Photo: A very young Ava Anderson poses with her grandfather, the late Charlie Collis, a direct selling industry icon.
Click here to order the April 2015 issue in which this article appeared.
Headquarters: East Providence, Rhode Island
Executives: CEO Ava Anderson; President Kim Anderson
Products: Personal and home care
What pops into your head when you hear the word “teenager”? Odds are good that you don’t picture a fiercely passionate entrepreneur with a vision to change chemical policy in America. Or someone who delivers a TEDx Talk with some alarming information about harmful ingredients in personal-care and home products. Or a CEO at the helm of a direct selling company that attracted some 1,000 new Consultants in the last 70 days. While we often recognize direct selling for its ability to transform lives, we may not realize the legacies it creates, which can impact multiple generations in profound ways—and extend the reach of this industry far beyond what we thought possible. College student Ava Anderson, who also happens to be running a multimillion-dollar direct selling business, is one shining example of that generational promise.
Her story starts seven years ago, when at age 14 Ava spotted a report about potentially harmful chemicals found in teenagers’ bloodstreams that could be attributed to personal-care products. Those words sparked a fire inside that would become her passion and mission.
She took to the blogosphere to air her concerns and start a conversation with others on the subject, and it wasn’t long before she had several thousand followers. She’d hit a nerve; consumers cared deeply about this issue. It seemed to her that Americans were placing their trust in product labels without knowledge of their ingredients and the possible long-term effects of exposure, or “body burden.” But what was the solution? After almost a year’s worth of research, Ava could not find a full line that she could use or recommend with confidence. So she proposed a bold idea to her parents: She wanted to start her own line of products that people could trust.
With the support of her parents and friends, Ava located a private manufacturer capable of developing and producing the kind of products for which consumers were hungry. In December 2009, Ava Anderson Non Toxic® was born with six skincare products and an executive team of two: 15-year-old Ava as CEO and Ava’s mother, Kim Anderson, as President. Kim believed so strongly in her daughter that she left retirement to join the cause. The former owner of a successful home-goods store in the family’s hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island, Kim knew what it took to run a business—and she had every confidence in her daughter. This entrepreneurial drive may be atypical for a 15-year-old, but Ava was no ordinary teenager.
A Direct Selling Legacy
Ava’s grandfather is the late direct selling industry icon Charlie Collis, who founded Princess House®, a direct seller of home and entertainment products. His tireless work ethic and compassionate principles had been handed down through the generations, and the family was no stranger to direct selling or its power to change people’s lives.
The direct selling model was a natural fit for Ava Anderson Non Toxic®, not only because of the family’s familiarity with the channel—“we had close to 100 years of direct selling experience and advice within our family,” Kim says—but also because “there isn’t enough room on the back of a bottle to explain this issue of toxic chemicals in products,” Ava adds. “Direct selling is the only way to fully convey our mission and how revolutionary these products are.”
Ava’s father, Frohman Anderson, stepson of Charlie Collis, told her that she couldn’t have a successful direct selling business without a minimum of 300 Consultants, “so Ava and I reached out to everyone we knew by phone, blogging, emailing, any way we could get the message out,” Kim says.
“We created our products to become a platform for the message,” Ava says. “Changing people’s health and financial lives is our focus. This has never been about profit for our family. We don’t have shareholders or investors to satisfy. If our Consultants change lives and make a good income doing something worthwhile, something they can feel really good about, that’s success for us.” In fact, while the Andersons made a small family investment to start the company, it’s the ongoing success of Ava Anderson Consultants that organically funds the company’s tremendous growth.
Throughout the next few years, while other teens were busy with extracurricular activities, Ava was running her business. The hard work clearly has paid off. With more than 7,000 Consultants, the company offers 75 products in 11 different categories—skin care, cosmetics, hair care, body care, men’s products, baby care, sun care, pet care, scents, bug spray and home cleaning products—with many more products currently in development. Its growth since 2009 has been due in large part to youthful idealism, a message that resonates with consumers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and to a direct selling legacy in which the sky’s truly the limit and anything is possible.
As with any new business, Ava hit speedbumps, though hers were somewhat unique. “My age was certainly an obstacle at first,” Ava says. “People didn’t think I knew as much about the issue as I did. I couldn’t legally sign a check, purchase orders or contracts for the business before age 18. But once people met me and heard me speak, they could see this was my passion.”
Sharing Her Passion, Leaving Her Mark
Like any company executive, Ava spends a fair amount of time on the road. She’s helping educate Consultants and consumers, motivating potential leaders, even lobbying on Capitol Hill in support of more stringent chemical regulation. In October 2013, she presented a TEDx Talk, “Toxic Baggage: A Journey to Healthier Living,” at her high school alma mater, Moses Brown School, in Providence, Rhode Island. That’s all while continuing her studies at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, an institution well-known for its entrepreneurship program, where she’s majoring in business and has perfected the fine art of time management.
Last year, Forbes.com named Ava one of its “Five Entrepreneurs Inspiring College Students.” And she holds the distinction of being the only third-generation Direct Selling Association (DSA) member. Her father and grandfather bought a direct selling company in 1992 where Frohman served as General Manager.
Ava’s extremely well-versed on the subject of chemicals in personal-care products, having pored over all the research she can find. Ava points to a few figures that are important to share: Europe currently bans more than 1,400 chemicals from its personal-care products, while the United States bans only 11. “The average woman in this country puts on almost 200 chemicals before breakfast, some with known and suspected links to disease,” she says.
Director of Training Marianne Friedlund says, “Our mission is to educate consumers—and when we focus on that mission, the sales follow. Most of our Consultants consider themselves educators, not salespeople. Once people know this information, they can’t ‘unknow’ it.” She adds, “By continuing to share important studies, articles and our wonderful product testimonials, our Consultants are finding great success. This is a trending issue, and we’re making a difference, one household at a time, by reducing the body burden of families.”
CEO Ava Anderson and her mom, President Kim Anderson (front, center), welcome sales leaders to the home of Ava’s personal-care products company.
‘If Consultants Are Happy, Everyone’s Happy’
Charlie Collis passed away in 2014 at the age of 99, but his legacy remains firmly intact. Considered a pioneer of direct selling, he started Princess House in 1963, and was named to the Direct Selling Association (DSA) Hall of Fame in 1981. His family members hold dear memories of his humorous one-liners, or “Charlie-isms.” He took a genuine interest in others, calling the rising stars in his independent salesforce “gems.” “He was so fond of his gems—they were the highlight for him,” Ava says. “He’d tell us stories about them, and he wanted to know all about the gems in our salesforce. He was driven to make Consultants happy. His philosophy was, if Consultants are happy, everyone’s happy.”
|Ava Anderson takes time out with sales leaders during Leader Day at her company’s headquarters in East Providence, Rhode Island.|
And at Ava Anderson Non Toxic®, there’s much to be happy about. The company saw more than a 400 percent increase both in sales and sponsoring in 2014. To what does Ava attribute that phenomenal growth? You can hear Charlie’s influence in her answer. She explains that her grandfather’s mindset of personal connection is put into practice from Day One. Company executives call every single new Consultant to extend a warm welcome and share the big vision and opportunity for success. As Consultants continue to grow their business and qualify for incentives, Kim says, “everyone in the running for promotions and achievements gets a personal email from us. Our field knows that we truly want them to succeed.”
As new Consultants engage in a 90-day “Quick Start” path, they’re encouraged to take advantage of twice-monthly live training webinars, weekly national training calls and monthly team meetings. Training materials are designed to be simple and easily replicable. Consultants have access to a desktop and mobile back office (avaOFFICE) of training documents, a video training library and regular program updates.
Top performers may be eligible to participate in an invitation-only 10-week VIP program led by Friedlund and comprised of group and individual coaching. And a series of events throughout the year deliver targeted training for new Consultants all the way to seasoned veterans.
The company maintains a strong presence on social media, including a corporate Facebook page followed by more than 62,000 (Ava and Kim personally respond to comments posted there), and a personal Facebook forum managed by each salesforce Executive (Ava Anderson Non Toxic® currently has more than 75 of these top salesforce performers), where they engage Consultants directly, answer questions and offer support. Being a young, tech-savvy company, “We consider ourselves social entrepreneurs,” Ava says.
Parties Are the Foundation
Despite all of this technology, however, Ava Anderson Non Toxic® will always be a party plan company. “There’s no replacing the power of gathering 10 or more people in a room and sharing this information with them personally,” Kim says. “If Consultants rely only on social media, they won’t realize a level of success anywhere near those who follow the party plan model, and use social media as another powerful business tool. Parties [called avaHOURS] are the backbone of our company—they’re where the true value of this business lies, and where long-lasting relationships are born. Those who have been consistent, holding one to two parties a week, have built empires with this opportunity. And that’s just how Charlie did it.”
The company offers rich incentives for hosts and Consultants alike, including what they call one of the most lucrative compensation plans in the direct selling industry. “We believe in the value that independent business owners bring to their communities and the power they have collectively as a voice of change in this country,” Ava says. “Our compensation plan has been designed to help them succeed early, realize their dreams through the income potential and develop without limitations.”
What drives people to Ava Anderson Non Toxic®, Kim says, is a sincere interest in product ingredients and a desire to help change the world. “We’re able to leverage the growing passion for this issue and the power of direct selling to give Consultants the opportunity to do something
they really care about,” Kim says. “We share the safest full line of personal-care and home products on the market. We’re not a beauty company; we’re a wellness alternative.”
“Our Consultants are caring, passionate and well-informed,” Ava says. “We have a lot of young moms, but the salesforce includes all ages, and it’s gender-neutral. Our philosophy is that everyone deserves to be informed on these issues and have access to healthier product choices.”
Founded on the values of hard work, persistence and vision, Ava Anderson Non Toxic® maintains a strong commitment to helping others—particularly young women—realize their entrepreneurial dreams. The company funded the United States’ first college women’s entrepreneurial accelerator, at Babson College, two years ago. Each year, between 25 and 30 students participate and have the opportunity to take their ideas from initial “pitch” all the way to business launch. Mentors coach them throughout the process.
“We want to give other young entrepreneurs a leg up on their great ideas. Our family believes that entrepreneurship truly can change the lives of everyone in this country,” Kim says.
Ava Anderson Non Toxic’s other philanthropic commitments include donations to breast cancer foundations, domestic violence groups, homeless shelters, veterans’ homes and others. In 2014, more than $250,000 in product was sent to these groups. The company also raised funds for more than 20,000 meals for Edesia Global Nutrition Solutions, a global children’s malnutrition solution, last fall.
Next Milestone: Graduation
Changing the national conversation on product ingredients is a lot to juggle in between college courses and exams, but Ava will continue that fine balance until she graduates Babson in 2016, after which she’ll focus full-time on her namesake company.
Ava Anderson is living proof that the millennial generation holds tremendous promise, passion and drive to leave the earth a better place than how they found it. And perhaps no other vehicle can turn those dreams into reality better than direct selling.
“If you have passion and determination, you can change the world,” she says. “And our family, our company, our Consultants are doing just that.”
Now that’s a legacy of which Charlie would be proud.