Alfred C. Fuller

Alfred C. Fuller

The Orginal Fuller Brush Man


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Alfred C Fuller

Alfred C. Fuller knew how to get results. He'd been getting them
since he was a child, and he had no intention of stopping now.

''The only way I learned how to earn money was by giving a definite
measure of production for it. There was no loafing on the job, no fringe
benefits that encouraged idleness,'' Fuller wrote.

Expanding on that principle, Fuller (1885-1973) built a company that
became a cultural icon known for its hard-working sales force. His
Fuller Brush Co. revolutionized the manufacturing process for brushes
and made door-to-door selling acceptable.

He came by his work ethic honestly. The 11th of 12 children, Fuller was
born and reared in the farming community of Welsford, Nova Scotia.
For the Fullers, results were what counted. As a child, he picked
berries for a neighbor who lived three miles away. Fuller earned 1 cent
per quart. If he hustled, he might make as much as 30 cents in a 12-hour
day.

Fuller later wrote that the method of organization of the Fuller Brush
sales force was born in those berry patches in Nova Scotia. Fuller Brush
salesmen drew no salary from the company; they earned only from their
own sales.

''If I had picked strawberries on an hourly wage, I would have eaten
most of them, and quit early to swim in the enticing river that was
never out of view,'' he wrote.

''I know what would have happened to me - I'd be in Nova Scotia yet,
gazing at my weedy fields and wondering why times were so hard, bitter
against a world which had not given me something for nothing,'' he
wrote.

Determined to move up in the world, Fuller, then 18, moved from Nova
Scotia to Boston in 1903. He saw that others had moved to the city and
found jobs that paid better than farming, and decided he wanted part of
the action.

For three years, Fuller moved from job to job. Then he started to work
for William Staples, who hired men to sell his brushes door to door.
In 1906, no one with formal education wasted time selling door to door.
Only the crudest methods were used to make brushes, and door-to-door
selling was hardly considered a noble profession.

But Fuller saw the potential. There was no other way to sell a product
that customers had to see in action. He knew that if he could show
buyers how effective the brushes were instead of just telling them, he'd
be a hit.

Fuller saw, however, that many of the brushes Staples sold were
ill-formed for their task. Few had multiple purposes.

So he did some digging. He turned to customers to get their comments. He
talked to housewives and maids, asking them how they would change the
brushes, what brushes they needed and what they wanted to see a brush
do.

Then he sat down with Staples and suggested he make design changes to
the brushes. Staples, unconvinced, ignored Fuller.

Fuller believed in his idea, despite Staples' lack of enthusiasm. He
decided to take a stab at forming his own brush company. He listed all
the materials he'd need. He sketched out his designs. He planned the
order in which he would make the brushes. Then, with $ 375, he bought
the equipment he needed and began to make brushes in 1906.

He wanted only the best-quality brushes, so he worked countless hours so
that each one met his standards.

Customers loved the new, practical designs and clamored for the brushes.
In its first year, the firm made $ 8,500.

Success, though, was tiring Fuller out. There was no way he could keep
up with the demand by himself. He realized it was time to delegate. In
1909, Fuller placed a four-line want ad in Everybody's Magazine
appealing to salesmen to come work for him.

The add drew thousands of responses. In no time at all, Fuller hired 270
dealers throughout the U.S. to follow his business plan.

Soon, the Fuller Brush man became a welcome caller at doorways
everywhere in America. Before media fully realized that representations
of products had the same effect as paid commercials, Fuller Bush
products and salesmen were featured in magazines and newspapers, and on
the stage and screen.

Fuller knew a good ad campaign when he saw it, and he encouraged the
branding of his company. Donald Duck was cast by Walt Disney as a Fuller
Brush man. In Disney's version of ''The Three Little Pigs,'' the big bad
wolf was disguised as a Fuller Brush man.

Fuller's success was built on his reliance on strong personal
relationships. He kept his word, and he tried to be cheerful and fair.
People wanted to work hard for him. He built such a strong work crew
that he'd put people he trusted in charge of business areas he couldn't
directly oversee.

He believed that hiring someone meant trusting him. So he didn't
interfere with his employees.

Personal relationships were so important to Fuller he had the company
motto reflect his attitude. It reads, ''With equal opportunity to all
and due consideration for each person involved in every transaction, a
business will succeed.''

Succeed it did. From his initial investment of $ 375 in 1906, his
company grew to a $ 1 million- a-year business in 1919. By 1960, that
figure had mushroomed to $ 109 million.

He didn't let let success give him a swelled head, though. Once, late in
his career, he told a group there was a simple strategy for his success:
staying humble.

''It says here,'' he said, ''that I was fired from my first three jobs,
after which I went into business for myself. I guess it's quite evident
why I became self-employed - I had no choice.'



BYLINE: By Peter Cleary, Investor's Daily


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