Ding-dong. Avon calling. The familiar sound of the Avon lady is becoming all the more familiar across middle America, as cash-strapped women – and men – take to their local streets to peddle the popular door-to-door cosmetics brand.
Haizel McIntyre, a 29-year-old mother of three from the Bronx, New York, started work with Avon just over a year ago after her youngest child's first birthday cost more than she realised.
"I needed to find some form of supplemental income," explains McIntyre, who works full-time for the New York City Department of Education.
But rather than knocking on neighbour's doors and leaving catalogues on doorsteps, the young professional uses networking to get sales.
"The traditional role of the Avon lady has evolved, you don't have to go door-to-door if you don't want to," she explains. Instead, she takes the catalogue along to events at church, her children's school and when meeting up with sorority sisters from university. "People approach me, rather than the other way around," says McIntyre, one of 500,000 – and growing – Avon representatives across the US.
Avon is not alone. The Pampered Chef, which sells cooking utensils and is part of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, has seen its ranks of 60,000 consultants around the world swell by 6pc in the first three months of 2009 compared to a year ago.
"It's a great source of supplemental income," says Amy Robinson of the Direct Selling Association, the industry's main US trade body. "Direct selling works well during a recession because it's something you can get involved in easily, even if you're looking for a new job."
Robinson says that the flexible nature of direct selling appeals to people who are trying to make ends meet, who are looking for a job and can't not afford to earn whilst doing so, or want a second job.
"You won't make a lot of the money at the outset," she says. "But it's often enough to cover those bills that you might have struggled with otherwise."
Although 2008 figures are not yet available, some 15m people across the US worked in the industry in 2007, with approximately 58pc using it as a second job.
For the salesperson, there is the opportunity to earn 25pc-50pc of retail sales as commission, depending on the company. Other companies pay for recruiting new sellers, while many offer non-cash rewards such as home appliances and holidays for top sales people.
Of course, one of the main developments in the industry since the last recession is the prevalence of the internet as a sales tool. On the Avon website for example, sellers can set up their own homepages, and sell to customers that way, something McIntyre says is extremely useful, especially for re-orders once personal contact has been made.
None of this may make sellers rich, but it does provide a glimmer of hope, and these days you don't even need sturdy shoes and lashings of self-confidence.
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