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Avon opens first U.K. store after 137 years of door-knocking as women join workforce

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It might have taken a massive global health crisis, but Avon’s historic strategy of selling door-to-door is slowly being kicked to the curb. The U.K.-based beauty company has announced plans to open its first stores in the country as it steps further away from the business plan that made it a household name in more ways than one.

The group said it wanted customers to experience its products in person, as part of a continued overhaul that will see its 5 million global reps move away from door-knocking and into boutiques and online sales.

“We are on the cusp of new frontiers for Avon,” said the company’s global chief executive Angela Cretu, as reported by multiple publications. 

“It is an exciting new chapter. Women like to touch and experience the product and have that joy of seeing all the colors available.”

The company said the stores, expected to open in the U.K. in the next couple of months, would be run by its reps as franchisees, akin to the fast food restaurant model. 

The company also said it was expanding its partnership with U.K. cosmetics retailer Superdrug, which will see its products go on sale in the company’s more than 800 stores nationwide.

While COVID-19 has partly guided the strategy to move away from face-to-face visits, Avon’s CEO also hinted it was driven by a rising trend of female employment that has increasingly mean knocks went unanswered.

‘New frontiers’

Avon was founded in 19th-century New York by David H. McConnell. Originally a door-to-door book salesman, McConnell switched to beauty when he found the items he gave as gifts proved more popular than his main product. 

Renaming his company the California Perfume Company and mixing perfumes himself, McConnell recruited a team of women to market his products on customers’ doorsteps.

More than a century of this strategy—and expansion to more than 50 countries—has made the company a massive word-of-mouth success, taking in billions in annual revenue. 

But the onset of COVID-19, which led to strict rules on mixing between households, forced a rethink in strategy. The company already operates more than 50 physical stores in Turkey and is planning outlets in Brazil and South Africa.

It’s part of an “omni-channel” approach to sales introduced in recent years that would see the company market online and in stores as well as on customers’ doorsteps. This has included a fresh drive for younger customers through social media platforms including streaming on Facebook Live.

The Guardian reported in 2021 that 30% of Avon’s sales contacts were made online, up from less than 10% before the pandemic. 

The rethink may also reflect an overdue shift to new forms of commerce in the digital age. Avon has been fighting declining sales for a number of years, falling consistently from $11.3 billion in 2012 to $2.8 billion in 2022.

A changing customer

Avon CEO Cretu also suggested the move was driven by the changing habits of the company’s overwhelmingly female customer base.

In the early 1970s, the employment rate for working-age women was just 52%, but that rose to more than 72% in 2023 as more women entered the workforce. That has made it harder for Avon reps to find their target demographic at home during working hours.

“Women stayed at home in the past, but now they are going out to work and we have to follow them wherever they spend their time and make the service as convenient as possible,” Cretu said, the Guardian reported.

A representative for Avon didn’t immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

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