Before women had the right to vote of had a true means of financial independence, there was one woman from within Avon’s history that defied conventions – the first-ever Representative, Mrs. Persis Foster Eames Albee.
This New Hampshire lady, born in 1836, was known for her style and savvy, which attracted the attention of Avon founder David H. McConnell. He asked her to be the company’s first traveling salesperson, and the rest is history.
Whether you’re working to rise through the corporate ranks or are an entrepreneur about to launch the next great idea, we can all learn a thing (or five) from this one-woman powerhouse.
1. Take a leap of faith.
Call it the original startup. In 1886, Mrs. P.F.E. Albee took a risk and accepted an offer from founder David H. McConnell (then transitioning out of the book business) to work as a door-to-door salesperson for what was then called the California Perfume Company. “Mrs. Albee was one of the most successful General Agents I had in the book work, and it was in her hands I placed the first sample case, or outfit, in the perfume business,” McConnell wrote in 1903. Known for her genteel nature and voracious ambition, Albee traveled by horse-drawn wagon, train, or by foot, offering perfumes to those she encountered — talk about some serious hustle.
2. Have a game plan.
Her determination paid off, and Albee was soon hired to take over the daily operations of perfume sales. Of course, she went full throttle with her mission. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of perfume, she expanded her travels beyond her tiny New Hampshire town to the entire Northeast. Albee developed a business plan in which she recruited women to serve as “depot agents,” selling products in their own neighborhoods. “It is, therefore, only befitting that we give her the honorary title of Mother of the California Perfume Company,” McConnell wrote. The strategy was so successful it became one of the key identifiers of the company that’s still used today.
3. Love what you do.
Imagine this: A confident and in-control Albee wraps up one successful sale, and off she goes up the street to greet the next customer and close the next sale. Albee leaned in to her new gig, and the hard work paid off in all sectors of her life. In a letter to McConnell, she wrote, “I know of no line of work so lucrative, pleasant and satisfactory as this.”
4. Always dress for success.
Talk about power dressing! Much like she lived her life, Albee dressed with no fear, making style statement after statement in ensembles such as lavender taffeta gowns with tiered layers, exaggerated sleeves and look-at-me trains. A seasoned and stylish traveler, she saw no reason to dress down while on the road. In 2015 speak, her outfits went viral when the famously elegant attire later inspired a Mrs. P.F.E. Albee special edition Barbie.
5. Spread the love.
Albee’s enthusiasm was entirely contagious. As Avon’s first traveling saleswoman, she recruited other determined ladies to work for the company. In fact, Albee succeeded in empowering women by incorporating them into the mainstream business world 34 years before women even had the right to vote! One of the company’s first employees, Ann Meany, gave Albee a solid endorsement, writing in her memoirs: “She was about 60 in 1985 and was still making trips, working almost entirely under Mr. McConnell’s direction. She was the daughter of a minister and so sweet and lovely she deserves a whole volume just to herself. Today, Avon Representatives have really placed her on a pedestal – literally. Since 1969, the company has awarded highly coveted 10-inch tall porcelain figurines of Albee to the company’s top sales representatives. And yes, it’s still a Very Big Deal to receive one.
The bottom line:
Albee’s story teaches us that no matter how big or small your dreams may be, go after them. In this age of self-starters, who knows where a little Albee-inspired ambition could take you.