Change continues to be a recurring theme for Avon Products Inc.
Not only does the company have new owners (its acquisition by Brazilian-based Natura & Co was completed on Jan. 3), but CEO Jan Zijderveld, who spearheaded the direct-selling giant’s “Open Up Avon” digital strategy in 2018 has left the firm. Angela Cretu now fills Avon’s top spot. Despite the shifts, there will not be disruptions in the company’s modernization efforts or its intention to revitalize its sales force, said James Thompson, chief beauty and brand officer.
“What we have been doing and what we are trying to do is to reimagine what our company’s value is as brand,” he said.
Beyond introducing its first CBD products this month, other Avon innovation exercises in the last 15 months have included introducing its personalized beauty app for foundation, partnering with on-demand delivery service Rappi in Latin America, developing an in-house content studio and launching a beauty accelerator.
Thompson spoke with Glossy about what’s next for Avon’s sales representatives and how the Natura & Co deal will affect company operations. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Avon saw active representatives decline following the Natura & Co acquisition, but the average representatives’ sales increased by 4%. What’s been driving your salesforce?
We have been focused on improving the position of the representatives, because they are the foundation of our business. In the latest quarter, sales engagement by active representatives was up, so that means the people who are already a part of Avon are beginning to make more money more easily. Providing digital tools to our representatives to drive sales has been key. Today, one in three representatives uses our apps. They are able to run their businesses more effectively and distribute advertising and content easier, as well. This has been hugely beneficial to our e-commerce business, because year over year, we’ve seen online orders increase by 80%. That is continuing month on month, too, and we are seeing 70%-80% growth each month. Now that we have this foundation right with our representatives, we can think about recruiting. Modernization takes time.
In Latin America, you dabbled with physical storefronts for representatives, in step with your digital expansion plan. Is that something you want to play forward?
That pilot worked, and we were very excited by it because our representative was at the core of it. But it is a hard concept to scale. We’ve got this sort of hybrid model in Asia, in the Philippines and in China, where we don’t do as much direct selling anymore. In China, we have people who own their boutiques and sell, so we want to be flexible in those environments where physical retail really works.
With Natura & Co’s help, how will you expand Avon’s global footprint?
Our approach now is to be the best beauty company in the world. Avon has 90% brand awareness, but in some places, people aren’t sure where we exist and how. So we need to use that awareness to our advantage. I’ve never seen such a big gap between awareness and knowing what we actually do. At this point, no one has our depth of expertise in Latin America now that we are part of Natura. Both Avon and Natura & Co are core to the culture there. We’re significantly growing our e-commerce business in the U.K., despite the climate [with Brexit] there. And in places like Poland, where the idea of influencers may not be as popular as in the U.S., we have been able to teach representatives how to use Instagram and Twitter to drive their businesses through our new content studio. We see huge growth opportunities in Eastern Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia, and we want to do more in Africa.
Last year, you introduced your first clean brand, Distillery, and now you are venturing into CBD. How much are you banking on trends within your product portfolio?
Distillery was our first effort to be very forward-thinking. It was clean beauty, vegan and completely visually on-trend, and the response has been incredible. Moving into CBD is a little bit of the same. We’re moving with regulation on this, and not wanting to put ourselves in harm’s way where there is a conservative perception of CBD, like there is Russia and Costa Rica. But we continually want to prove we’re not your mother’s Avon; the idea of the Avon lady has changed.