Who’s that knocking on the door? Why Avon ladies are making a comeback

PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 July 2020

Norfolk Avon Lady Brenda Bishop retired in 2011 after 50 years working for the brand, which is set for a revival as the country favours home shopping and deliveries more and more

Norfolk Avon Lady Brenda Bishop retired in 2011 after 50 years working for the brand, which is set for a revival as the country favours home shopping and deliveries more and more

Archant © 2011

Before Deliveroo, before Ocado, before even Dominos, there was a home delivery service offering a unique home shopping experience as Helen McDermott remembers

Ding dong. “Avon Calling.” Do you remember them, the smiling cheerful ladies who brought their wares to your doorstep? If you do, then you might welcome the news that she’s making a comeback, beaming through the doom and gloom of Covid-19 and the lockdown. The word is that requests to take on the Avon franchise have rocketed lately as more and more ladies – and possibly even men – are hoping to have a chance of tempting us to open our doors and let them in to show us the latest in make-up.

Apparently, there were a few Avon men who rang our doorbells with a case full of paints and powders, but the only callers I remember were smartly dressed, immaculately groomed ladies who thrilled mum with their tempting boxes of delight. I was only a little girl then but I did love looking at the lipstick colours and hearing mum go “ooh” and “aah” as she tried them on in front of the mirror.

Avon ladies were a familiar sight in those days, always welcome at our house. But as time went on the brand gradually drifted out of fashion. Shops in the high street began to stock exotic-sounding and lush make-up brands that you could sample on a day out doing all your other shopping. We heard the “ding, dong” less and less often and eventually not at all.

Avon had its beginnings in 19th-century America when a door-to-door book seller called David McConnell had a brainwave, coming up with something virtually unheard of. It was to give the American woman the chance to gain financial independence by running a business of her own. The first woman to set out to sell the Avon brand was Persis Foster Eames Albee. That was in 1885. By all accounts she was a shrewd businesswoman, brave enough to dare going and knocking on doors. Her efforts were very successful. The Avon brand was born.

The name Avon was taken from the river in Stratford, the birthplace of the bard. McConnell was a frequent visitor.

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Avon flourished for years until the swinging 60s when Mary Quant, Biba and Estee Lauder came on the scene, becoming household names. Avon began to be seen as a poor relation. We trendy young things thought Avon was mumsy stuff. We wanted new, cool casings and colours. Being seen pulling Avon out of your make-up bag would be very unhip. While Avon didn’t actually die it just became subdued and quiet. Many women went on from selling the brand using their experience to succeed in all sorts of professions. As one former Avon lady said in the 60s, going out and selling, making money “promoted female empowerment”, even though her mum didn’t exactly approve!

Emerging from lockdown to venture back into the stores I have to say the make-up counters are a bit of a bare and sorry sight. The assistants, the ladies and the gentlemen, are well masked up and apologetic that you can’t actually see what the make-up might look like on you. They can’t even spray you yet with a sample of the latest perfumes.

Ah well, time to make for a coffee and an “award winning scone” with my lovely friend Judy. We had to admit that we rather enjoyed the fact that we could gossip with so much more space around us, good from our point of view but we suspected not for the restaurant.

We talked about the old days at Anglia when Judy had the job of managing the Miss Anglia girls on tours of the region during the 60s when the Miss Anglia shows were hugely popular. But not with everybody. Judy recalls the angry mobs who saw the shows as a “cattle market” and demeaning to women. At one audition there were so many protesters that Judy and the Miss Anglia hopefuls had to barricade themselves into the room.

None of the contestants saw the show as demeaning. Like the Avon ladies, they saw it as empowering. A lot went on to make a good living. According to Judy, none of them, whether they won or not, ever regretted taking part.

Miss Anglia came to an end in the early 80s. Time was up for such shows. Quite right too, some would say. But in these troubled times there’s not a lot wrong with a touch of paint and facial pampering to help you feel a bit better about yourself, is there?

Welcome back Avon, welcome home. Ding, dong!

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