The Avon lady
How Claudette Walters rose from poverty with a good sales pitch
THERE is not much to smile about when you have lost a child, a job and your house in less than three years, but despite all this, Claudette Walters is a happy woman today, and she credits her joy to one company which helped to transform her life in a relatively short space of time .
Walters was devastated when her teenage son died in a motor vehicle accident in 2002, and as if this was not bad enough, she lost her job as a machine operator at the Kingston Freezone Manufacturing Company in 2005. That same year, she watched helplessly as fire gutted the house she was living in with her two other children off Whitehall Avenue in Kingston.
Desperately in need of a job, the single mother started browsing the daily newspapers for employment opportunities. When she came upon an advertisement one day recruiting Avon representatives, she didn't think twice about putting in a call to enquire more about the prospects.
"I was just looking through the paper to try and find a way to make an income when I saw the advertisement, so I decided to give the person a call," she said.
"When the person tried to explain the procedures to me, I was saying that this needed money, but I don't have any money," Walters told All Woman.
Avon is one of the world's largest direct sellers of beauty supplies and supports 6.4 million representatives in over 100 countries. Products are marketed directly to customers by these representatives, thereby allowing them the flexibility to determine their own working hours.
Given her limited financial resources, the single mother started her business on a small scale until she was able to pump even more funds into the venture. Armed with a gentle smile and a persistent attitude, she went out each day soliciting buyers for the wide range of products displayed in her Avon catalogue.
"I don't take 'no' for an answer and the 'no' is not going to deter me," said an adamant Walters.
The fact that Walters had no prior experience in sales was of no consequence as she went about recruiting customers daily. Most transactions were easily booked after a conversation with a random stranger about a piece of jewellery or other non-consequential subjects.
"Sometimes people will tell you that they don't know how to sell, but I am a testimony that when I started Avon, I couldn't sell an ice-mint to someone, but I knew that I had to do it because I wanted a change of situation in my life. I knew that I had to go out there and speak to persons," she said.
"I know the life that I am coming from and what I really wanted from Avon. So when I go out and I promote Avon, I try to tell persons that I am coming from where I literally was begging [money] to send my kids to school and with Avon, I don't have to go out there to try to beg for lunch money, because my son basically died in an accident trying to find his father to get lunch money to go to school," said Walters, who dropped out of school at 16 years old after becoming pregnant with her son.
To say Walters' situation has changed is an understatement. Since joining Avon, she has moved her family out of the wooden structure she was given by Food for the Poor after the fire, into a large five-bedroom house she purchased in a nice residential community. She has just recently returned from a cruise to Alaska which was paid for by Avon and was also promoted to the highly coveted post of senior executive unit leader, which is the ultimate achievement for an Avon sales leader.
"My mother has breast cancer, my father has prostate cancer, and I am the sole breadwinner for them now. Although they have a lot of kids, my other siblings don't have the funds to basically support them. But Avon has made it possible for me to be able to earn enough money to cover medical expenses," she said.
Walters has been ranked the number one Avon achiever in both the United States and the Caribbean region combined. To put that in context, there are over 5,000 sales representatives in Jamaica alone, and over 600,000 in the US. The single mother was also able to accumulate over US$2 million for Avon in the last business cycle and has been the recipient of the Spirit Award for the last two years.
"That award is given to someone who is not only a friend, but a teacher to the people that she represents in her group and as a mentor, she is always there for them," explained Avon's District Manager Juan Cabrera.
Both Cabrera and Avon's divisional director for the Caribbean, Auclaire Walters, described Walters as a stellar businesswoman and a humble worker who epitomises what Avon is about.
As senior executive unit leader, Walters is responsible for directing and mentoring a team consisting of over 1000 first, second and third generation Avon members.
"Sometimes they have questions that they would like to ask, especially if they are new persons just entering the business. So you need to be there with advice, do follow-ups with them. Remember, you want them to become as successful as you, and the only way to become successful is to walk side by side with them," she said.
The astute businesswoman has no plans to give up her job anytime soon, and finds that being an independent sales representative gives her the flexibility she needs to fulfil her daily responsibilities.
"You can go out, work the hours that you want to work, and be back at home in time for the children when they return from school. As a parent, you have to do what you have to do," she said.