Men muscle in to woman’s world

New career: Michael Furniss, who sells Avon products.
New career: Michael Furniss, who sells Avon products.
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Ding dong! It’s the Avon MAN calling... For over 126 years, the company that founded Avon has been ringing a bell with women looking to earn from jobs they could work around their families.

But now men are muscling in on the act. New figures reveal a growing trend for the Avon Man.

Over five per cent of the UK’s Avon army is now male – up from 4.1 per cent in 2010 – and the trend is set to rise dramatically this year.

The Direct Selling Association, the trade body that represents direct-selling companies including Avon, predicts that men will make up a quarter of their direct sales force by the end of 2013.

Avon sales leaders say jobless men are joining up and others are using the part-time work to boost their income during the recession. But a growing number see real career potential in that pot of face-cream.

Bookie turned beauty rep Michael Furniss is one of them.

The 23-year-old has stepped into the shoes of the traditional Avon lady. He goes door to door in Sheffield and Chesterfield with a case crammed full of cosmetics and toiletries – and a head stuffed with beauty and skincare knowledge.

He knows more about lipstick, powder and paint than most women and believes a colourful future lies ahead of him at the global direct sales brand.

Michael, of Station Lane in New Whittington, Chesterfield, hadn’t so much as batted an eyelash at cosmetics until three years ago. The William Hill worker spotted a newspaper advert offering extra income for a few hours of part-time work.

It was for budding Avon representatives, a factor that would have turned most men pale. But not Michael – his mum Jane had been an Avon lady when he and his sisters were growing up. He thought he’d take a gamble,

“I remember mum’s huge bag of Avon products – it was like a magic box,” he says. “I went out on her calls with her a few times in my school holidays.

“She would produce lipsticks, lots of little bottles and pots and her customers would be really excited. I’d sit and watch in amazement.”

Michael decided – if mum could do it, why couldn’t he? Male friends laughed at first and his dad, a factory worker at Sheepbridge Industrial Estate, was unsure.

But Michael joined up, did the training and before he had even received the modern Avon rep’s trustiest selling tool – a stack of Avon catalogues – he won £30 of orders in his first day.

“Men looking for work or extra money to support their families should ditch the sterotypical view and sign up to Avon,” he advises.

He sees a blooming carer at Avon. “Lots of the top jobs are filled by men; I’d like to progress,” he says. “You can earn up to 25 per cent commission on your own sales and an additional 12 per cent from any team members you encourage to start work.”

His dad has recognised that and is now a great support. “He’s a man’s man but when he saw that I was working hard and earning money, he helped me get the job off the ground and build up my team of reps,” says Michael, who has found that, once customers get over the shock of a man trying to sell them beauty products, they warm to him. They are a bit suspicious of me at first. It was obvious they are thinking; why is a man doing this?

“But when they realise I really know my stuff, they take advice from me and seem to enjoy the fact that they’re getting a male opinion at the same time.

“My best customers were a family of eight who spent £280 in one session. They bought virtually everything in the sales book and are regulars now.”

He’s also converted his twin sister Charlotte and elder sibling Emily, 24, who work at the Tesco Extra store in Chesterfield. “They are very glamorous and love their make-up. I’ve got them into Avon.They and mum are among my best customers now,” he grins.

Avon’s best sellers: Michael’s top three

Anew A-F33 line correcting serum – claims to visibly reduce the look of lines and wrinkles and tone the skin with daily application within two weeks

Flawless Mate Foundation Mousse – in soft and subtle tones, melts into skin and gives long-lasting wear

Nailwear Pro+ – long-lasting anti-chip nail varnish

Anew A-F33 – I use it and it works

Christian Lacroix Rouge Eau De Parfum – I love this fragrance’ It’s very feminine with spicy notes.

Harry FCUK Watch – as more men are looking through our brochures, Avon included a mens section and this little watch is one of my top-sellers

Inspiration from tools of the trade

Avon hasn’t only brought Michael Furniss a career – it’s given him a beauty routine.

“I used to wash my face with soap in the morning and reach for the hair gel.

“Now I cleanse morning and night with Pore-Penetrating Invigorating Scrub and each day I wear a touch of Avon Magix Cashmere Advanced Foundation; it’s very subtle and covers my shaving rash really well,” he says.

He paints his nails with Avon’s nail protector – it’s matt and undetectable – and dyes his hair every month with a different Avon wash-in colourant. The current deep mahogany red is his favourite so far.

Yet it has to be said, he looks totally natural. “Female customers assume I don’t use any of the products I sell. Most are surprised when I list what I wear and how it works,” he says. That’s when they realise they can trust my product knowledge,” adds the man who goes to bed every night under a facial veil of Avon Anew A-F 33, the line corrector treatment currently gaining rave reviews from customers and the beauty press.

“I wear it every day and started to notice results after two weeks,” he says, holding up a box of the age-defier just-so between the middle finger of each hand, like the women on the beauty counters do. I know what goes into every product, what it does and how it should be used,” he says. “And I’ve a good eye for what colours suit people.

“One of the most enjoyable parts of the job is helping to boost women’s confidence by showing them how to look better.”

Michael has gone above and beyond in his quest to find what women want, though. When he staged an Avon party at a club, he dressed up as an Avon lady.

“It was great fun and the customers thought it was hilarious. It was hard to find a wig, a dress that fitted and heels in a size 11,” says Michael. “But doing my make-up was a doddle!”

Humble start for beauty institution

Avon was established in the USA over 126 years ago by 28-year-old door-to-door bookseller David McConnell. He discovered the rose oil perfumes he was giving away as a customer incentive were the very reason women were buying his books.

He founded the California Perfume Company with a line of five floral fragrances plus everyday essential items, all backed by an unconditional, money back guarantee – something still upheld by Avon. The world’s first Avon lady Mrs P Albee of Winchester, New Hampshire, was hired by McConnell in 1886.

She sold products and recruited other women as depot agents, becoming the role model for the Avon representative of today.

The company offered a unique way for women to move towards economic independence before they had the right to vote.

With global aspirations and during a visit to England, McConnell was struck by the beauty of the Stratford-on-Avon countryside and introduced a product line called Avon – it contained a toothbrush, talcum powder and vanity set.

In 1939, the company’s name was changed to Avon Products Inc.

The famous ‘ding dong – Avon calling’ fanfare was first heard on US television in 1954.

Avon now has six million sales representatives in more than 100 countries.

It has an annual revenue of over $11 billion and is the world’s largest direct-seller,

In the UK, Avon now reaches one in three women, with six million women seeing an Avon brochure every three weeks. 

More products carry the Avon name than any other brand in the world.

Globally, Avon has raised over $800 million as one of the world’s largest supporter of women’s causes.