In 1886, David H. McConnell founded the California Perfume Company, which would become Avon, in New York City. As an unsuccessful book salesman, he had concocted a rose-scented perfume as a “free gift” to encourage people to buy his books. The perfume was so popular, McConnell decided to abandon the book business and start a perfume company instead. In 1897, McConnell built the California Perfume Company’s first factory in Suffern, New York, which was conveniently located alongside railroad tracks for easy access to ship his products. After his death in 1937, his son took over the family business. The company changed its name to Avon in 1939 in honor of Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-on-Avon.
The Original Avon Lady
Avon’s direct-marketing system was developed by Mrs. P.F.E. Albee in 1886. It was the first of its kind. As Mrs. Albee sold perfumes door-to-door, she recruited a team of saleswomen. Direct-marketing offered women a chance to work outside the home in an era when they had few opportunities to do so. The company’s first catalog appeared in 1896 with no illustrations. The first full color catalog was issued in 1905.
Avon’s first product was the Little Dot Perfume Set. By the end of the first year of business, the company had a line of nearly 20 different fragrances. In 1902, the company was selling a full range of cosmetics. In 1931, 11 products received the coveted Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The first “novelty” decanters were sold in the 1960s. The collectible glass car decanters appeared in 1968. Over the years, the whimsical decanters featured themes ranging from animals and flowers to planes and trains.
Avon recorded its first $500 sales day in December 1897. The company sold $1 million worth of products in 1920. In 1972, sales reached a staggering $1 billion. In 1989, Avon announced it would end animal testing on all its products. It was the first major cosmetics company to do so.
Like many industries, Avon retooled half its factories to produce products for the war effort, including insect repellents and gas mask canisters. With the American economy booming after the war, Avon’s sales soared. By 1949, there were 65,000 representatives and 2,500 employees.
For decades, Avon relied solely on catalog sales through their network of representatives. The first TV commercial for Avon appeared in 1954 with the famous “Ding Dong! Avon calling!” tagline. In the 1990s, Avon launched a campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer by selling “pink ribbon” items.
Avon has grown from a small perfume company in New York into a global cosmetics and fragrance industry with almost 5 million representatives. The original product line has expanded to include jewellery, soaps, Christmas ornaments and other household goods. Customers can purchase Avon products through a representative and now online.
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