Meet the New Avon & Tupperware Ladies: Gay Men

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 23, 2009

A long time ago in an American far, far away, a land where there were three little girls who went to the police academy only to run around in form-fitting bodysuits as Charlie's Angels, career opportunities for women were limited to a handful of roles such as nurse, secretary, school teacher and flight attendant.

Sisters should thank their lucky stars that in 1886, a forward thinking man founded a company by the name of Avon, which offered women the rare chance to become successful entrepreneurs by selling beauty products to other women.

Flash forward to 2009, to an America progressive enough to elect its first black president but still misogynist enough to deny the oval office to a woman. The American woman may have a way to go, but she's certainly come a long way. Although hawking products like Mary Kay, Avon and Tupperware are still viable options, today they're far from not the only game in town.

One sign the pendulum has swung? Gay male direct sales reps are stepping into the comfortable pumps traditionally occupied by women--and, in the process, obtaining the same economic independence.

Another sign? Furry-chested, gay-friendly Aussie hunk Hugh Jackman is currently filming "Avon Man" - the true tale of a suddenly unemployed hetero male who becomes an Avon salesperson to make ends meet. What begins as act of economic desperation soon catapults the charming, testosterone-fueled lipstick hawker into the one of the company's top sellers.

Maybe if "Avon Man" is a success, it will beget a sequel about the much more interesting tale of gay men who sell Avon and Tupperware. EDGE takes the pulse of this phenomenon. Whether because of job losses from the recession, or because gay men love gals, cosmetics and having parties, these two companies are benefiting from the influx of some fabulous home-to-home seller.

Hollywood producers, take note: We're nearly finished with a spec script for our own high concept cinematic event which tells the true, inspiring story of how a few gay men took their natural instincts for good skin and orderly kitchens and turned it into a career.

Here are their stories, one by one--a satisfying alternative to those who can't wait for the movie.

Nick Vanello: New Top Avon Seller

Avon Representative Nick Vannello( has been selling Avon products for less than six months, but is already ranked #12 out of 700 Cleveland area reps.

Proof that gay men are natural born overachievers, he's already gained entry into the coveted "President's Club"-a status one achieves by selling over $10,100 worth of Avon in a year.

"I've been using Avon for 40 years," says Vannello, who has fond teenage memories of "saving my lunch money to buy pimple cream from the Avon lady up the street."

Now it's Vannello himself who's that "Avon lady up the street," in the form of a gay man whose client roster is comprised of "gay men who are very much into skin care" and "a strong core group of straight women" - plus a couple of drag queens.

Vannello was inspired to sell Avon by that nice Southern Tupperware super-salesperson gal Dixie Longate, who turned her modest Tupperware party into a campy, feel-good theatrical experience (more on her later). "Dixie made me realize that I'm a hooker. "confesses Vannello. "People come to spend time with me. I make them feel good about themselves. I squirt some goo on their face and they pay me for the experience."

Vannello - who proudly boasts that he puts "the 'dong' in "Ding Dong, Avon Calling!" - specialize in parties which combine his background as an actor and entertainer with copious amounts of alcohol.

At a recent party called "Drag and Champagne," 40 women came to swill complimentary booze while a local drag queen talked about how subtle variations in makeup can take one from conservative office persona to night on the town gal to bedroom vamp.

"I don't know how obvious it is that I am gay," Vanello acknowledges when asked how his being a gay male impacts his sales. "I don't walk around with a dick in my mouth, but I am out to my customers."

With his open sexuality (and great sense of humor) comes an honesty that allows him to criticize his female clients from a place of love and support: "They know I am going to be honest and snarky. If they're not wearing colors that are flattering or if they're not looking their absolute best."

As for his gay clientele, Avon for queers is all about skin care. "Recently, I did a party for a nudist group (talk about putting the dong in Ding Dong!). We did a head-to-toe skincare party where we discussed body moisturizer, deodorant, facial and nail care. It was eye opening to them that Avon had all the products they needed."

Billy Kolber: Selling Avon in the Big City

An Independent Avon rep who just celebrated 12 years in the business, Billy Kolber--another Avon sales star--is in the top 10 percent of Avon reps, nationwide.

For Kolber, "Being gay doesn't influence my business, except for the fact that I am a gay man living in New York City and I have lots of gay friends. Avon is the original social networking business, and your social network determines who your initial client base is. The fact that I am a gay man living in New York City means I have lots of gay friends."

As a result, Kolber has an unusually high percentage of gay male customers. Like Vannello, Kolber confirms that as far as Avon and the gays go, it's all about skin care. Aging Marys may not ever see 29 again, but Avon's got a long line of products that can keep the clock from advancing.

"I've done so well in that market because Avon is now a brand with four different sub brands and 50 different products. As a skin care expert, I have an arsenal of anti-aging skin care products at my disposal. Gay men have always been at the forefront of men's beauty, and I'm able to offer them this unique range of anti-aging products."

Even in our still-sour economy, Kolber says skin care products are a feel-good "affordable luxury--and appearance is the last thing a gay man is going to cut back on. You may forgo that new sweater; you may stop eating fancy foods; but you're not going to stop using shampoo."

Kolber says gays may be surprised to learn how much Avon has that appeals directly to men. "In fragrance we have partnerships with Derek Jeter and Patrick Dempsey. They're two of the top 10 selling men's fragrances in the country."

Asked how corporate reacts to the notion of gay men in their midst, Kolber notes that the company "embraces diversity, and always has. Avon was founded by a man 32 years before women had the right to vote. A woman could become financially independent, running her own business.

"This company has a long tradition of being both modern and socially progressive," he adds. As a male Avon rep, Kolber says that for a culture in which the Avon Lady is an icon, being the Avon Man sometimes causes "a momentary disconnect; but for us, it's a real advantage. Being a man gives you an opportunity. People hear Avon man, and they stop and listen."

Tupperware & Drag Queens: A Tight Fit

What is it about Tupperware, those colorful, plastic storage containers which have weeded their way into the popular consciousness like lovable kudzu, that makes it such a great match for drag queens?

Although her participation in this article was cut short by the tragic outcome of phone tag, eight-year Tupperware sales veteran Oscar Quintero has built his mighty empire through the stage persona of Kay Sedia. Check out www.kaysedia.com and two websites to get the skinny on the schtick from this funny gal with a stick.

And our country's premiere drag queen-cum-Tupperware maven? It's none other than Dixie Longate (www.dixiestupperwareparty.com). Although we all know Dixie is really a dude in a dress with a dick, Ms. Longate would have none of that when she sat down between shows to talk with Edge.

Ms. Longate prefers to be thought of as the "fast-talking Tupperware Lady who packed up her catalogues, left her children in an Alabama trailer park and took Off-Broadway by storm!" Now she travels the country spreading the gospel of plastic food preservative products to both gay and straight audiences alike.

Along the way, she's raked in more bucks from Tupperware than ticket sales.

Longate, a veteran of 28 Atlantic cruises (which appeal to the gay and lesbian market), says that traveling America with "Dixie's Tupperware Party" means meeting "a fair amount of gays; but surprisingly, it's the straight gals" who comprise the lion's share of the audience. Ms. Longate attributes that to the fact that many of these gals have been "lovin' their Tupperware since their grandma was around."

Gay, straight or trans, Longate says Tupperware is the great social equalizer. "Everybody needs food storage solutions, I have found that to be true."

Although the ladies gravitate towards using Tupperware for traditional purposes, Longate says gay men have been known to use them for "storing condoms and making jello shots-and lots of other things Christians wouldn't think off. Well, they probably would; but they wouldn't think it out loud because Jesus would get angry."

Even the most religious of gay men, apparently, have trouble warding off the temptation to use Tupperware for erotic purposes. Longate confesses: "We have this thing you can put cucumbers in that I've thought once or twice about using for a Friday night love affair. The gay men have taught a girl from a trailer park a thing or two about what you can do with the handle of a colander."

Roand Thompson: Tupperware OUT of Drag

California-based Tupperware Consultant Roland Thompson is, as a gay man, "one of the few selling Tupperware out of drag." Ranked No. 43 in sales nationwide, Thompson must be doing something right to move such a large amount of product without the aid of a dress, makeup and lovable down-home accent.

Like Vannello, Thompson heeded the siren call of a direct sales career at the encouragement of Dixie Longate, who apparently has made a side career of recruiting gays into the folk like a drag Mormon missionary of food storage.

"Dixie has been trying to get me involved for about two years, because I'd had some financial setbacks, Thompson says. Finally, I thought it was an interesting thing to do--but I was not prepared to do it in drag. Last July we were talking about it again, the concept of doing it as guy. The idea of a cooking demonstration started to manifest itself, and that's where the whole concept of the Mr. Tupperware party came from.

"Basically," Thompson notes, "I come in, I do a set up which includes the product and a microwave. I end up cooking during the demo, just using Tupperware products. I do a chicken in the micro steamer and a cake in the microwave using various products to mix,"

Like "Dixie's Tupperware Party," Thompson soon found that adding a splash of theatrical flourish and a sense of campy fun to the sales pitch was a recipe for success."

"The fact that I'm a man helps me," says Thompson. "A lot for woman are sort of like 'Wow, I've never had a guy come in and do Tupperware.'"

He also says that interacting with women as a gay man gives the proceedings a festive, supportive "Will & Grace" vibe. "There is an element of comfort that gay men have with straight women. A barrier drops for women when they don't have those traditional heterosexual roles between themselves and men.

Women can sometimes feel diminished or not confident" at the hands of straight men.

That barrier, says Thompson, "is broken when they're dealing with someone who is gay." Although straight women comprise the bulk of his clientele, Thompson has done a few parties for gay men.

He says Tupperware products like Fridgesmart and Modular Mates are natural fits for gay men, who are generally well known for having "that Joan Crawford element of keeping thins clean and organized."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.