AVON CALLING . . . IN SPANISH : Cosmetics Company Pushes Profitably Into the Latino Market

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

When sales representatives such as Alma Caudillo are selling Avon cosmetics, they like to help customers carefully brush on some makeup, perhaps add a bit of eye shadow and then earnestly invoke the company’s motto: “Look how good you look now!”

But in ethnic Los Angeles, Caudillo often has more success saying it this way: “Mira que bien luce ahora!”

Increasingly, Avon is calling in Spanish, and those calls are translating into big sales. And nowhere is that more evident than in Southern California, where Avon has zeroed in on Latino women both to buy and to sell its line of cosmetics, fragrances and toiletries.


Under Los Angeles division manager Laura Estrada, Avon Products has recruited more and more Latino women to sell and to manage sales. Of Avon’s 103 divisions nationwide, Estrada’s operation had the highest sales increases in 1986 and 1987. And three of her district managers were among the top four nationally.

“We always did very well” in Los Angeles, said Estrada, “but not as well as we’re doing now. The language barrier was always there. Even though they liked the product, the consumer didn’t always understand all the benefits of the product.

“We wanted to get more representatives to serve them,” she said. “Latinos like to buy from Latinos.” With that in mind, 70% of the 6,200 sales representatives in her division are now Latinos and virtually all of them speak Spanish.

In the cosmetics business, the Latino market “has been particularly important to our profit picture, because overall industry sales have been pretty flat,” said Lydia Ramirez-Morgan, an Avon spokeswoman. “The overall market isn’t growing. . . . The pie isn’t growing.

“The Hispanic part of the overall market is growing. That makes them important because companies these days can only grow by taking away another company’s market share.”

Indeed, marketing experts say other companies may also begin to hire more Latino sales managers because they are beginning to notice how good Avon’s Los Angeles sales look now.


Other companies are monitoring Avon’s efforts in Los Angeles because the Southland is the largest and most important Latino market in the country, according to Gary Berman, vice president of Strategy Research Corp., a Miami-based market research firm that specializes in the study of the Latino market.

The Latino population in Southern California has grown 33% to 3.6 million persons in the past seven years, according to Strategy Research, and the growth is also occurring nationally. The Latino population--about 20 million people--has grown five times as fast as the rest of the U.S. population and is the fastest-growing segment in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The U.S. Hispanic marketplace has been growing at a prodigious rate,” said Berman. “More and more companies--Beatrice, Procter & Gamble, Ford, McDonald’s, Southland, Kraft foods, Philip Morris and many others--have begun segmenting the market and saying, ‘Bienvenidos’-- that means ‘welcome’--to the Hispanic consumer.”

The growth of the Latino market is particularly important to the highly competitive cosmetics industry, according to Berman.

“The companies that have been targeting the Hispanic cosmetic user have been successful to date,” said Berman. “I expect to see a variety of new cosmetic companies entering the market in the near future.”

More Cosmetics Used

Cosmetic companies, said Berman, are also “targeting the female Hispanic because of the overall higher use of certain products.” On a per capita basis, Latinos use more cosmetics than non-Latinos, said Berman. For example, 85% of Latino women are lipstick users, compared to 61% for non-Latino women, according to a recent national survey by Strategic Research.

“Care in personal appearance is characteristic” of Latinos, said John Cutts, senior project manager at Strategy Research Corp.


Corporate interest in the Latino market is also growing because the buying power of many Latinos is expanding, according to Sally Schaadt, an industry analyst with the Fourteen Research, a New York investment research firm.

“The industry is interested for demographic reasons,” she said. “The Hispanic population is growing faster . . . and as their income rises and as their prosperity grows, there will be more money to spend on cosmetics.”

Generally, Latino representatives make most of their sales to other Latinos, according to Avon executives. On average, Avon’s Latino representatives have the higher average dollars per purchase order and they have more customers than their non-Latino counterparts, said Bernadette Mansur, an Avon spokeswoman.

Sales to Latinos have been important because Avon’s profit increases have been modest most of this decade, according to industry analysts. Sales of the Avon line of products rose 7% in the United States last year. The company showed almost no growth in profit in 1987, with net earnings barely increasing to $159.1 million in 1987 from $158.7 million in 1986. (Avon gets about 50% of each sale, and the rest goes to the sales force.)

Sold by Representatives

Avon ranks second to the Paris-based L’Oreal in worldwide sales and leads all U.S.-based companies in sales, according to Brenda Lee Landry, a cosmetics researcher for Morgan Stanley & Co., a New York-based investment firm.

Among Latino buyers, Avon seems to do very well. A recent study by Strategy Research indicated that Avon is the market-share leader in five of eight product categories. Cover Girl leads in the base makeup category and Maybelline sells more mascara and eyeliner, but Avon leads all others in the sale of blush, lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish and lip gloss.


While Cover Girl and Maybelline are sold on the retail level, the Avon line of products is sold by representatives--independent contractors who take product samples and brochures to the household or workplace. Among those vying for door-to-door sales are Mary Kay Cosmetics and Jafra Cosmetics.

About 7% of Avon’s 400,000 representatives are Latino, and those door-to-door sellers produce about 9% of the company’s sales, said Mansur.

In Laura Estrada’s area, there are 19 district managers and 6,200 sales representatives. They operate in a territory that includes Los Angeles, Downey, Whittier, Montebello and Manhattan Beach. Ten of the district managers are Latino, including the three singled out nationally for top district sales: Maria Ortega, Noemy Galvez and Margie Madrigal.

Estrada was the first Latino division manager in Avon’s 12-state western region. “There was a time,” said Kay Borra, a director in Avon’s western region, “when we didn’t understand the Latino market as well as we do today.”

Conversely, some Latino customers say there was a time when they didn’t understand Avon so well. For example, Los Angeles resident Irma Gonzalez is fluent in both English and Spanish, but says she is particularly comfortable with her Avon representative, who speaks Spanish. “A makeup visit is more pleasant when you can relax and speak Spanish,” Gonzalez said.