EXCERPT: 'Viral Loop'

[ GROWING PAINS ]

But then Wise confronted another issue that can vex fast-growing compa-nies: scaling. Wise's network of dealers, who operated in six fast-growing sunny cities in Florida, sold so much Tupperware the factory couldn't keep up. Earl Tupper was fanatical about quality, and every polyethylene pellet that arrived at the plant was tossed in a jar and heated to 180 degrees along with a saltine cracker. Hours later, if the cracker retained even the slightest whiff of plastic, the entire car of polyethylene was rejected. This quality control extended to the manufacturing, too, with samples checked at every machine during every shift. Were bowls leak-proof, were there any irregu-larities, were the colors precise? A high percentage of Tupperware fresh from the factory floor didn't meet Tupper's exacting standards, with whole rooms stuffed with barrels of rejected Tupperware destined to be razed, re-liquefied, and re-formed.

Several of Wise's orders were delayed, with customers wondering if they would ever receive what they had paid for. The display cases she ordered for her sellers didn't arrive, nor did stationery. Dealers in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, Florida, were forced to either drive to the Miami airport to pick up errantly shipped orders or pay to have them redirected. December 1950, in particular, lacked holiday spirit, with dealers unable to get Tupperware to their customers in time for Christmas. This also meant her twenty dealers didn't receive their commissions, which Wise covered out of her own pocket. Her frantic calls to the company went unanswered, and Wise briefly considered quitting. After another delayed shipment, she made a fateful decision.

As Charles Fishman, one of the last journalists to interview Brownie Wise, recounted in the Orlando Sentinel in 1987, she picked up the phone and called long distance to the Tupper Corporation, demanding to speak with Mr. Tupper. She didn't even know if there was such a person—she just assumed there was. Suddenly his voice came over the crackling line.

"This is Brownie Wise!" she shouted. "In Miami!"

"I know who you are," Earl Tupper said.

She told him her order was late. Again. "I wonder if you know how se-rious a problem that is?"

Tupper knew how much Brownie Wise contributed to the company's bottom line. While many direct sellers distributed Tupperware, no one ap-proached her sales volume. After getting off the phone, he straightened out her orders, then called back, asking if she would visit the factory in Massachusetts for a meeting.

"I'm busy," she retorted. He would have to come to her.

There they were, two pig-headed savants bickering over who would do the traveling. Eventually they agreed on a summit in Long Island with other top freelance sellers. There they convinced Tupper to distribute Tupperware exclusively through the home party plan, and in May 1951 he pulled his merchandise from all stores.

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