She has joined Avon Romania almost right from its and her professional early days and they are still continuing the journey together. After taking over important positions in the group in Europe and outside the old continent for some years, Andreea Moldovan has come back home this year, as general manager of Avon Romania, in order to be part and add her input to the world cosmetics giant’ projects in our country and in the region. Discover in an exclusive interview what’s new and hot in Avon, how’s the market going on and what innovation and CSR projects are in the pipeline.
How was the start of your career in Avon? There have been 20 years since then…how was the company and how was to be a sales manager back then?
I started in Cluj-Napoca in 1998 as sales manager and it was only several months after the Avon had opened its official office in Bucharest. At that moment Avon was almost unknown on the market, which came along with pros and cons at the same time. On one hand, the customer was very skeptical in trying our products, as she knew nothing about the company, so the level of trust was pretty limited. But, at the same time Avon came in with an interesting portfolio, there was little competition and the fact the consumer was uneducated was an opportunity for us to fill this gap and to start the cosmetic knowledge journey for the Romanian consumer. This is how things began to move in educating the consumer in Romania.
From the business perspective, everything was basic back then, everything was very offline. Our brochure had 30 pages and was printed once every three months, now were are in completely different era. As for the entrepreneurship, there was no online segment, which is stronger and stronger now. It was a different business pattern, a less educated consumer, less competition…
So, it was convenient from the competition’s perspective, but less advantageous because the brand was unknown and the tools were limited.
Regarding my personal career path, I was from Cluj, I had graduated the Economic Computer Science Faculty at “Babes-Bolyai” University. Before I had been at a media company and my boss there used to say “before learning to sell anything you must learn to sell yourself”. As I wanted to pursue a business career, I joined Avon, and people I met there fascinated me and so I decided that I want to stay there, I was young (24 years old).
The faculty taught me how to search, to structure my thinking, to have some basic economic mechanisms, as I was passionate for the mathematics-computer science areas. But I mostly learnt on the job.
However, what helped me a lot in my career was London Business School, it was there that I really learnt many concrete things that I enforced right away in my job, it was a significant step.
All in all, Avon gives you the chance to grow as far as you want, what was in my benefit is that the company encouraged and supported me a lot in combining my career with my personal life. I am the mother of three and despite this, I managed to have a career in many countries, to learn and to to grow through my personal development.
Avon is a very dynamic company that provides you with many challenges, I have not been bored a moment, but at the same time it gives you the possibility to combine your professional career with your personal life.
What was the first country that you were relocated to?
After Romania, I was in Morocco for three years, as national sales manager. After that I came back to Romania for five years and then I was named on a global sales position for Central and Eastern Europe. I was traveling a lot from that position. After that I became general manager, coordinating the activity in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and later on, Finland and Baltic countries. I came back in Romania as February 1 this year, and from here I also coordinate Bulgaria, Albania, Moldova & Macedonia
How was the impact in Morocco, which is totally different from Europe, culturally speaking? How was the switchover?
It was the greatest challenge in my career, for there were more elements mixing up. First, it was a major step from the professional point of view, a leap from the position of regional sales manager to national general manager. Then, there was a different culture indeed, completely different from all I was used to in Romania. Thirdly, it was another personal challenge, I was a newly mom, I had a 7-month baby girl, so it was a great challenge and madness to leave to Morocco with my family and the baby. On the other hand, it was a huge opportunity to learn.
I have always been motivated by the desire to be exposed to new things, to diversity and from this perspective Morocco was a fantastic school of life and business.
Those three years in Morocco have been the most accelerated development in my career.
How was the Oriental market, did it respond to this type of cosmetics business?
A big surprise was to see the contrast between the woman on the street and the woman at home. On the street, women did not use any type of make-up, they wore veils, and the entrepreneurship spirit was almost nonexistent, they were very family and children-oriented, all happened at home. Instead, the women in Morocco had a huge desire to get together at their places, they were totally different within that environment, they wore makeup, more than the European women.
Of course, there were also many social cases. What I learnt from my professional journey through all these countries was to adapt to the particularities of every market and to learn to capitalize the unique elements of those markets. This is the key of success for anyone in search for an international career, to learn to adapt. The cultural leap to Morocco was huge.
In the Czech Republic and in the other CEE countries the differences are not so big, although they exist.
For instance, there are consumption distinctions if you look at Russia or Poland versus Romania.
In the Czech Republic the consumer is more educated and has higher financial possibilities as against the client in Romania. For example, during the previous years in Romania the focus was on the fragrance segment, now there is a behavior shift, with Romanians starting to consume more beauty&care products.
As for Finland, there was also a completely different market. First of all, women in Finland do not socialize so much, everything happens in the online environment as the country is very digitized, but at the same time, the customers have a higher financial potential. Yet, the surprise was that, despite the fact they were wealthier, they are very deal-oriented and the social responsibility part was very important. People in Finland are very interested in how you, as a company, endorse society, what is the impact. It is very engaging.
It was a personal option to return to Romania this year or it was a management decision?
The decision came as a business opportunity at the very right moment. Avon Romania is a place where anyone would like to be, for it is like a jewel among Avon countries. It is an innovation hub on direct selling, many projects were born in Romania, including the digital projects, Romania has been the first country in the region that started this kind of projects. The new online brochure adopted at regional level has also started from Romania. So, from the business perspective, it was a ‘wow’ opportunity to me, for I was going to come back home where everything is happening.
But it was the right moment also from the personal point of view, for I missed home, my children had already been abroad for 5-6 years and somehow I felt the need to root them again, to strengthen their identity. So, there have been only positive factors….
You coordinate the Avon activity in Romania, Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia from the new position. How has been this year, „back home”? How do you see the evolution of these markets?
2018 came along with many challenges, with a lot of innovation, it has also been a change of cluster, for it was just Romania-Moldova as an entity before, and other three countries were added up, so the effort was somehow focused on trying to make these two clusters work as a whole.
The team has evolved well, so it has been a favorable moment to expand the team in Romania. The Romanian market is still an opportunity for the cosmetics producers. A nice evolution is envisaged in the consumer’s behaviour, while the revenue increase is supporting the growth of the market. So, overall, the local market is continuously changing and it is a permanent challenge, it’s an environment suitable for learning and development. We hope we’ll be able to offer Romanian women more reasons to remain with us.
Except Bulgaria, which is also in the EU as Romania, the other countries that joined the cluster are emerging countries and are very interesting. You can experiment a lot in small countries, which help us undergo a scale up on larger markets, it’s like a laboratory area for us and this is very helpful.
Romania and Bulgaria are similar enough, meaning the fragrance and make-up segments have the largest share. What is different in Bulgaria is that the skin care products have more weight, several percentages ahead Romania.
We also have most of the innovation possibilities on the skin care segment and we forecast the biggest increase there. So, one of the strategic priorities this year is to focus on this skin care category and it will remain in the pipeline next year as well.
What is the Avon hardcore at this moment? Is it still considered a „direct selling scheme”? How the brand is positioning itself in 2018 as against 20 years ago?
I would say we are in the middle of a process to transform our business pattern, meaning we are seriously relocating in the social selling area that has more potential. Our competitive advantage remains the tight relationship of trust between the customer and the Avon entrepreneur and that’s why we are capitalizing on it. So, the confidence element remains the focal point also when comparing e-commerce with social selling.
We focused investments on the technology area and on the tools that should help the Avon entrepreneur work more easily.
Yet, how do you see the competition? Unlike the years where there were no shopping centers and no e-commerce?
There are two different elements. One is the physical access side which has indeed increased exponentially, but at the same time, the client-entrepreneur relationship is what makes us different. We are building on the access side, the number of the Avon representatives is still on the rise, the number of the brochures is also going up, the online brochure is gaining more and more strength and the new version can be easily used on any social media channel, Whats App, Facebook messenger, etc.
And therefore, we compensate through this direct selling, including in the online. This is what makes the difference between the retail commerce and our social business pattern.
What I notice in the consumer’s behavior is that the interest is not so much focused on the price anymore, like in the previous years, but the battle is fought more on the convenience and expertize areas.
Practically, the consumer becomes more and more sophisticated, more open to experience, but also more inclined to have a pleasant, memorable experience with the brands.
Which Avon Products have been the best sellers in Romania lately? Is there any sign that there is a turn-on in the customers’ preferences from now on?
Romanian women are still mad about perfumes, they the best-selling products, and I would name the Today-Tomorrow-Always collection, that has ranked first in the customers’ options for the past 10 years. Lipsticks come second.
What have been gaining ground in the past years are the perfumes for men and the skin and body care items also have a stronger share. As for men, I was recently reading in the „Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” book how the men’s look has evolved during history and there was an era when man used to be bolder from the fashion and look perspectives, after which these aspects have minimised and now it seems the male look is experiencing a new turnaround.
What is also pleasing us is the trend of the 55+, 65+ segment, as older women started consuming cosmetics more, especially on the anti-ageing prevention and anti-wrinkle areas, which was not happening in Romania before, several years ago. This proves two things: the consumer is more educated and has a higher financial potential.
This came as an effect of innovation, of the demand on the market and of testing and here I could mention Avon Groundbreaking Rotational Anew Infinite Effects Skincare Technology, a combination of retinol and phytol cream that is practically accelerating the skin’s regeneration ability.
It is said that when using products exclusively based on retinol or phytol, after a while the skin gets used to them and doesn’t react anymore. But with this rotational product the regeneration process is accelerated.
Another novelty at Avon is the Mission range, inspired by the Japanese ritual of skin care, which is coming with a system of moisturizing in layers. It is a premium product that we have launched in a special brochure in October. The products are produced in Japan and is targeting the 35+- 45+ customers.
All in all, the trend for the old age segment is on the rise, a fact that could be explained by the growing access to technology but also by the tempest of innovation that companies are bringing on the market. As the competition is fierce, each company tries to come up with something new, different to lure consumers. However, this also has a flip side, because the consumer also becomes less loyal and this is quite a challenge.
How would you describe the profile of the Avon customer in Romania? Are Romanian women loyal or rather demanding?
There are various types of consumers. First of all it is the consumer in the countryside, who remains traditionalist, who is still looking for the face-to-face relation with the Avon representative, who is still attached to the printed brochure. Almost half of our sales come from the rural area, so she is a consumer whom we devote a huge amount of our attention, we cannot neglect her, we have fine rises from there.
Then, it is the consumer from the big urban area, who is very sophisticated and dynamic, who is changing preferences quite often, is more demanding, who is willing to try technology and who has more access to information, but who is less and less loyal at the same time.
And there is the young age segment, which is closer to the profile of the consumer in the Western countries, it is the 16-25 age group. Here there are minimum differences between Romania and the Western states, the trends and behaviours are pretty much the same. The challenge is to reach their souls and offer what they are looking after.
The battle on the urban area is also tight because it is a competition on the accessibility, convenience and experience.
Avon is doing a good job in that direction, particularly on the innovation and technology support in social selling. These aspects are high on our agenda and they wills till be in 2019 and onwards.
What business projects are in the pipeline, new products to be launched?
The Romanian market is still very generous and supports the growth for the economic potential of the consumer is on the rise, the market is on the rise and the partnerships that we’ve recently inked are coming to endorse us in that direction.
We have a new fragrance collection by global designer Kenzo Takada that we are launching in November, we launched a partnership with Disney for the Frozen range of cosmetics for children and we have the luxury Mission face creams.
We also have new skin care products to launch in the fourth quarter and we are coming with more innovation makeup and skin care products as of 2019 Q1.
The skin care segment ranks first in our plans and we’ll bring nice surprises to the Romanian women.
Our investments go to the innovation and support for social selling, to digitisation. We are ranking third on social brands for all industries, and first in beauty brands and we would like to hold our position by interacting with the customer in a more accessible space for her and to maintain our leadership on the market.
What CSR projects have had this year and what are the plans for the years to come?
The CSR (corporate social responsibility) is part of the company’s DNA. In 1998 when I started my career in Avon the breast cancer project was not yet existing, but in the past 16 years we have managed to donate over USD 2.5 million in Romania with this project.
We also have other interesting CSR projects. For instance, this year we have reached 16 cities with the „Cancel Cancer” projects through which we are providing free testing for the Romanian women.
We had a rural caravan, and we toured the villages with a mobile device so that women could have this screening tests. The feedback is major, it’s painful that every year we discover new cases, yet it is something that is giving sense to our mission.
What is hindering women to go to the doctor to check their health condition?
The access to the medical units is difficult in the countryside, dubbed by the lack of information, while in the urban area there is a mix, it’s the madness of the busy schedule of the city woman on one hand, and on the other it is this attitude that „it’s not going to happen to me”.
Despite the fact there are many cancer cases, fortunately the early detection is also giving higher chances of cure and survival, even 100% if the breast cancer is detected in due time.
We launched this year the first patient navigator school for the Romanian patients with cancer together with „Amazonia NGO””, through which we offer support for the women diagnosed with cancer, psychological but also logistics support, for they undergo therapy but also receive guidance where they should go, how they should start the medical treatment, etc.
We continue with the outsourcing platform that is the only one among the Avon countries. This year we managed to offer financial aid to nine women through „www.doneazacuavon.ro”.
We try to identify these cases through the sales department, we register them on the platform and when the money is raised the sum goes to these patients to support their therapy.
Another project dear to us is on the domestic violence, it’s called „In a Relationships”. The project was born in the autumn of 2016 and is tackling a less approached and debated topic until that moment, namely the violence inside the teen couples. We were surprised to see there was lack of information and courage in this respect.
We performed workshops where we interacted with the teenagers in order to help them. We were surprised how open the teens were, but also the incidence of the cases was shocking.
We mainly refer to the nudity photos that the teen lovers are usually sharing on social media. There is a high rate of teens who also send these pictures to unknown people in the attempt of having a relationship with that person. This puts young girls into an extremely risky and delicate position.
In order to activate this project during Summer Well festival we developed „nude lips campaign”, with the message being that the only nude allowed are the nude lips.
So, the project is working, there a lot of openness and positive results.
The two big CSR projects are carried on in all countries where Avon is present.
In Romania, the social projects have somehow pursued a Maslow pyramid for there were many basic needs that were not satisified and the society found it hard to go to the next level unless the space for one need was filled in.
What pleases me is that I see more and more openness in endorsing social cases, which was not the case 20 years ago. This was a huge difference between Romania and the Czech republic. When I arrived in Prague in 2012 I was simply shocked to see so much social mobilisation, which Romania lacked at that moment.
However, returning now to the country I had this revelation that there are more and more people endorsing social cases, which means we are on the right track.
What would be the biggest challenge for your mandate from now on?
On one hand, there is the challenge to face the competition, for this means to be different but also to act more quickly than in the past. We see an incredible dynamic of the market, the behavior of the consumer a year ago becomes obsolete today and you have to be able to monitor this conduct and to understand it.
Then, it is the ability to satisfy the demands of three big stakeholders. One is the client from the perspective of her needs, the second is the employee, for there have been challenges on that (pay rises, the highest ever unemployment level in Bucharest, etc) and you have to keep you employees close, to provide them with reasons to stand by you, for they obviously have more job options. Amid this huge fight for talents the big challenge is to make employees stay with you, to inspire them and to create a motivational working environment.
The third stakeholder is the investor, for he is looking for a sustainable, profitable business and it’s not an equation easy to solve.
The challenge is to keep these three stakeholders engaged, close, for the balance is lost if one of them is lopsided.
As for my plans, at present, I want to focus on Romania and on the markets in the portfolio, I have never said no to opportunities, but at the same time I am not in search of them. The current position is a big and interesting enough challenge and I don’t intend to change it very soon.
For us, the most important now is to bring innovation to customers, to build on the social selling area, to be more accessible and to enhance the customer-entrepreneur relation in offline and online, because our advantage is the assisted sale which is endorsed by a trustful person.
What we plan in 2019 is to provide more interaction between clients and products within a project that I cannot reveal yet. This will be the core that our business will be built on hereinafter.