CPC Packaging's 2008 Packager of the Year: Avon Products Inc.
Collaboration, communication, and a relationship-oriented approach to package development have been key to Avon’s success.By Marie Redding, Senior Editor
Avon has been on an extraordinary journey during its 122-year history. The company has become a global beauty giant, earning more than $10 billion in annual revenue. As the world’s largest direct seller, Avon markets to women in more than 100 countries through more than 5.5 million independent sales representatives.
The company’s mission to support women has not gone unnoticed by consumers. Avon has a huge following of fiercely loyal customers who adore its products. Its well-recognized brand names include Avon Color, ANEW, Skin-So-Soft, Advance Techniques, Avon Naturals, and mark.
Avon’s design and package development teams are centralized in New York City and located at Avon’s headquarters near Rockefeller Center. Avon’s regional teams, however, are based all around the world, so the packaging development process is truly a global effort.
Leading Avon’s Teams to Greater Success
“It is such an exciting time to be working here,” says Patricia Demnisky-Green, director of global package design for Avon Products. Demnisky-Green leads the team of designers in New York City. Her responsibilities include driving innovation, overseeing the design development of new packaging, and establishing Avon as an industry leader in all aspects of product and packaging design. “We’ve been really pushing innovation and creativity. We’re always thinking about how
we can raise the bar to the next level, for all of our products and packaging,” she says.
Demnisky-Green works closely with Jeff Wass, executive director of global new product and package engineering, Avon Products. Wass is responsible for managing global package development and engineering for Avon’s color, personal care, fragrance, skin care, and mark. product lines. He is also a member of CPC Packaging’s editorial advisory board.
Avon’s Focus on Innovation
Last year, Avon created a new division with innovation as its mission. The company calls the new group its Package Innovation Leadership Opportunity Team, or PILOT. PILOT members are chosen from Avon’s various divisions all around the world and meet once a month. All of Avon’s major departments are represented on the team, including package development, marketing, product innovation, R&D, and new product development.
“This cross-functional, global team develops, reviews, and refines projects that are considered to be innovations—either in the formula, the package, or both. Every member of PILOT contributes by keeping everyone informed of what is new in his or her own area of expertise,” says Wass.
PILOT exemplifies how innovation is truly a group effort at Avon. The team will brainstorm different opportunities and think about how different concepts can be used simultaneously. “We’re just beginning to see the first packages launch that have been influenced by this team,” says Wass. PILOT conceived the idea for Avon’s attention-getting Pro-To-Go lipstick package. (Read the sidebar on Pro-To-Go on page 30 for more information on the packaging.)
“The PILOT team makes sure there are always new ideas coming down the pipeline,” says Wass. “The fact that innovation is so comprehensively structured now represents our new level of commitment to innovative ideas and unusual concepts.”
Package Development Is Personal
Personal interaction between sales representatives and consumers has been key to Avon’s success since its first representatives began selling products in 1886. This philosophy continues today and extends through the entire package development process.
“We’re a ‘high-touch’ company and encourage personal contact whenever possible. This drives the way we do business and the way we work on a daily basis,” says Wass.
Demnisky-Green agrees. “I’ve always felt more of an intimacy here than at other companies,” she says. “Our products are sold and delivered around the world through 5.5 million Avon representatives who actively engage in networking and relationship building. We operate in much of the same way on the business side—we are in constant communication with our counterparts in different locations all around the world and as a result, we’re developing innovative products that help our representatives generate excitement among their clients.”
When developing new products and packaging, the marketing, design, R&D, supply chain, and engineering teams all sit at the same table, whether it’s face-to-face or on the phone. One can visualize the development process as a huge circle, rather than a straight line down which a package might get passed along from one department to the next. The circle includes team members from different departments all around the world.
“Everyone becomes involved in a project simultaneously,” says Wass. “Every department knows everything about a project from day one.”
The design team is concerned with aesthetics, including how the package feels in the hand. The engineering team looks at a package from a functional point of view. The marketing team looks at a design from a cost perspective and its appeal to consumers. All departments have the same goal of getting the new product to market.
Communication Is Key to Global Package Development
Because Avon has teams based all around the world, having an efficient system of communication is critical. Everyone works together on projects, and all team members must be kept informed of progress. “We all have one direction, and that comes from our global design team here in New York. The regional groups in each country execute that direction,” explains Wass.
“Our goal is to always maintain a global consistency and a recognizable brand identity, no matter what country the product is being sold in,” says Demnisky-Green.
Avon’s high degree of integration and alignment of its many departments ensures that the package development process runs smoothly. Information flows quickly throughout the entire corporation, all around the world.
“Every project is a highly collaborative effort. We plan our objectives from the beginning, so we’re all committed to the same plan,” says Wass. Even though each team has its own specific responsibilities, there is a lot of cross-collaboration and a free exchange of ideas.
“I’m often asked my opinion about a design,” says Wass. “And an opinion about a design from someone who is not a designer carries just as much weight during the development process. At the end of the day, we’re all consumers.”
Working with colleagues based in different countries always poses a few issues. “Constant communication with all team members is an integral part of the process,” says Wass. Every week, Avon’s global integration team hosts a conference call in New York City with regional team members in different countries for project updates.
Dealing with the time difference in other countries can be a challenge, says Wass. “This sounds so minor, but it’s huge because someone will always have to be on the phone before 8:00 A.M. or after 8:00 P.M. with the Asia Pacific region,” he says.
Constant travel is a job requirement. Wass or one of his team members will travel whenever a new mold is being tooled. Members of the design team will also travel whenever a new custom package is being developed. A designer and an engineer are always near the factories for every new product launch, making sure that the packaging turns out exactly as planned.
Ensuring Form and Function
The design and engineering teams work together on a daily basis, so decisions are made quickly. “Jeff’s team has a good understanding of aesthetics and what we’re looking for as designers,” says Demnisky-Green. “We all know each other’s strengths, and we’re willing to collaborate and problem solve whenever necessary.”
Demnisky-Green’s team usually does drawings, which provide direction from an aesthetic point of view. Advance models are often made for new packaging concepts, which are then shown to marketing. “We do quite a bit of advance modeling when necessary,” says Wass.
Industrial designers on Wass’s team often act as the liaisons between engineers and the design team. “Jeff’s team will help find the optimal package, making sure form fits function without compromising aesthetics,” says Demnisky-Green.
Both the design and engineering teams consider ergonomics. “The product innovation group will also give us great insight into how consumers like to use products, so we’re looking at everything from different points of view. Development is a team process,” says Wass.
All teams take consumer research seriously. “The last thing you want to do is frustrate a user with a package that’s not easy to use. Research that provides us with insights about consumers’ opinions helps us to make sure we’ve done everything correctly,” says Demnisky-Green.
Problematic issues are anticipated right from the start and resolved before production begins. “By the time we’re at the production stage, there is complete alignment and no surprises,” says Wass. “Everyone has the same expectations.”
The development time for each project could take anywhere from six months to two years. Additionally, it can take up to one year for the innovations team to come up with plans for the most cutting-edge products and packages.
“Theoretically, the back end, or the commercialization part of the development process, is always the same, because the amount of time required for tooling is always finite,” explains Wass. It is the amount of time needed for the front end of the development process, however, that varies. “This is the time when we’re distilling the idea and lots of consumer research is done. We’ll conduct home tests and listen to the consumer’s point of view to refine our ideas,” says Wass. “We have a two-year model, but it always depends on the results of our tests and research.”
When a new, unique package is being developed, the first stage of the development process is always more complex. “We take our time in the beginning to make sure we understand everything completely,” says Wass. The major prep work during the initial stage of development ensures that the rest of the production process runs smoothly.
“From the start of any project, Avon’s New Product Development (NPD) division is a critical partner on all of our matrix teams,” says Wass. “NPD identifies any supply-chain challenges, such as manufacturing, sourcing, or distribution concerns, that have to be overcome to ensure a smooth launch.”
Once all of the development stages are complete for a new package, Wass’s engineering team will send the specifications to Avon’s global and regional sourcing teams, which will determine which suppliers are a right fit for the project.
“There are so many facets involved with choosing suppliers. We consider many factors, such as which regions are [participating], the quality of the facility, and a supplier’s past performance,” says Wass.
Avon’s experience with manufacturing huge volumes works to its advantage. “We consolidate the number of suppliers we work with. This allows us to generate more volume and deliver quality packaging at a good price to consumers,” says Wass. “We also know where certain packaging components should land from a cost perspective, so we’re hardly ever surprised.”
Many of Avon’s packages are custom designs, especially for fragrances. Avon manufactures such high volumes that stock packaging isn’t always the most sensible option. “If a mold for a compact is stock, you could only get two to four cavities. That’s not enough to fill our daily rate. We always get more for our investment if we do a custom mold,” says Wass.
Avon’s team members enjoy the diversity of working on new projects all the time and say the excitement will continue. “We’re always looking for the next new innovation, and it’s a new challenge every day. It’s never boring,” says Demnisky-Green.
Wass agrees. “There is always something new and exciting on the horizon. It’s always the most interesting for me, from an engineering perspective, to work on something that hasn’t been done before, like the one-handed-use [Pro-To-Go] lipstick.”
We’re assured that there are many more innovative new launches planned. “Just wait until next year. It will be very exciting—but that’s all I can reveal,” says Demnisky-Green.
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