Avon bag and a giant binder in her hand. I walk over to her and ask her how long she has been selling Avon.

“Not long,” she says.

“Oh,” I then proceeded to tell her why I can’t sell with them anymore. I don’t know, I guess I just needed to tell another rep my sob story. The young woman was silent but nodded her head every so often and finally she said,

“That’s why I ask for payment up front.”

Before delivering the item, though?”

She shrugs, “Yep. But not the full payment. Just five or ten dollars now and then they pay in full once I deliver. Oh, and it is nonrefundable. See, that would have worked for you.”

I thought about it.

She was right.

For a $105 dollar order, I could have asked for $20 or $50 dollars up front that was nonrefundable before placing an order to get the items. At least then I would have something to pay Avon with.

The most important lesson I learned from all of this, is to not put “all your eggs in one basket” — meaning I should not have counted on a customer’s word knowing I would be held responsible. I was young and ambitious, yet I can admit I was ignorant or just not shown all the ropes of selling.

I look back on these memories with fondness because it laid the foundation for patience with self, and the importance of good business practices.

Thank you for reading!

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