Avon gentleman calling! Cosmetics company enters a new era

The Associated Press

This Florida-based Avon rep wears a hard hat and carries a pile of company catalogues to his day job on a construction site, encouraging the men to buy their ladies a little something.

Perfume and lingerie are his top sellers. Oh, and he won't go a day without the women's wrinkle cream. Meet Bobby McKinney. Your local Avon man.

"Forget the product, forget it's Avon. This is a very viable business," says the 58-year-old fire code inspector from Winter Haven, Fla. He made about $800,000 US in sales last year along with his wife and has about 170 sales reps under him.

McKinney is one of a growing number of male salesmen selling products from the New York-based beauty company. It's also part of a strategic move by Avon to broaden its appeal.

Sales to men and an increasing number of products for them has helped Avon's bottom line, with sales growing from about $6.2 billion US in 2002 to $8.7 billion in 2006.

Yankees star Derek Jeter partnered with the company to create Driven, his own line of products which includes cleansers, cologne, aftershave and deodorant. His cologne became Avon's bestselling men's fragrance of all time, and its second bestselling fragrance overall.

Avon recently produced their first men's catalogue, which features boxer shorts and power tools. New recruiting brochures also picture both men and women.

"Anti-aging is very intriguing to [men]," said Regina Dinisio, public-relations manager of Avon fragrance. "They want no-hassle products, but they want to see the real benefits."

Industry experts say the men's market is ripe although still in its early stages.

"We have seen that men are more interested in pampering themselves and taking better care of themselves overall," said Karen Grant, senior beauty industry analyst at market research company NPD Group Inc.

Fewer than 13,000 of Avon's 650,000 representatives in the U.S. are male, although that figure is approximate because applicants are not required to state their gender. Competitor Mary Kay says 5,738 of its 700,000 sales reps are men.

McKinney entered the Avon world three years ago when he realized his wife, Joy, a 20-year Avon veteran, was doing six figures a year in sales. With some experience in network marketing already, McKinney started teaching sales courses to new reps, passing out brochures and filling orders. Today, about 80 per cent of his clients are men.

Jovial and stocky with a blond goatee, McKinney's a Marine Corps vet who says he twice took shrapnel hits in Vietnam and wrestled professionally under the name "Cowboy Bobby Steel." He's no David Beckham-styled metrosexual.

Women love the Avon man, too. He coos over their babies and isn't afraid to talk makeup. His gender is irrelevant, said longtime McKinney customer Rhonda Bryant.

"Not in today's world," she said. "Men and women do everything."