The Ups and Downs of the Fuller Brush Co. (Fortune, 1938)
Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a favorite story from our magazine archives. This week we turn to a story from 1938, which chronicles the highs and lows of the Fuller Brush Co. The Great Bend, Kan.-based cleaning-products maker was founded in 1906 and became known for its door-to-door salesmen, who belted the familiar greeting, “I’m your Fuller Brush Man.” Earlier this week, Fuller Brush filed for bankruptcy less than two months after saying it had “completely rebooted itself.” This time, can Fuller Brush recover from its fall?
Playing the law of averages, its sales problems get tougher as times get better, and vice versa. Last year $ 10,000,000 worth of brushes for a net profit of $208,000.
Do you know of a good man who would appreciate an opportunity to make profits of $25 to $30 a week and a chance of advancement? Write Box –
This question, well considered, well worded, from time to time turning up among the want ads of papers in a hundred cities means that the Fuller Brush Co. wants men for a business that last year grossed $10,000,000 and this year will gross more. It is a business of house-to-house sales, and few businesses can match the sheer compounded merchandising ingenuity of so-called direct selling. Five thousand one hundred and ten men were selling Fuller brushes in January, 1938, and the expense of maintaining such a force might well enormous. For the Fuller Brush Co., the cost is negligible. This whole force is made to maintain itself almost entirely by an unbroken line of calculated self-interest through unit sales managers, of whom there are seven for the U.S., plus 150 branch managers, 600 field managers, and more than 4,000 “dealers”–meaning the canvassers who carry a sample case from house to house, a company word used loosely since 1929 but definitely adopted about a year before the passage of the Social Security Act made the distinction important.
The Fuller Brush line means about seventy-five twisted-in-wire brushes of various shapes and sizes, from a dental-plate brush “approved by Dental Authorities” to a bathroom-bowl brush that “gets under the rim and into the trap,” and a Fuller Friction Shower–that is, a brush with a rubber-hose attachment that is hitched to a faucet, or if you do not have a faucet handy, to a portable tank (i.e., pail) with the result that “eighteen streams of water bubble through the brush and give a cooling refreshing bath, every drop as clean as the water you drink.” It means dry mops and linoleum (wet) mops and a launderable dry mop that fits on a flatiron-shaped frame with a swivel handle so that the “mop lays flat on floor.” It means fiber brooms and mixed hair and fiber floor brushes. It means waxes and polishes. It means Correct Shape, Professional, and Junior toothbrushes, and hand brushes and hairbrushes and nailbrushes and combs and a gadget to clean combs. It means a venetian-blind brush, a radiator brush, and a pointed-spoke brush.
Most people have seen some of these brushes and many people, more or less mesmerized, have found themselves looking at all of them. On a flood of jokes, probably not exceeded since Ford’s Model T went to town, Fuller’s impossibly cockeyed brushes (a tribute to their variety and special designing) and the Fuller Man shown monotonously surprising the lady of the house in a state of nature (a tribute to persistent, ubiquitous sellers) have become a part of the public consciousness. Brushes are objects of little intrinsic interest. They are old, familiar, and intimately associated with drudgery. Anybody can make them, and making brushes is not the Fuller story. If Alfred C. Fuller had confined himself to making brushes he might have prospered modestly and built up a nice little business but nobody would ever have heard his name. The story is not even Mr. Fuller’s story, though that has the interest, a little spoiled by familiarity of the old popular favorite, poor boy makes good. The story of Fuller brushes is primarily a selling story, a story of how to sell. It is also a first-rate study in normal and subnormal psychology; and, whether appalling or inspiring, a fine demonstration of one modern way to make a practical, profitable use of the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Though the real story is how Fuller brushes are sold, it cannot be clearly told apart from the origin of Fuller brushes. When Alfred Fuller made his first brushes, twisting them in a secondhand vise, he made them to be sold exactly as Fuller brushes are sold today. Going from door to door or kitchen to kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts, he found out who wanted brushes and what kinds of brushes were wanted. He took orders for them and went home and made them. This was not a brilliant or original inspiration. Brush- and broommaking as a one-man business operating on a local scale was common, and if the more usual practice was to make the brooms and brushes first and then peddle them, Mr. Fuller’s different procedure may very well have been due to the fact that he didn’t know the business and wanted to find out how many brushes he was likely to need before he made them. When he found out, he made them as well and carefully as he could (he must have been good with his hands and quick at picking up the simple principles) and brought them around and got his money.
In 1906 it was still generally believed that the world would beat a path to the place of business of the man who made a better mousetrap. This philosophy, embellished with many copybook maxims, supported the instinct of a competent workman. Mr. Fuller, using the best materials, made the best brushes he could, counting on the quality that would outwear just any old brush to convince his customers that it was cheaper in the long run to buy something good. If the soundness of the two policies of making as good a brush as possible and taking orders for it from house to house seemed tentatively established when Mr. Fuller’s balance sheet as of December 31, 1912, listed total assets of about $20,000, $5,000 being the value of his plant, they must have assumed the proportions and validity of twin laws of nature by 1923 when the finished main structure of the Hartford plant was valued at $685,000 and total assets had risen to $4,000,000. Fuller’s merchandising method and quality product were a gold mine and the sky seemed to be the limit. In 1923 total retail sales went to $14,900,000. Then something happened.
In terms of results, what happened was that in 1924 sales were off a few thousand dollars. In 1925 they were off not a few thousand, but two million. A slight recovery took place in 1926 and 1927. In 1928 a precipitate new drop wiped out the recovery and put the company where it had been in 1922. Thus even before the depression broke on all business, Fuller Brush was on the way down. Nineteen thirty-two saw the first and only deficit. In 1933 the volume of sales went below $5,000,000.
In terms of causes, what happened probably involved a number of factors. Undoubtedly, good times with plenty of jobs made it hard to get good men to do canvassing and a marked decrease in the number of salesmen was a big factor. Increased house-to-house selling of such things as silk stockings–much of it inspired by Fuller’s success–was getting a share of the housewife’s money. Perhaps cheap stuff in the chain stores–which did not offer competition to Fuller quality, but which could of course be used as a substitute—helped to account for it. Whatever it was, Fuller did not take it lying down. Fuller executives took salary cuts. In the case of Mr. Fuller himself the cut amounted to 50 per cent. Severe executive shake-ups threw out high-priced talent of the goldmine days. Commissions to salesmen were raised and bonuses added. Large-scale magazine advertising started in the gold-mine days had been kept up, but since it did not appear to be helping, it was dropped in favor of radio. Radio did not appear to help.
Viewed retrospectively it seems perfectly plain why none of these things helped. It seems plain that, whatever the contributory factors were, as early as 1925 the Fuller market, even if the sales force held up, could not have been progressively expanded on the spectacular scale of the decade before. There were limits to the high-priced field. Now, in the bad year of 1932, the salesman’s position was clearly hopeless.
A Fuller broom cost $1.95. It was worth it. It would outwear a number of cheaper brooms. Unfortunately housewives in sufficient numbers could not or would not buy it and if housewives could not or would not buy Mr. Fuller’s brushes, Mr. Fuller’s business was finished.
It will be seen that the mousetrap theory needed qualification. Even when it was brought to them at home people did not want it just because it was good. It had to be cheap too. So Fuller cut prices and, with what misgivings it is easy to imagine (for when sales were most urgently needed, the incentive to sell was being reduced), announced a cut in the salesman’s basic commission from 40 per cent to 25 and 30 per cent. To make it go down all the Hartford executives and particularly Mr. Fuller himself went into the field to appeal to organization loyalty; to represent the move as in the salesman’s own interest since he would now find customers tumbling over themselves to take advantage of prices marked off 25 to 33.3 per cent; and to promise that this rush of buying would make as much or more money for everyone.
The decision proves now to have been a wise and courageous one. In a sense the Fuller merchandising system triumphed, and when the system’s everyday working is presently analyzed, this use to which it was once successfully put should not be forgotten. It paid, or at least it absorbed, the frightening expenses of a drastic new departure in policy, went more or less unswervingly ahead, and beyond any reasonable doubt saved the company. Everyone must have drawn a long breath as the sales turned up in 1934 and the benefits of the change, until that moment existing only in theory, became indubitable fact. From 5,000 brooms a period (Fuller uses a thirteen-period year) sales jumped to 50,000 a period in 1935. Manufacturing economies made feasible by increased production were now effected. It was soon possible to reduce prices again, and immediately the sales rose. In 1937 the broom sold 80,000 a period. Meanwhile total sales went over $6,000,000 in 1935, over $7,000,000 in 1936, over $10,000,000 last year; by the middle of August, 1938, were running a million and a half ahead of the same period for last year.
The organization of the Fuller Brush Co. begins at the Hartford plant. Put up in 1922 before the beauties of stark functionalism were fashionable, it has the earnest, aspirational air of a very large high school. Since the brushmaking is of little interest or significance this is not inappropriate. Brushes and mops are made on the first and second floors. Behind is storage space for part of the immense inventory (averaging $2,113,000 last year) and a separate new broom factory. On the third floor, reached from an elevator landing in the front tower through a hall containing a white marble copy of the Uffizi boar on a pedestal, the executive offices are high, spacious, somber rooms, many of them with oil paintings. Here Mr. Fuller sits under enlarged sepia photographs of his present associates, taken when they were somewhat younger; and a painting of Mr. Marsh, an early associate who died in 1921. The subjects of the photographs are distributed along the hall. Two of them, Mr. Frank W. Adams, first Vice President, and Mr. Wallace E. Campbell, secretary, with Mr. Fuller himself work closely with the sales organization and try among them to visit every branch every year. The educational director, Mr. Elmer Kauffman, from an office at the top of the tower with a good contemplative view of the Hartford insurance skyscrapers a mile or so away, supplies general inspiration and weekly texts for the salesmen’s meetings.
These four take charge of the whole retail sales end of the business. Under Mr. Adams as general manager come the seven unit managers distributed around the country whose intermediate position between the Hartford executives and the field is indicated by the fact that, though about half of their money is from a commission on the total sales of the unit, they get also a basic salary. Under each of the unit managers are twenty to fifty branches under branch managers who work entirely on a commission–averaging 8.5 per cent on all branch sales. Under the branch managers come the field managers, averaging 5 per cent on the sales of their sections of about ten dealers each. The dealers, who are actually salesmen with sample cases, get a basic 33.3 per cent, which they pay to themselves by retaining it from the retail price. This is the organization in outline.
WHAT MAKES IT GO
The key man in this organization is the branch manager. He signs up the applicants for jobs and appoints the field managers who direct the sections of salesmen. It is up to him. If he cannot sign selling salesmen, if he cannot pick out field managers who have what it takes to keep the salesmen pepped up and rarin’ to sell, he won’t make any money. The company will give him through the unit managers every benefit of its experience and advice–or if he shows signs of slipping and so affecting the unit manager’s commission adversely, the unit manager will give him the benefit of his personal descent for a combined showdown, warning, and go-to-it-old-man-I-know-you-can-do-it super pepping-up. The company will pay the rent of the branch manager’s office–actually a good way of making certain that be locates himself where the company thinks he ought to be located, and in a style neither too mean nor too wastefully elaborate. It will meet the branch manager a shade more than halfway if he wishes to advertise “specials” (items temporarily reduced, different ones four times a year) in local newspapers–the company will pay half and supply the mats. Everything else he must do for himself. Office help and other not inconsiderable expense (he may pay out a quarter or even a third of his receipts) of prizes to foster healthy rivalry among his dealers, of entertainments to reward me successful and cheer up the unsuccessful, the branch manager himself, with the help sometimes of contributions from field managers, pays for. It was he who found it necessary to put that advertisement in the help-wanted columns, so he paid for that. After all, he is the one who cannot afford to leave territory uncovered; who wants, in the interests of his own profit, a full complement of dealers all selling brushes as hard as they can all day every day. By finding the means to arrange this he is sure of a good living–a number of managers make $10,000 a year.
While it is true that the unit manager may occasionally be called on to do for the branch manager what the branch manager and his field managers spend most of their time doing for the dealers, the typical branch manager is so fully charged with enthusiasm and fervor that more could hardly be got into him. He may be helped with a constant flow of new ideas and timely suggestions from above, but he is the key man in the Fuller system. And the company’s success, like the unit manager’s success and his own success, depends upon his being a particular sort of person, really a religious sort of person, with a fanatical faith in the creed of bigger and better sales. He too needs more than the motivation of profit and self-interest, but as in the psychology of saints and heroes (and it might as well be admitted that he has, in a humble or rudimentary form, what they have) an element of self-hypnosis is involved. He could not support the rigors of acting as an inexhaustible human dynamo unless he had the means of automatically recharging himself. He could not function at all if his sincerity were less than perfect. Doubts about the holiness of quotas and the sanctity of selling must not trouble him. Self-consciousness should not hold him back from any useful excess. He must not only be adept at applied psychology and instinctively expert in the great art of taking mental hold of the half-discouraged, the desperate, the nervous young and the helplessly inexperienced old, and putting into them by main force of personality the heart and courage to sell brushes. He has to have the liking for people and the love of ingenuous fun that feels only zest in leading forty dealers toward the right frame of mind by singing with them to an evident tune:
Selling the day before.
Going to sell today as I never sold before.
For when I’m selling
I’m happy as can be,
For I’m a member of the Fuller family.
Loyalty, Loyalty, one Company for the
Whole of us.
Would to God that there were more of us,
For the few of us can’t do it all alone.
The job of branch manager requires quite definite qualities, and since these qualities shape a man’s manner and mark his face brand} managers rend to look alike. Even great differences in actual physical appearance are obliterated by similarities of expression, by a typical optimistic shine of the eye, and perhaps by the more rarefied still, but real, presence of what is unabashedly known as the Fine and Dandy spirit. This spirit–whose importance will be considered later–is again reflected in a standard of dress–shirt patterns and cut of suits somewhat more cheerful than is general with men or comparable position and earnings in other fields. Especially marked is a characteristic grooming fairly to be called immaculate, a pleasant; appropriate look of recent vigorous use of the “Gelltleman’s Personal Set”–manicure brush, clothes brush, scalp and shampoo brush, pocket comb, deluxe hand brush, hatbrush–and perhaps even the palm brush, an odd round object completing the set, described briefly in the catalogue as “Used like a cake of soap. Handy anywhere.”
This, then, is the man who makes the Fuller Brush Co.’s merchandising scheme work. Invariably he began as a dealer and reached his present position only after some years or selling and some experience as a field manager. He knows exactly what he wants; and he has the instinct, the experience, and the judgment to go about getting it, if getting it is humanly possible, from the material available to him. To maintain a dealer force of about four and a half thousand, it is necessary to persuade 12,000 new men every year that selling brushes is a livelihood and a career. The branch manager would like it better if he could get these new men through his present dealers, and in some branches a large percentage of the new men are brought in this way. The manager in that case knows something about the man and the man already knows the proposition and thinks it would suit him. In general, however, this convenience is the exception, not the rule, and with so large a turnover the main point is that men, almost any men, be brought in somehow.
No branch manager ventures to say exactly what sort of man will make a good dealer. The unlikeliest sorts might almost be said to be the most promising, and previous experience in canvassing is not necessarily a recommendation. At a manager’s dinner for sales leaders (men who had sold $100 worth or better the preceding week) given by a typical branch appeared a former sheepherder, a bricklayer, a chauffeur. The company knows of spectacular instances of success enjoyed by former clergymen, dentists, or college professors. Consequently the branch manager, not unaware that most of the men he interviews were led by the advertisement to hope that a salaried job was waiting for them, and all too aware that they will not like the line of work he has to offer, doesn’t really worry about that. The intelligence or experience that could not be misled by ingenuous hope or ambiguous wording is not necessarily desirable. Put bluntly, in a phrase that has become a manager’s axiom, the manager prefers men who are just dumb enough to do what they are told. The statement is neither cynical nor contemptuous. During the sixth period of 1938, 2,316 dealers who stuck to the job and did what they were told averaged $276 in total sales each meaning a profit in commissions for them of $29.04 a week. The remaining 2,267 dealers, who accounted for the rest or the total sales volume, averaged $146 for the period, or $12.15 a week. Here, obviously, is where the huge turnover is taking place, since men who don’t make more than that would have an easier time on relief. From the manager’s standpoint, at least, these are the ones who don’t do as they are told, who give up, let down, or quit. Their averages do not affect the manager’s conviction that the thing he offers, even if it is not what the candidate hoped, is a good thing. This, no doubt, gives the manager that confidence which even he may need when he sees discouragement flood the face confronting him as a regular job and regular salary vanish into a possible 33.3 per cent commission unreally held out somewhere beyond a hideous ordeal of rebuffs and humiliations through day after day of lugging around a line of merchandise that most people put off buying as long as possible.
What the applicant for this opportunity does not know is the way the law of averages works. In the company’s experience certain averages over the period of about a year always hold. If a man will follow his instructions exactly, visiting the 2,500 homes that make up his block of territory every three months, he will find that he has sold $700 worth of Fuller brushes. (A recent FORTUNE survey supports the company’s contention. Every sixth person interviewed bought regularly from house-to-house salesmen.)
Though a mathematical truth is here operating with much the actuarial precision of the insurance companies’ mortality tables, it will not work out in every new man’s case for the good reason that many new men will not give it time to work out. There is only one chance in three or four that the signed-up salesman will last a year–or, indeed, more than a few months. However, to the man who does last a year, this turnover is very advantageous. A year of selling makes him a real veteran, a so-called Service Man with a special pin and a chance for more commission. At the end of the first period in 1938, 2,783 of the 4,350 Fuller dealers had been working less than six months. Dealers who had worked two years or more numbered 611. Of these 192 had worked five years or more. Since the organization has places for 600 field managers and for at least 150 branch managers, a Service Man’s chance of becoming a field manager fairly soon (300 of them had two years’ service or less in 1938) is good, and, given some years’ experience and the necessary aptitude, he will probably be a branch manager.
ONE OF 12,000
The branch manager’s job is to make the prospective dealer see this and his first step is to eye his man with an air of shrewd goodwill. This is genuine. Not only is goodwill natural to the type of man who is a branch manager, but nature has generally been reinforced, at least in the Eastern Unit, by the signing of a pledge (of deplorable doggerel, but high ethical content) which says that, being now a member of the Fine and Dandy clan, he promises to make himself a worthwhile man. In order to do this he has been advised:
Oh, man in your plenty and man in your pride,
Don’t add to the burdens of those who are tried,
Be gentle, be thoughtful, be kindly of heart,
Don’t grow bitter and scornful because you are smart.
Be fair with your brothers in all that you do,
Send them on feeling better for having met you.
Recommending such thoughts to himself and finishing his preliminary survey, the manager in an abrupt but friendly way asks the applicant, who may as well be called Bill, how much money he needs to live on. Bill, who has not had a chance to rid himself of negative thoughts by absorbing the Fine and Dandy spirit, will probably set as modest a figure as possible. He hopes forlornly that a figure low enough may tempt the manager to let him have a salaried job. This enables the manager to ask cheerfully how $30 a week would look to him. It looks pretty good; but of course it won’t be long now before Bill smells a rat. Probably he will blurt out the direct question about whether it’s commission selling or not. This is an important moment for the manager. To be able to retort “Why? Wouldn’t you take $30 for that kind of work?” and have it do what it must do to Bill is perhaps the height of the manager’s art.
An hour ago Bill may have been perfectly sure he wouldn’t–first, because he was just sure he couldn’t; second, because he just wouldn’t–meaning he wouldn’t stoop so low as to try. Fixed now with the manager’s eye–the eye that so patently considered him with penetration, saw all his good qualities, and showed that it liked them–he has trouble in saying, “No, I wouldn’t.” The atmosphere is charged with the hearty compulsion to say, “Yes, I would take it.” Not always, but much more often than you would expect, a first-rate branch manager gets this only half-voluntary “Yes, I would.” While it is to the manager’s financial profit to get it, there is reason to suppose that the satisfaction he feels when he hears it is actually worth more than money to him. He believes that he is building character.
There now remains the matter of Bill’s “references,” meaning a definite recourse for the company to take care of the sample case lent to Bill, and of his first order, which will be shipped to him before the money is received. This never happens again. He will get his second order only after payment for the first has been turned in. Ideally the company would like a cash deposit of $200; but the manager will use his judgment, take what he can get and even let Bill off altogether on the hunch that he can be trusted. If such hunches of the manager’s were not as good as gold he would long ago have given up having hunches.
Bill is now ready for his training. He will be given leaflets and selling manuals to study and there will be practical instruction by the field manager to whom he is assigned. This practical instruction means an hour on two successive afternoons in the office learning the names of the forty articles in his sample case; and then actual house-to-house work accompanied by the field manager until he grasps the not very complicated procedure. Essentially this procedure consists of three steps; each reduced to a series of things to do and things to say. It is important to learn them thoroughly and to follow them exactly. If they presuppose for their success a low level of intelligence on the part of the prospective customer, they are only reflecting the vast accumulated experience of the company. They cannot possibly succeed with every housewife, but neither could any other conceivable formula and they will, in fact, save the dealer time and energy that he might waste in an unprofitable battle of wits with someone able to make a fool of him. If he does not get the right responses to his opening formulas he is well advised to let himself be eased out and go on to a house where he will get the right responses. The more calls he makes, the surer he is of selling something; and much time and prolonged effort spent in trying for a possible big order will not in the end make him as much money as the total of small orders–the average of all orders is $1.75–that the same time and effort are far more likely to produce.
With such points in mind, and what he should do and what he should say soundly drilled into him, the dealer painstakingly prepares for a selling expedition. Between five and seven in the evening–selected as hours when most people are at home if they are going to be home at all–he covers a manageable part of his territory–say fifty houses–and leaves at each a catalogue, called a Health and Beauty Manual around which is wrapped an “ad-folder”–a single sheet announcing special bargains and good for a free brush. Since this is an hour when people are tired or busy or both, he has no intention of trying to sell, or even show, anything. He wants to get the customer’s name, and to make himself a sort of appointment which he can at least assume that he has when he turns up in the morning ostensibly to “redeem” the card by handing over the free brush. Last year 12,500,000 free brushes-“handy” brushes to clean vegetables, “dandy” scrubbers for aluminum, and utility brushes (a sort of bottle brush) were passed out. This giving something away is done with the idea of getting into the house and the dealer ought to be careful to get in before he gives. To help him be careful, the brush, like the Health and Beauty Manual, while free to the housewife, is not free to the dealer. The company sells both to him at a low cost. This small further sample of how to make a merchandising system pay its own way is completed equitably by offering the dealer fifty handy brushes for $1.40 with four toothbrushes thrown in. When he sells the toothbrushes at regular prices, he breaks even.
Though the handy brushes are gifts, entirely free, and the customer may have hers without buying anything, the dealer tries to get a run for his money. If the customer wants her gift, but not him, and standing in the door asks for it, he knows what to do. He indicates the inconvenience and even impossibility of opening his case on the steps or in the hall. Once allowed in, he begins, talking steadily, on a scientifically planned unpacking of his case, his movements and his formula speeches nicely synchronized. With everything spread out, he has already displayed and can usually manage to start demonstrating the sets for various purposes. A popular form of entertainment put on at company dinners and meetings is the celebrated six-minute demonstration done to rapturous applause by Elmer Kauffman, the Fuller educational director. Perhaps it is never quite equaled in the field; but the dealer has that law of averages to think of, and a good dealer will certainly not take more than twenty minutes. If he gets an order he promises delivery the following Friday evening, or Saturday morning if the customer can wait that long (as close to payday as possible). He sends in his order to his local warehouse (the company has fourteen strategically located), where, when they have made sure he has enclosed the money for his previous order, it is filled and sent to his home.
He is required to deliver orders in person and collect (a business he is likely to do with more feeling and tenacity than would be the case if a truck driver delivered for him), write thank you on the receipted bill, and in the words of his instructions, get away gracefully. That is all there is to it.
I’M FINE AND DANDY
In spite of the perfectly genuine opportunity offered, this kind of work is naturally and fundamentally distasteful to most men. The fact is reflected in the turnover and in the mentioned circumstance of good times, when other lines of work are open and it is hard to get enough salesmen. Not enough good men will sell house-to-house if there is any alternative. The branch manager has to combat lack of enthusiasm as well as he can, and he does it very well, mostly through the force of his own personality, but not without an indefinite amount of help from the already mentioned Fine and Dandy spirit. This spiritual elixir is something he not only administers to his salesmen but takes a lot of himself and no one from Mr. Fuller down would minimize its importance to the functioning organization.
The Fine and Dandy spirit, if it was not invented, was at any rate reduced to coherence by Albert E. Teetsel, Manager of the Eastern Unit. Listening to a speech by the late Rev. Dr. Stanley LeFevre Krebs, author of Cries from the Cross and other works, many of them dealing with the religion of business, Mr. Teetsel found himself caught by the term used incidentally in the course of some remarks on the advantages of being always bright, cheerful, and happy. The eventual result was the Fine and Dandy Club. Mr. Teetsel, who is known as Fine and Dandy AI, worked hard on it. He even succeeded in supplying the brooms for a scene in Joe Cook’s musical comedy of the same name. “The psychological effect,” Mr. Teetsel writes, “of the words Fine and Dandy or I’m Fine and Dandy, How are You? is to impress the party spoken to with the enthusiasm and cheerful outlook of the speaker.” To maintain this effect all letters are concluded, all telephone conversations begun and ended, especially in the Eastern Unit, with the words. Mr. Teetsel will not, in fact, converse with a salesman or branch manager who forgets thus to preface whatever he has to say. In his own words: “We have Fine and Dandy signs in hotels, restaurants, clubs, trolley cars, banks, Y.M.C.A.’s, etc. and are using every possible means to advance and advertise this wonderful spirit. All our men have a Fine and Dandy sticker on the cover of their sample case and most of them have the spirit in their hearts, which is even more important.”
The Fine and Dandy Club offers such attractions as arm bands, badges, Fine and Dandy caps, and pins. There are five degrees, distinguished by color (first degree, plain pin; second degree, red stone; third degree, green stone; fourth degree, blue stone; fifth degree, diamond), each representing successive periods of ten consecutive weeks of sales of $100 or more. At the end of the year those who have attained the fifth degree attend a banquet presided over by the sales managers and Mr. Fuller.
At least so far as the salesmen are concerned, the importance of such a spirit could clearly be as great as Mr. Teetsel says. It gives a spiritual unity to the endless competitive contests; to the fairly easily won prizes-small prizes like straw hats, socks, neckties tastefully patterned with the Fuller trademark, which any beginner can win; large prizes, lamps, furniture, radios, which high sellers can save up points to get; to the elaborately sporting bets about which branch will beat which branch and whether or not quotas will be exceeded; to the whole steady uproar of songs and fight talks, of slogans and mottoes in which the average salesman is allowed as little time as possible to reflect on discouragements or to wonder if all this is getting anywhere–for him, that is.
For the Fuller Brush Co. there is no doubt about all this getting somewhere. The brush industry is not large or important and it is at the moment in relative decline (in 1923 government figures gave it a total wholesale value of $50,000,000; in 1935 it was $42,000,000) but Fuller through its sales policies and volume is preeminent. There are manufacturers who make more than Fuller does of one Fuller item or another; but no one does as big a volume in as diversified a line. Since brush manufacturing falls into different divisions (toilet brush, industrial brush, and so on) and manufacturers tend to specialize, firms that might be supposed to be rivals are generally glad to accommodate each other. The Mohawk Brush Co., for instance, makes to Fuller’s specifications its hardbacked Bristlecomb–a hairbrush that seems to combine benefit to the consumer in that it “permits the use of a rolling motion. Makes the bristles comb the hair and brush the scalp at the same time”; and benefit to the vendor in that obviously far fewer expensive bristles are required than in an ordinary brush. The regular Bristlecomb was Fuller’s bestseller in sales value in 1937–$1,115,205.95 representing 449,335 regular Bristlecombs sold. In addition it sold 75,649 Military Bristlecombs for men, and 83,108 Junior Bristlecombs (“the most exacting mothers choose the Junior Bristlecomb because its bristles are medium stiff, and the rows are spaced wide apart to prevent tangling the hair”). This volume is a point of some interest, for Mohawk itself tried marketing the Bristlecomb with poor results. Apparently it took the Fuller sales organization to put the new brush over.
The most important fact about the brush industry is the existence of a potential market so large that it can amicably be divided up much as the missionaries of various denominations divided up China in the last century. But it is obvious that a vast amount of “educational work” will have to be done to make the public (a) do more cleaning (60,000,000 toothbrushes were sold in 1937; allowing one and a half per year per person, it must be concluded that some 90,000,000 people in the U.S. do not brush their teeth); and (b) believe that cleaning must be done with a variety of special instruments, rather than with old rags or other cheap and homely substitutes. As a result the greater part of the industry regards Fuller not with anxiety and suspicion, but cordially, as the advertising end of the whole business, with thousands of men out introducing tlle public to the idea of brushes and more brushes at no expense to the rest of them.
In the industry’s genial acceptance of a free ride appears again the significant identification of Fuller with selling. Fuller means selling. Its success has been a major selling success of this century. Its problems have been selling problems, a fact appearing plainly in the breakdown of costs. Less than twenty-six cents of the Fuller dollar goes to manufacturing. There are no high costs in the form of experimental work and research laboratories and none of the ordinary problems of competition. Neither are Fuller problems financial. The selling system, which does business in effect for cash with no accounts of importance ever outstanding, has produced a plentiful supply of working capital and the company bas financed all its own expansion. The only stock ever offered the public was a $500,000 issue of preferred in 1921, a matter of convenience rather than of necessity, to pay (or the new plant. This was retired in 1927. Today about 60 per cent of the common and 12 per cent of a small issue of nonvoting preferred are held by Mr. Fuller or his family, and Fuller employees have most of the rest.
As for the selling problem, we have seen that Fuller sales are not a matter of high pressure skill, or good advertising. For the healthy expansion that has occurred since the black days of 1925-33, there are two other explanations. First–as the company itself believes–sales were greatly stimulated by price cutting. Second, however, the company has invoked the law of statistical averages, leaning heavily upon the principle that the more salesmen there are on the road, the bigger the sales volume will be. What share of the present volume is due to lower prices, and what share to the largest number of salesmen the company has ever had, would be impossible to determine. The interesting thing is that in good times an acute problem does arise because earnings are not attractive enough to reconcile the average man to this kind of commission work, if other work is to be had. The result is a peculiar paradox–when times are good and the public better able to buy, the Fuller sales problem gets tougher.
The company has not solved the problem of salesman turnover, but it has met it ingeniously with every possible device to maintain morale and sales enthusiasm. Statistically, in terms of the 12,000 new men every year, the success of these devices may seem doubtful; but practically, in terms of a larger selling body and mounting sales, the success is proved every day. Fuller Brush men, bursting with the Fine and Dandy spirit, may not implausibly climax the company’s business future by accomplishing all that one of their most pleasing songs with no false modesty explains and to a familiar tune proposes:
We boost our brushes to the sky
Fuller Land, Our Fuller Land,
Our molto is “To do or die/’
A Fuller Land, Our Fuller Land.
We’ll keep our sales at highest tide
We’ll help the people to decide
To make this country far and wide
A Fuller Land, Our Fuller Land.