Lisa Wilber by Lisa Wilber

Lisa WilberAre you old enough to remember the TV commercial with the “ding-dong” of a doorbell and, “Avon calling”? Lisa is, just barely, even though she started with Avon in 1981, when she was 18. Today the successful author of Marketing Ideas for the Wild at Heart and Support Support Support, is the number t Lisa, you were 18 when you began. That’s pretty young to become a business person. Well, back then it wasn’t really a business for me. I married a sailor when I was 18, that would be my first husband, and we had moved to Guam, where anything American was big business. So, when I was looking for something to do I thought, “Why not sell Avon?” because I remembered the Avon lady coming to our house. I wrote Avon from Guam and they told me how much to send for the kit and they shipped it to me over there. I sold over there for almost three years. When I moved back into the states I sold over here part time while I went to business school.  NULL It’s funny that I didn’t realize when I was on Guam that they didn’t have all the benefits that we have here in the United States. I think they do now, but they didn’t in 1981. We paid for shipping each box and here in the U.S. it’s free shipping. We also had to pay for our orders upfront. So when I moved back here I thought, “Wow, this is great! All these extra things!” and the other Avon representatives were looking at me like I was crazy. It’s funny that I didn’t realize when I was on Guam that they didn’t have all the benefits that we have here in the United States. I think they do now, but they didn’t in 1981. We paid for shipping each box and here in the U.S. it’s free shipping. We also had to pay for our orders upfront. So when I moved back here I thought, “Wow, this is great! All these extra things!” and the other Avon representatives were looking at me like I was crazy. When you moved back, did you move back to a place you had been before? No. When my first husband and I split up I was only 20. I’m not one of those people who are good with authority, so when he said, “If you leave here, you have to go home to your parents”, I defiantly said, “You know, I’m old enough to decide for myself!” So, he asked where I was going to go and I didn’t know, but took out the map, covered my eyes, poked at the map and that’s where I went… to Gulfport, Mississippi. I had no money, no job lined up, and no where to live, I just went there. What was that Lisa… a spirit of adventure? Oh no, more like a spirit of defiance. I guess I didn’t want to go home where they had all told me I was too young to get married, because I guess I was. So, I just thought I’d strike out on my own and I didn’t want to be too close to home.

Looking back now it was such a crazy thing to do, but back then it was just something I did. I’m glad I did it, it made me a different person and I can fend for myself now.

You did Avon part time and jumped into going to school for business. What was your aim in doing that? Actually, I never considered Avon as a full time job, because I’d never run into anyone doing Avon full time. I was paying for my books with my Avon sales and I just kept selling. I was going to school for data processing, which was writing computer code. Not something I’m good at but back then it was something I thought I wanted to do. I eventually moved to South Carolina and went to business school there for management. That was more up my alley. So, now I have two Associate degrees, one in Data Processing and one in Management. I did Avon the whole time and then when I did move back to New England, I got a job within a couple of days, as a secretary and still, continued to sell Avon. So, all this time your ‘real’ job was Avon and you just went to school and became a secretary as your other work? Sure… and I didn’t know it. I thought the whole aim was to be a secretary and work in an office. I thought that’s what I was shooting for— my mother was an office administrator, my father was a janitor, I guess I just didn’t think I could have a career with Avon, that just never dawned on me. Well, it dawned on you at some point! When was that? Well, I got laid off of my secretary job in 1987. And that was a good paying job. I was still in my mid-twenties and I was earning $20,000 a year plus a 401K and dental and health and the whole thing. My whole department got axed a couple of days before Thanksgiving, we called it ‘black Monday’.

Even the men were crying about losing their jobs so I came home hysterical— really, really hysterically crying and my husband said, “Why don’t you do more with that Avon thing you’ve been playing with?”

And I said, “Yeah, right.” thinking to myself, “You simple man”, but saying, “I need to replace $20,000! I don’t even know anyone selling $20,000 and there’s a difference between what you sell and what you get to keep.” He said, “Just because you don’t know anyone doing that, what makes you think you can’t?” That conversation changed how I went forward. It’s funny, because later, when I was telling someone on the phone in my downline about him inspiring me to do this full time, my husband said, “You don’t go around telling people that, do you?” I said, “Well, yeah, that really changed the direction that my life went, actually.” And he said,

“Well I only said all that stuff back then because I wanted you to stop crying! I had no idea you were going to turn this into a big thing.”

How did you change your mind, and what kinds of things did you do to turn this from a part time deal to full time? The day I found out I needed to make this my full time money, knowing I had to replace $20,000; I stopped doing some things I had been doing. I was doing things in Avon like it was a club, like going and helping people do their stuff for free. I stopped doing all of that and said I wasn’t going to do anything for free in Avon until I had replaced my pay. That helped a lot. I concentrated on things that were profitable to do every day. What were those things, Lisa? It didn’t dawn on me to knock on doors… I don’t know why. I thought to myself, I live in a town of 8000 people, there are 15 Avon reps in my town, the only way I have a snowballs chance of replacing my pay is if I convince everyone in town that I’m the only one! So, I started making a list of things that I could do to convince everyone that I was the only person. I looked at what other businesses were doing in town, so…

I decorated my car, I put vinyl letters on it that said ‘Buy or Sell Avon”. I got a light up sign for the roof from the pizza guy and took ‘pizza’ off and put ‘Avon’ on it.

Those two things, right there, made me pretty noticeable, because we don’t even have taxi’s here, so it was pretty outrageous. I put signs in my yard and some down on the road. I listed myself in the phone book under Avon. I ran ads in every newspaper within 10 miles of me. I joined the Chamber of Commerce under Avon; so I tried to do everything I saw the other businesses do. How did people respond to you? Regular customers loved it, the other Avon reps weren’t too happy with it. As a matter of fact, the first car that I lettered was a Yugo and it wasn’t a very nice car, but you have to start with what you’ve got. I never had customers complain, but I had other reps write to the company saying I shouldn’t be allowed to letter such a crappy car. I thought that was funny. Actually, I earned a trip from Avon— it was after a couple of years of going full time— for the idea of lettering the car, so they certainly weren’t against it.

The customers actually were great, they would say things like, “Maybe if we buy an extra lipstick from you, honey, next year you can buy a
real car”.

So they were really good about it… even when they had to help me push start that thing.

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