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For Latino Community, Avon Lady Is a Tradition That Transcends Borders

Times Staff Writer

To Laura Estrada and many other Latino women, Avon and selling are family traditions that transcend borders.

Estrada, head of Avon’s Los Angeles sales division, began working in her birthplace--Chihuahua, Mexico--where she delivered Avon products at the age of seven and eight.

“My mother sold Avon,” Estrada explained. “My family lived on Avon for awhile. My father was sick at that time. The family was supported for five years from Avon sales.”

Estrada said family members--the sons, daughters and spouse of representatives--typically get involved in some form or fashion. For example, she said her four children sometimes help her prepare sales charts and help wrap incentive gifts for her district managers.

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Estrada, 43, moved to the United States at the age of 15 in 1960 and later attended East Los Angeles City College. She joined Avon as a sales representative in 1975, became a district manager in 1980 and was promoted to division manager in 1985. Today, she oversees and manages the sales operations of 19 district managers and 6,200 sales representatives, a sales division that produced the nation’s largest sales increases for Avon in 1986 and 1987. The division produced $17 million in sales in 1987, an increase of $3 million.

The division’s rising sales are produced by a sales force that gets much of its motivation from Estrada, according to Avon executives. They said Estrada maintains lofty aspirations and encourages her district managers and sales representatives to be team-oriented, ambitious and enthusiastic.

“If she were baking pies, she’d be highly enthusiastic,” said Bill Roy, head of Avon’s 12-state Western region. “She is highly energetic and drives people toward her objective. But she does it in a way in which people don’t know they’re being driven. She has the ability to understand the marketplace, and that’s the key to her success.”

Among Estrada’s district managers are three top performers, all of whom speak Spanish. Sales representatives who work for Maria Ortega, 41, a Ecuadorean immigrant, led the nation in generating sales for Avon last year. A 1986 immigrant from El Salvador, 34-year-old Noemy Galvez’s district ranked third nationally. Santa Ana native Margie Madrigal, 41, ranked fourth in sales.

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Avon declined to disclose how much its managers earn, but said they get a salary and a bonus based on sales and how well they recruit sales representatives. Representatives typically earn $10 to $14 an hour, the company said.

Most Latino immigrants are familiar with Avon because it’s a leading cosmetic and fragrance company in most Latin American countries, according to Lydia Ramirez-Morgan, a company spokeswoman.

Ramirez-Morgan said an Avon Products sales representative is a common sight in Mexico. Every three weeks, the company’s representatives reach two-thirds of all households in Mexico, according to Avon researchers.

Considering Avon’s heavy involvement in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, it’s understandable that large number of Latino immigrants become involved in Avon sales in the U.S., according to Paul Markovits, head of Avon’s direct sales operation in the United States.

“When a Hispanic representative--a Hispanic woman--emigrates to this country, she seeks out Avon as a constant, because it’s something she knows,” Markovits said, “and because they know what we’re all about.”


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