Jeannine Price: Selling Avon was a colorful career

Written by David Green.

By LISA KLOK

Before women could vote, they could sell Avon.

In 1886, David McConavon-travel nell was selling books door to door. To make more sales, McConnell decided to give women a complimentary vial of perfume with their purchase. McConnell blended the fragrance himself with the help of a local pharmacist.

That’s when he noticed that his customers were more interested in the little fragrance gifts he gave them than in the books themselves. So McConnell, being a business man, decided to market his fragrances instead.

He named his new venture the California Perfume Company and began selling his first product, the Little Dot Perfume Set, which included five fragrances: violet, white rose, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley and hyacinth.

He also enlisted Mrs. P.F.E. Albee, the first “Avon lady” to help him sell the perfume set door-to-door.

By 1897, McConnell had 12 women selling his line of 18 fragrances. By the turn of the century, the company began expanding its products to include flavorings, extracts, facial powders and creams.

Then, in 1929, the company began running two separate lines. One line was called “Perfection” and included household products, such as cake baking kits and furniture polish. The other line, the cosmetic line, was called “Avon,” which became the new name of the entire company in 1939.

But even with a new name, the company still maintained its approach of selling products door-to-door. The method seemed to work exceptionally well, especially in more rural areas where women had limited access to stores.

And the door-to-door method is still the Avon way. In fact, it’s the method used in close to 150 different countries by Avon today.

Morenci’s Jeannine Price is no stranger to the Avon method. She started selling the cosmetic line door-to-door in the early 1970s and stopped in 1989 when her husband, Bob, retired.

So just what did it mean to be an Avon lady?

For Jeannine, it meant getting a driver’s license. At that time, Morenci was divided into four territories, and each one had its own Avon lady. Jeannine was asked to take over the territory of a woman who was quitting, and to do so, she’d have to be able to drive.

So with her driver’s license under her belt, Jeannine set off to sell her products.

Although most of the job was routine, Jeannine was not without her more interesting moments, especially when it came to pets.

“For some reason I am not a dog lover, but they’d always go to me,” Jeannine said.

She remembers being at a particular house where the owners had a huge dog. The dog had put his bone in her cosmetic suitcase and then proceeded to try to dig his bone out, making a mess in the meantime.

Jeannine also remembers arriving at a house in the summer. Being extremely thirsty, she asked for a drink, which the customer’s husband brought to her. Jeannine drank the beverage rather quickly.

When the husband came back through the room, he asked Jeannine if the drink was strong enough. Unknown to Jeannine, he had given her an alcoholic beverage.

Jeannine also had to keep close track of the schedules of over 100 customers in order to plan her visits rather precisely.

For example, she had a customer who was a huge Happy Days fan. Jeannine was supposed to visit the woman in the evening, but knew she had to get there either before the show started or after it ended, or else the woman wouldn’t pay attention.

Jeannine also knew to plan extra time for some of her customers, like senior citizens who would want to visit.

“For them it was company, somebody to talk to,” she said.

And for Jeannine, she enjoyed the person-to-person interaction as well. She said that some women in other districts would have workers under them and just focused on winning incentive prizes offered by the company.

Although Jeannine never won a trip to the Bahamas or a new car, she has her fair share of Avon winnings scattered throughout her house. She won a leaf blower, vases, jewelry, casserole dishes, canisters, frying pans and several dolls during her days as an Avon representative.

And besides, as Jeannine found out, you don’t have to be the top saleswoman to get a lot of attention at an Avon kick-off party in Paris.

In 1979, Jeannine and Bob were on their biannual trip to Europe when they passed by a new Avon distribution center just outside of Paris. They decided to stop in just to check the place out, when they realized the center was having its grand opening bash.

“We had no idea what was going on,” Jeannine said.

Not realizing the Price’s intent to just have a look around, they were treated to drinks, hors d’oeuvres and a huge dinner by the organizers of the event. The Prices also received perfumes and other little Avon gifts.

The Prices were showered with attention from the French, who kept asking them all kinds of questions. Jeannine said they just went along with it.

“We didn’t know what to tell them,” she said. “We just weren’t expecting that.”

Although Jeannine had her quirkier moments while employed with Avon, she said that most of the time the job was fairly routine, a routine that currently sells a tube of lipstick every three seconds, a routine now shared by almost four million women worldwide, including women in Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Ireland and, yes, even Morenci.

 - March 3, 2004
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