Avon hopes to woo new generation of customers
Friday, October 3, 2003
NEW YORK -- Carleigh Krubiner is helping to usher in a new era for Avon Products Inc.
Since August, the University of Pennsylvania sophomore has become part of a new generation of "Avon ladies" peddling a new line called mark., featuring such products as blue liquid eyeliner and hot pink lip gloss in funky packaging aimed at her peers.
"I'm selling a lot of it in my dorm room," the 18-year-old Fairfield, Conn., resident said. As for the products, she said: "I truly love them. They're easy to throw in your bag ... I really like the lip glosses, and the packaging."
The 117-year-old Avon, which began by selling cosmetics door to door to the middle-American woman, is recreating direct selling for the 16-to-24 age group. So far, the reception has been strong, company officials said, but the challenge is whether the strategy will be compelling enough to woo young women away from other brands in a very competitive business.
Some marketing experts believe Avon's timing is right.
"You would have never thought of the Avon lady as cool. But for the teen community, the sense of gals marketing to other gals -- this whole tribal marketing -- is very timely at the moment," said Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting firm.
Avon has periodically offered beauty items for teens, but this is the first time it has developed a specific brand for this age group. The company is counting on its network of 550,000 active U.S. Avon representatives to recruit their teenage daughters and other young women expected to do most of the selling of the 300 products.
Krubiner found out about mark. through a cousin, who works at Avon's corporate headquarters in New York.
Deborah Fine, president of Avon Future, a new division that serves as the umbrella for mark., projects that the line will generate $100 million in sales in 2004, the first full year of the launch. Mark. is slated to be rolled out overseas in late 2004.
Avon had overall sales of $6.23 billion last year, compared with $6 billion in the previous year.
The company aims to take teenage business away from mass merchandisers, department store chains and smaller retailers. The big chains in particular have been pursuing the teen customer with trendier beauty items -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for example, has brought out a Mary-Kate and Ashley cosmetics line, named after the teenage TV celebrity Olsen twins.
While Avon's representatives sell cosmetics at their home or where they work, these mark. representatives are selling through more informal settings: slumber parties, sororities and campus events.
"This is a portable retail environment that fits seamlessly into the way young women live and shop today," Fine said.
However, selling is not limited to the mark. representative; current Avon representatives can also sign up to sell the new line.
Avon's launch of mark. is the company's latest attempt to reach out to new customers. The company made an unsuccessful try at retailing with a line of beauty products called beComing, sold in J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co. stores. Last year, Sears dropped out, followed by Penney's in January -- both cited their overall strategy to exit from cosmetics.
BeComing is now sold directly through Avon representatives.
Fine said there are no plans to sell mark. in stores.
The line, which can be purchased by dialing 1-800-meetmark, or through the Web site www.meetmark.com, includes different varieties of lip gloss, eye shadow, nail polish, fragrance and accessories. mark. products range from $5 lip gloss to $25 for 30 milliliters of a fragrance called Garden Blu fragrance. Accessories include $15 denim hats and a $30 patchwork denim bags.
Mark's packaging is trendier than the look of Avon's regular products. For example, buyers can create combinations of products that can be hooked up through a plastic connector. For example, customers can buy a stick of shimmery gloss that's connected to a stick of liquid coverup.
At the start of the launch, mark. already had 14,000 people registered that either wanted to buy or sell the brand.
To recruit sales people and to pitch products, Avon is printing 13 million to 16 million new editions of its mark. "magalog" every four to six weeks that representatives pass out in malls and other venues. The magalog is a blend of magazine content and a catalog.
Fine said Avon hopes to give young women an opportunity to run their own business and become successful at it. She said she's confident the commission structure is lucrative enough to attract teens, particularly now given the difficult job market.
Sellers can earn 40 percent sales commission for beauty products and 25 percent on fashion accessories. Opportunities to earn college credit are also available.
To start selling, women can sign up through the Web site or through the toll free number.
Krubiner, who spends hours in a laboratory, said the job fits well with her busy schedule. She's hoping the commissions she earns will pay for a trip to Hawaii over January break.
"I'm really happy with it. I don't have time for a full time or part time job," she said. "I can make my own hours."