Complete guide: A BEGINNER'S short term Trading
We’re All in Sales Now
Norman Hall shouldn’t exist. But here he is—flesh, blood, and bow tie—on a Tuesday afternoon, sitting in a downtown San Francisco law office explaining to two attorneys why they could really use a few things to spruce up their place. With a magician’s flourish, Hall begins by removing from his bag what looks like a black wand. He snaps his wrist and—voilà!—out bursts a plume of dark feathers. And not just any feathers, he reveals.
“These are . . . Male. Ostrich. Feathers.”
This $21.99 feather duster is the best on the market, he tells them in a soft-spoken but sonorous voice.
It’s perfect for cleaning picture frames, blinds, and any other item whose crevices accumulate dust. Penelope Chronis, who runs the small immigration firm with her partner in law and in life, Elizabeth Kreher, peers up from her desk and shakes her head. Not interested.
Hall shows her Kitchen Brush #300, a sturdy white and green scrub brush.
They already have one.
Onto Chronis’s desk he tosses some “microfiber cloths” and an “anti-fog cloth for car windows and bathroom mirrors.”
No thanks. Hall is seventy-five years old with patches of white hair on the sides of his head and not much in between.
He sports conservative eyeglasses and a mustache in which the white hairs have finally overtaken the brown ones after what looks like years of struggle. He wears dark brown pants, a dress shirt with thin blue stripes, a chestnut-colored V-neck sweater, and a red paisley bow tie.
He looks like a dapper and mildly eccentric professor. He is indefatigable.
On his lap is a leather three-ring binder with about two dozen pages of product pictures he’s clipped and inserted into clear plastic sheets.
“This is a straightforward spot remover,” he tells Chronis and Kreher when he gets to the laundry page. “These you spray on before throwing something into the washing machine.”
The lawyers are unmoved.
So Hall goes big: moth deodorant blocks. “I sell more of these than anything in my catalog combined,” he says. “They kill moths, mold, mildew, and odor.” Only $7.49. Nope.
Then, turning the page to a collection of toilet brushes and bowl cleaners, he smiles, pauses for a perfect beat, and says,
“And these are my romantic items.” Still nothing. But when he gets to the stainless-steel sponges, he elicits a crackle of interest that soon becomes a ripple of desire.
“These are wonderful, very unusual.
They’re scrubber pads, but with a great difference,
” he says. Each offers eight thousand inches of continuous stainless steel coiled forty thousand times.
You can stick them in the dishwasher.
A box of three is just $15. Sold. Soon he reaches one of his pricier products, an electrostatic carpet sweeper. “It has four terminal brushes made out of natural bristle and nylon.
As it goes along the floor, it develops a static current so it can pick up sugar and salt from a bare wood floor,” he explains. “It’s my favorite wedding gift.” Another exquisitely timed pause. “It beats the hell out of a toaster.” Chronis and Kreher go for that, too.
When about twenty minutes have elapsed, and Hall has reached the final sheet in his homemade catalog, he scribbles the $149.96 sale in his order book. He hands a carbon copy of the order to Chronis, saying,
“I hope we’re still friends after you read this.” He chats for a few moments, then gathers his binder and his bags, and rises to leave.
“Thank you very much indeed,” he says. “I’ll bring everything forthwith tomorrow.” Norman Hall is a Fuller Brush salesman.
And not just any Fuller Brush salesman. He is . . . The. Last. One. — If you’re younger than forty or never spent much time in the United States, you might not recognize the Fuller Brush Man. But if you’re an American of a certain age, you know that once you couldn’t avoid him.
Brigades of salesmen, their sample cases stuffed with brushes, roamed middle-class neighborhoods, climbed the front steps, and announced,
“I’m your Fuller Brush Man.”
Then, offering a free vegetable scrubber known as a Handy Brush as a gift,
they tried to get what quickly became known as “a foot in the door.”
It all began in 1903, when an eighteen-year-old Nova Scotia farm boy named Alfred Fuller arrived in Boston to begin his career.
He was, by his own admission, “a country bumpkin, overgrown and awkward, unsophisticated and virtually unschooled”
1 —and he was promptly fired from his first three jobs.
But one of his brothers landed him a sales position at the
Somerville Brush and Mop Company—and days before he turned twenty, young Alfred found his calling. “I began without much preparation and I had no special qualifications, as far as I knew,” he told a journalist years later,
“but I discovered I could sell those brushes.”
2 After a year of trudging door-to-door peddling Somerville products, Fuller began, er, bristling at working for someone else. So he set up a small workshop to manufacture brushes of his own.
At night, he oversaw the mini-factory.
By day he walked the streets selling what he’d produced.
To his amazement, the small enterprise grew. When he needed a few more salespeople to expand to additional products and new territories, he placed an ad in a publication called Everybody’s Magazine .
Within a few weeks, the Nova Scotia bumpkin had 260 new salespeople,
a nationwide business, and the makings of a cultural icon.Stuff to Sell & Free Stuff
By the late 1930s, Fuller’s sales force had swelled to more than five thousand people. In 1937 alone, door-to-door Fuller dealers gave away some 12.5 million Handy Brushes. By 1948, eighty-three hundred North American salesmen were selling cleaning and hair “brushes to 20 million families in the United States and Canada,” according to The New Yorker .
That same year, Fuller salesmen, all of them independent dealers working on straight commission, made nearly fifty million house-to-house sales calls in the United States—a country that at the time had fewer than forty-three million households.
By the early 1960s, Fuller Brush was, in today’s dollars, a billion-dollar company.
3 What’s more, the Fuller Man became a fixture in popular culture—Lady Gagaesque in his ubiquity. In the Disney animated version of
“The Three Little Pigs,” which won an Academy Award in 1933, how did the
Big Bad Wolf try to gain entry into the pigs’ houses?
He disguised himself as a Fuller Brush Man.
How did Donald Duck earn his living for a while? He sold Fuller Brushes. In 1948 Red Skelton, then one of Hollywood’s
biggest names, starred in The Fuller Brush Man ,
a screwball comedy in which a hapless salesman is framed for a crime—and must clear his name, find the culprit, win the girl, and sell a few Venetian blind brushes along the way.
Just two years later, Hollywood made essentially the same movie with the same plot—this one called The Fuller Brush Girl , with the lead role going to Lucille Ball, an even bigger star.
As time went on, you could find the Fuller Brush Man not only on your doorstep, but also in New Yorker cartoons, the jokes of TV talk-show hosts, and the lyrics of Dolly Parton songs.
What a Fuller Man did was virtuosic.
“The Fuller art of opening doors was regarded by connoisseurs of cold-turkey peddling in somewhat the same way that balletomanes esteem a performance of the Bolshoi—as pure poetry,”
American Heritage wrote. “In the hands of a deft Fuller dealer, brushes became not homely commodities but specialized tools obtainable nowhere else.”
4 Yet he* was also virtuous, his constant presence in neighborhoods turning him neighborly. “Fuller Brush Men pulled teeth, massaged headaches, delivered babies, gave emetics for poison, prevented suicides, discovered murders, helped arrange funerals, and drove patients to hospitals.”
5 And then, with the suddenness of an unexpected knock on the door, the
Fuller Brush Man—the very embodiment of twentieth-century selling—practically disappeared. Think about it. Wherever in the world you live, when was the last time a salesperson with a sample case rang your doorbell?
In February 2012, the Fuller Brush Company filed for reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy law’s Chapter 11.
But what surprised people most wasn’t so much that Fuller had declared bankruptcy, but that it was still around to declare anything. Norman Hall, however, remains at it. In the mornings, he boards an early bus near his home in Rohnert Park, California, and rides ninety minutes to downtown San Francisco.
He begins his rounds at about 9:30 A.M. and walks five to six miles each day, up and down the sharply inclined streets of San Francisco. “Believe me,” he said during one of the days I accompanied him, “I know all the level areas and the best bathrooms.” When Hall began in the 1970s, several dozen other Fuller Brush Men were also working in San Francisco.
Over time, that number dwindled.
And now Hall is the only one who remains. These days when he encounters a new customer and identifies himself as a Fuller Man, he’s often met with surprise. “No kidding!” people will say. One afternoon
when I was with him, Hall introduced himself to the fifty-something head of maintenance at a clothing store. “Really?” the man cried. “My father was a Fuller Brush salesman in Oklahoma!”
(Alas, this prospect didn’t buy anything, even though Hall pointed out that the mop propped in the corner of the store came from Fuller.)
After forty years, Hall has a garage full of Fuller items, but his connection to the struggling parent company is minimal. He’s on his own. In recent years, he’s seen his customers fade, his orders decline, and his profits shrink. People don’t have time for a salesman.
They want to order things online. And besides, brushes?
As an accommodation to reality, Hall has cut back the time he devotes to chasing customers.
He now spends only two days a week toting his leather binder through
San Francisco’s retail and business district.
And when he unloads his last boar bristle brush and hangs up his bow tie, he knows he won’t be replaced.
“I don’t think people want to do this kind of work anymore,” he told me.
Two months after Fuller’s bankruptcy announcement, Encyclopædia Britannica , which rose to prominence because of its door-to-door salesmen, shut down production of its print books.
A month later, Avon—whose salesladies once pressed doorbells from Birmingham to Bangkok—fired its CEO and sought survival in the arms of a corporate suitor.
These collapses seemed less startling than inevitable, the final movement in the chorus of doom that, for many years, has been forecasting selling’s demise. The song, almost always invoking Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman , goes something like this:
In a world where anybody can find anything with just a few keystrokes, intermediaries like salespeople are superfluous.
They merely muck up the gears of commerce and make transactions slower and more expensive. Individual consumers can do their own research and get buying advice from their social networks.
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Large companies can streamline their procurement processes with sophisticated software that pits vendors against one another and secures the lowest price. In the same way that cash machines thinned the ranks of bank tellers and digital switches made telephone operators all but obsolete, today’s technologies have rendered salesmen and saleswomen irrelevant.
As we rely ever more on websites and smartphones to locate and purchase what we need, salespeople themselves—not to mention the very act of selling—will be swept into history’s dustbin.
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