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Avon lady racks up $2M in sales in 51 years
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Katherine Mangelos sits at a desk in her son’s Barnwood Restaurant in Ripon checking an Avon order for one of her customers. She says her clientele expects her to be knocking on their doors on her appointed days. If she gets sidetracked, they call to make sure she is OK. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin
Selling Avon products over 50 years ago was a passing fancy for Katherine Mangelos who had three children at the time – two boys and a girl.  She wasn’t sure she could find customers by knocking on doors of people she didn’t know.

She set out on her mission in sales on March 23, 1959.  She was 32 years old beginning a career that would see her add up some $2 million in sales for her half century of part-time work.

Katherine said her husband didn’t want her to work.  

“This Avon lady came around to sell me Avon.  I thought if she can sell Avon I can sell Avon, and maybe, if I make $5, it will be $5 we don’t have.  We didn’t have any money at the time.  I called for information and some lady came and signed me up,” she said.

There were no routes within the Ripon city limits where she lived and she took on a country area instead.  Somewhat shy at the time, she remembers hoping people wouldn’t answer the door when she knocked – they did and she made friends and sales that would continue year after year.    

One of those three children was world renowned Ripon chef John Mangelos who owns and operates the Barnwood Restaurant next to Highway 99 and East Main Street.  As a 5-year-old boy he would tag along with his mother on her morning Avon route playing with the children at the farm houses she visited.

Katherine said he would get so dirty playing with the farm kids while she sold her products in the farm houses.  She would have to take him home at lunch time and clean him up so he could go to his kindergarten class. Home had been a barn that her husband Paul had restored into an apartment for his family including the other children Joseph and Ella.

The mother of three took on a sales area from Milgeo Avenue to French Camp Road on the north and from Jack Tone Road on the west to Wagner Road on the east.  

First day she
had doors shut
in her face
“The first day I went out I went on Jack Tone Road.  Many women would have no interest in her products,” she said. Others would just shut the door in her face.

Katherine said when her husband came home, he asked her if she had been successful.

 “I told him I had been out there for three or four hours and I didn’t sell anything,” she said.  “I’m quitting!  He said ‘you can’t quit now, you just started’.”    

The next day she began knocking on doors on North Ripon Road and found a couple of houses where the ladies were glad to see her – many who continue to be her customers today.  One woman, Stella Detman, was home when she knocked and some other ladies were there, she said.

“Oh, my gosh,” she quoted her as saying. “Come on in, I haven’t seen an Avon lady in years.  And, they greeted me and they ordered Avon – so I was so happy.  I went home and I told my husband Paul I guessed I would stick with it because I made some sales.”

She said the years went by and before she knew it, 50 years had elapsed and she continued to have successes.  Her peak year in sales was about $60,000 gross, she added.

“After a while working in the country, they said there was an opening in town if I wanted it.  I said no, because you get to know the people and they are your friends. Besides, I was thinking to myself that the people out in the country buy more – you know why – there are no stores around.  Some of them were five to 10 miles out,” she said.  “If one of the women wanted something they had to go 10 miles to get to Manteca.”

She said she wouldn’t want to stop selling Avon because she likes going to see her customers and visiting with the ones who have become her friends.  They serve her cookies and coffee and one of her customers has her come by a noon fixing her lunch.

Katherine remembers going to one house on Clinton South Avenue where the family had police dogs that came running at her as she was standing by the car.  She said she was petting them while knocking on the door.

“The lady asked, ‘Aren’t you scared of my dogs?   My friends that know me and come here won’t get out of their car.’”

Katherine asked if she should be scared of them – they seemed like nice dogs – saying she never had a problem with dogs biting her.  

She says she has about 100 customers with only a third ordering during any given month when she sends an order off to the company.  In an effort to make it easier for her clientele to pick up their orders, they often pick them up at the Barnwood Restaurant receiving an automatic 10 percent discount.

Katherine had been offered a managerial position with the company but she turned it down because she would have had to move to San Francisco and do a lot of traveling.

“Now that I’m up in age I wouldn’t want to do it because I would have to travel to Bakersfield and Los Angeles,” she said.