Q: What are the challenges associated with running such a large entity with four companies under its umbrella?
J.P. Ferreira: Determining how we complement each other in the eyes of consumers and their customers while protecting the identity and originality of each of those brands. Many of our associates don’t belong to any particular brand anymore – for example, some of our factory workers are producing products for all four brands, and our back-office functions … legal, finance, supply chain, HR, operating services for all of the companies. I think the pandemic helped quite a lot in terms of our culture. At the beginning of the pandemic, we pushed ourselves to go back to our roots and our purpose—that people come first. We didn’t know what would happen to the business.
We decided on three things. First, work to contain the compassion, and we did that by redirecting all of our production capacity to essential items for donations across Latin America. We’ve donated millions of units of those products. Second, protect our people—not only our own associates but moreover our huge network of consultants, 4.5 million in Latin America. We created emergency funds for them to support the most vulnerable with food, to provide telemedicine and, unfortunately, assistance for funeral services. Third, maintain the economy active because most of those consultants lost their jobs and didn’t have any other alternative to feed their families if not for their beauty consultant activity. So, we accelerated all of the digital features we’d been building for years and trained those consultants so they could continue to serve their clients remotely, which was a huge success. Because of that, during the pandemic, right after the arrival of Avon, everyone stopped asking “Where do you come from?” because the purpose was much higher than that. This is what connects all of us. We won’t lose the identity of the individual brands, but we come together to do good for society.
Q: Are there any plans to continue to build the Avon brand independent of the Natura &Co brand even though Natura &Co is now the parent company?
Angela Cretu: Natura &Co is a company for the world, but in terms of individual brand expression, we have the resources to express our uniqueness. Avon is all about women’s empowerment—our dignity, financial independence and equality. The identity of our brand will continue to evolve … the beauty of this group is its diversity. But we’ve created a stronger and more cohesive voice as Natura &Co.
Q: What have you learned during the last 16 months?
J.P. Ferreira: What I’ve learned is that people come first – that’s it. We have only Latin America, but we mapped the number [of COVID deaths] among our network of reps, and we’re counting 1,200 so far. If you look at the number of associates, it’s 20. We have some of the countries most affected by the pandemic here. So, what’s the sense of talking about this year’s sales or profit projections? We need to focus on people first and what we can do internally and externally to try and support and influence public policy as well. But let me tell you one thing I experienced through that period, and I hope it will be a unique experience in my professional life. Our business improved tremendously. Our brands in Latin America have been rewarded as the strongest brands for society, and our company has the best reputation among all sectors—over Amazon, Facebook, Google— we’re ahead of them. Consumers value the way we act. Consultant loyalty also is at its highest because consultants value and reward our loyalty. Similarly, our internal engagement surveys with our associates are well above internal benchmarks. So, in hindsight, it may sound obvious, but doing the right thing bears good results in the end for everyone because people are here for a higher purpose. In the toughest moment, we didn’t hesitate and forgot all of those short-term internal targets and did the most that we could for people, and that’s practical learning that I hope never to experience again.
Angela Cretu: People should always be the focus. That became obvious for everyone in this game. I hope that learning changes the way companies connect and nurture their own people. As a leader, I’ve learned that life is so dynamic—the market is changing at a fast pace, and as leaders, we should ask ourselves every morning, “Why would she choose me today?” I want to make sure I’m adding value to my own environment. It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s mine every day. I see my role as an enabler, not a dictator.
Q: How have the last 16 months changed Avon?
Angela Cretu: We were looking before to adapt our business model to meet trends in the marketplace, increase our omnichannel access and provide instant gratification. The pandemic completely changed the pace of that, but we still need to keep that high-touch relationship. We stepped up our digital tools so beauty advisors s felt comfortable nurturing their customer relationships as much as possible, even when they couldn’t leave their homes.
Initially, people were trying to process the pandemic and were paralyzed. By acknowledging all of those fears, we were able to find solutions. We engaged beauty advisors in the discussion so they felt included as partners, and they rose to the challenge more than I could have ever imagined. It was a great reminder of the power of direct selling to create relationships no matter the crisis. We’ve received feedback from thousands of women that they felt unbearable pressure to hold multiple roles without knowing what tomorrow held, and they felt alone and isolated. So, we launched a “global gallery” and asked them to share their stories of how they were overcoming adversity—juggling motherhood and career, surviving breast cancer, overcoming domestic violence—and we received over 450,000 responses. Women tell us that “Whenever I doubt myself, I go there and just read one story from Saudi, from Germany, from Australia,” and it’s amazing to see how women around the world are united. This is the uniqueness of our industry.
Q: How do you think Avon will continue to distinguish itself in the direct selling industry?
Angela Cretu: Online tools will always be part of the game, but one thing that won’t change and is more relevant than ever is our ability to offer so much more than products. We’ll continue offering tools so that our consultants can operate in an online environment, but what will distinguish Avon are the relationships that create value for the community, not just stakeholders. We can tap into those trusted, authentic relationships and continue to build on that legacy. And we need to remain humble and open to learning new ways to connect with beauty advisors and customers.
From the August 2021 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.