Before women had the right to vote or 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. In 1886, Mrs. P.F.E. Albee took a risk and accepted an offer from David McConnell who was transitioning out of the book business to work as a door-to-door salesperson. He then started the California Perfume Company (CPC). You can call it the original startup. “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. All her hard work and determination paid off. Mrs. 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 Mrs. Albee confident and in control – she wraps up one successful sale and then off she goes up the street to greet the next customer to close the next sale. Albee leaned into 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. Much like she lived her life, Albee dressed with no fear, making a fashion style statement-after-statement. She dressed in ensembles such as lavender taffeta gowns with tiered layers, exaggerated sleeves, and look-at-me trains. Talk about power dressing! 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 is that 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. The first Representative and affectionately dubbed her the “Mother of the California Perfume Company.” Mrs. P.F.E. Albee of New Hampshire was 50 when she began selling perfumes for McConnell. She traveled by horse and buggy and by train, offering perfumes such as the inaugural single-note scents – Violet, White Rose, Heliotrope, Lily-of-the-Valley, and Hyacinth – door-to-door throughout the Northeast section of the United States. In a letter to McConnell, Mrs. Albee wrote, “I know of no line of work so lucrative, pleasant and satisfactory as this.” The legendary Mrs. Albee is still considered a role model for Avon Representatives today and is credited with creating the company’s system for distributing products.
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