Big Interview: Matthieu Comard, General Manager Western Europe, Avon

Matthieu Comard is responsible for steering Avon to accelerate its growth in Western Europe. Speaking to the Retail Gazette, he explains how the Covid-19 crisis has boosted demand and the initiatives Avon is taking to stay ahead of competition.

Matthieu Comard Avon Natura profile interview
Matthieu Comard first joined Avon in 2017 as the general vice president of global commercial operations.

“Our purpose, community spirit and flexible earning opportunity has helped transform people’s lives around the world for 135 years and is more relevant than ever right now.”

As Avon’s general manager for Western Europe, Matthieu Comard thinks he has the best job in the world.

Avon’s transformation journey is what “excited” Comard about joining the universally recognised company as the general vice president of global commercial operations in January 2017. He was soon promoted to his current role in November that year. Comard’s remit focuses on introducing high-tech tools, investment in training, and rolling out a new look sales model and a improved direct-to-customer online store.

“Avon has never been more relevant moving from ‘ding dong’ direct selling to a digitally-led social selling beauty company, creating more opportunities for more representatives to be successful,” said Comard, who is also a board member of the Direct Selling Association.

Avon sells its products through a network of active representatives.

As with many other retailers, one challenge Comard is facing right now is the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he believes Avon is adapting to these challenges.

“Retail is in unchartered waters right now,” he told Retail Gazette.

“In response to Covid-19, we developed and launched an anti-bacterial hand gel in less than four weeks.

“We also doubled-down on training all our reps on how to keep their Avon businesses going using digital tools during the lockdown.

“This digital migration has of course been challenging at times, but it has allowed our reps to keep their businesses fully open throughout lockdown.”

He added: “We have continued our community efforts to give back to those most vulnerable during the crisis.

“From reps donating thousands of hand creams to carers and NHS staff, to our global Isolated Not Alone commitment to help charities like Refuge provide life-saving domestic abuse services – our powerful network continues to make a difference to the lives of women across the globe.”

“I have never met anyone who hasn’t heard of Avon”

Comard lists increasing investment in training and finding ways to simplify the onboarding for new sales representatives (or “reps”) as some of his proudest achievements since joining Avon.

Since thousands of people were furloughed or lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Avon saw a 90 per cent year-on-year surge in reps being recruited. The new reps range from stay-at-home parents, to students and those looking for flexible working. They, in turn, are able to capitalise on the high number of consumers now having no choice but to shop for non-essentials from home.

“The earning opportunity could never be more relevant – it’s flexible to your lifestyle, it’s totally digital and it connects communities in a time when it’s never been more important to do so,” Comard said.

“With traditional retail stores closing, the Avon model has been a perfect solution for people to earn, and to get hold of essential items quickly.

“For Avon in the UK, the simple and flexible earning choice is even more appealing as reps can earn from their first £1 of sales.”

Brazilian company Natura Cosméticos acquired Avon last year for £1.58bn.

Avon had a change of hands last year when The Body Shop’s Brazilian-based parent company Natura Cosméticos acquired the direct-selling retailer in a £1.58 billion deal.

“The combination of Avon, Natura, The Body Shop and Aesop creates the world’s fourth-largest pure-play beauty company,” Comard explained.

He addedL “We’re united by a better way of doing business, through positive social, economic and environmental impact.

“The new era brings a common passion for beauty and relationships to over 200 million consumers across the world.”

“With traditional retail stores closing, the Avon model has been a perfect solution for people to earn”

For the first quarter of 2020, Natura posted growth in revenue, with strong digital ramp-up allowing the company to adapt to the unprecedented impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Natura recorded net revenue of £2.3 billion in 2019 and £5.2 billion on a proforma basis, including Avon. This quarter is the first to include Avon, after its acquisition closed on January 3 this year.

Comard said Avon’s success is down to solid communication. The team collaborates with its reps on a daily basis, and Comard himself speaks with them to hear their feedback and discuss ideas – whether it’s on social media assets, NPD ideas, incentives or training.

“They tell us what we are doing right, what they want more of and what products they need,” he said.

“We don’t spend too much time worrying about what our competitors are doing.”

With the ongoing pandemic, Comard assured that Avon was “continuing to transform in response”. For starters, it is looking to succeed in the so-called “new normal” with further digital developments to improve rep’s businesses.

“There’s an exciting moment coming for the Avon brand this year, as we rejuvenate to capitalise on Avon’s existing strong brand recognition.”

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