The Avon Great Oak

Great oaks from little acorns grow.

The great oak is a fitting symbol for Avon: from the smallest of beginnings, the great oak spreads its branches wide and tall, supported by deep roots, ever constant, ever changing.

The “great oak” that is today Avon started as the idea of a single individual – David H. McConnell – who left his father’s farm in Oswego, NY in 1878 to make his fortune. After only eight years as a traveling salesman of various products, McConnell, in his own words penned in 1903, wished to “manufacture a line of goods superior to any other, to put the moneyed value into the goods themselves, and just enough money in the package to make them respectable, and take these goods through canvassing agents direct from the laboratory to the consumer.”

In New York City in 1886, after “most careful and thorough investigation,” he “started the perfume business in a space scarcely larger than an ordinary kitchen pantry. At first I manufactured but five fragrances,” and, as McConnell described it, “I myself filled the position of correspondent, cashier, bookkeeper, shipping clerk, office boy and manufacturing chemist.” The company, called the California Perfume Company in reference to the romance and mystery of California, launched with a single “general agent” selling the five fragrances, a Mrs. P.F.E. Albee of Winchester, NH, and for six months she was the sole sales agent for the fledgling company.

Just as acorns swell into a great oaks, so over the years the California Perfume Company flourished: the five fragrances grew into hundreds and then thousands of products, Mrs. P.F.E. Albee was joined by a veritable “army” of sales agents, the business expanded first into a headquarters in Suffern, NY, and then into sites across the country and around the world. By 1939 the company had already outgrown its name and became Avon Products.

In 1955 the Avon Foundation was founded, formalizing McConnell’s principle of giving back to society. The philanthropy started with a single scholarship of $400 and today has become a “great oak” in its own right, as a global leader in the causes of breast cancer and domestic violence.

The roots of Avon are as strong as the “spreading branches” of the company. The principles that guide Avon today are the same that have been with us from the beginning – the principles of opportunity, service, recognition, reward, corporate citizenship and a friendly spirit. Quality products are still delivered direct “from the laboratory to the consumer.” The corporate headquarters are back in New York City, where the company started. The research and development center is on the same site, in Suffern, NY, as McConnell’s original factory, albeit in a new, multi-million dollar state-of-the-art building.

McConnell was described as “honest, industrious and energetic,” and those same words can be used to describe the company he founded. As he wrote over a century ago, “the limit of this business is measured only by the amount of hard work and energy we put in it. If we stop and look over the past and then into the future, we can see that the possibilities are growing greater and greater every day.”

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