EXCERPT: 'Viral Loop'

[ PATIO PARTIES ]

Tupperware's unlikely savior was Brownie Wise, a single mother from Dearborn, Michigan, who worked as a distributor for Stanley Home Prod-ucts, a direct seller of detergents, mops, household cleaners, and floor waxes. In 1948, shortly after Tupper introduced his product to stores, Gary McDonald, a young salesman working for Wise, was browsing J. L. Hudson when he realized these plastic containers would be ideal for home demonstration. He could see that customers didn't buy them until someone demonstrated how to put the tops on, then explained that they were for food storage and that leftovers wouldn't spoil. You could even toss a sealed bowl in the air and not a drop of salad dressing would spill. "Yank it, bang it, jump on it," they said. What's more, the product had no natural competitors other than zippered "grease-proof, stain-proof and mildew-proof" plastic bags, which were sold three bags for $1.98 at hardware stores, compared to the three-piece Wonder Bowl set, retailing at $1.39.

McDonald brought a sample to Wise, who at first didn't know what to make of it. She had never seen a bowl you could squeeze, and she had a hell of a time getting the lid on, accidentally knocking it off the table. To her surprise, it bounced instead of breaking, which would become one of her marketing mottos. After spending a couple of days trying to figure out the magical vacuum seal, she realized "you had to burp it like a baby." Wise added Tupper's wares to her product line.

The thirty-four-year-old Wise had gotten her start with Stanley Home Products when a salesman knocked on her door and botched his sales patter. I could do better than that, she thought. Because her secretary job at Bendix Aviation Corporation barely covered her ailing son's medical expenses, she moonlighted evenings and weekends. Within a year she became one of Stan-ley's top earners and quit her secretarial job. The secret of her success: "patio parties," where she peddled household wonders like the ashtray with a brain, Atomite ("the cleaner with ATOMIC like action"), and truckloads of Tupperware.

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