Marie Richardson is a smile-filled woman in her youthful 80s who loves her job.
Richardson has sold Avon products in North Dakota for 53 years come March 29, with a couple months over 50 years of that time selling in the Minot area. And, after 50 years, she became a lifetime member of the company's prestigious "President's Club," earning top commission.
She's wearing green-crystal earrings and a red-and-orange rock bracelet that perfectly coordinates with her colorful shirt, the product of having gone to an event earlier in the day she was interviewed. All of her jewelry comes from the Avon line.
"It used to just be makeup and perfume, you know," she said of Avon products she has sold over the years. "And now they've gone into clothing and shoes and different kinds of bowls and we've gone into kids' clothes, different things. So they've really spread out."
As has her customer base. Where Avon maintained strict limits to a sales representative's market area, some of those rules have gone away and she now sells to loyal customers who have moved on to Bismarck, or maybe even as far as Minnesota.
"The part I love about it are my friends and the people. I've got really good friends," she said. "And they stay by me. They love the product, I'm sure, but they're good customers. I have many good customers, I couldn't begin to list them."
The self-described "semi-retired" saleswoman entered the business not out of real need, but as something to do.
"I started in Drake, and he (her husband) was teaching school and I thought it was a way to get out and meet the people around here."
She got to meet a lot of good people, door-to-door.
"You can tell I'm not bashful, you know," she said, though "I guess I was more nervous the first few calls like in Drake. But, of course, with my husband being a teacher I went to the teachers first, hit up the teachers and their wives."
And she worked and worked and worked to become the Number 1 sales representative in the region, a superlative that remains on her license though she no longer, after cutting back her hours, is the Number 1. That work took its toll.
"I was a big one to buy the demos. I bought the demos and carried, like, bags with me in and out of the car. In fact, I had to have my hip replaced," she said. "My doctor said, 'You were in and out of the car too many times in a day,' and I had a Honda, a low Honda, so I ruined my hip doing it, but I wasn't off long. I still kept going and people called me."
It paid off in other ways, too. For every $100,100 in sales over a fiscal year she would receive an "Albee," a ceramic figurine of a woman, named after the company's first-ever sales-representative, Mrs. P.F.E. Albee of New Hampshire, who rode a horse and buggy door-to-door in the northeast for years.
"They're beautiful, aren't they?" she said while looking at the majority of them arranged like a menagerie within a glass display case in her living room. She has 34 of them, which, for those doing the math, amounts to a bare minimum of $343,400 in sales.
Don, her husband of 64 years come Sept. 4, came in from his yard work to make sure she didn't forget to mention everything she had won, but when he returned outside she recalled the ways he would help her fill orders when he got home from work.
He would pick up the deliveries and then they would spread them out over one, or sometimes two, tables and bag them for customers based on the order slips.
For this she would reward him with her earnings, even taking her on a few of the nine or 10 trips she had earned as an Avon sales representative.
"That was the thrill of my life," she said of her trips. "I wanted to go to Hawaii and I was there three times through Avon and I was on two cruises, the Mississippi Queen and then another Caribbean one that my husband could go on, too, but he got seasick. ... Over half (of the cruise-goers) were seasick because it got so rough out there. In fact, he was so dizzy even after we got home he went down in the basement and said, 'Everything's still moving.'"
Despite her many successes and accomplishments, which are too numerous to list here, she never did become a district manager, although she was given the opportunity.
"I went out and acted as one but I didn't want to be away from home. I had two children and the boy was just starting school and I felt, 'Nope, I need to be home,'" she said. "You can work but make your own hours and then be home when your children were here, or if they were sick. That's what I thought was a good deal."
"My kids say, 'Mom, when are you going to retire?' and I say (that I'm going to do it) 'As long as I feel well,' " she said of her longevity on the scene. "I'm just going to keep doing it. It keeps me young, I think. It gives you pep and energy."
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to email@example.com.)