Many patented products need people like Brownie Wise to increase sales. Earl Tupper hit the jackpot when he hired an unlikely rainmaker that made this patent relevant to his customers.
Earl Tupper invented the “Wonderlier” bowl, which was created without the filler that typically made plastic stiff, in the 1940s but it wasn’t until a woman started selling the product, now known as Tupperware, that the business really took off.
Earl’s patented airtight seal was way ahead of its time and shelves filled with the product were just not moving because there wasn’t anyone on hand to demonstrate why they were different.
It was Brownie Wise, a sales rep for other kitchen utensils, who saw the product for the value it offered and understood the target audience well enough to know that it needed a hands-on sales approach in order to make a difference.
”Build people and they will build the business for you” Brownie Wise
In an article that tells the full story by Amanda Uren, we learn:
Wise joined the company and by 1950 her team was selling more Tupperware than regular stores. Tupper saw her success and made her his vice president and sales manager. From then on, Tupperware was sold exclusively at parties.
The Tupperware system allowed women to employ the skills of homemaking in a small business. Tupperware Jubilee events — a four day extravaganza that bought Tupperware dealers from around the country to the company’s headquarters in Kissimmee, Florida, for motivational events, parties and classes — together with training and sales meetings, all with entertainment and prizes, gave agents a chance to socialize away from home.
Wise became the first woman to appear on the front cover of Business Week.
If you have ever attended a Tupperware party you know the classic demonstration of learning how to “burp” a bowl to lock in freshness. The parties are still a successful way to interact with customers and sell product.
Think back to that time when Wise was developing an innovative approach to sales. The closest anyone had come before this was door-to-door vacuum, Fuller brush and encyclopedia sales. Although those in person sales conversations did allow for demonstration, they were missing the key social component that Wise brought to the house parties.
Wise was a true entrepreneur. From her obituary in the Florida paper we learn:
The single mother and former secretary was living in Dearborn, Mich., when she received her first set of Tupperware bowls. In 1949, already an established Tupperware salesperson, Wise moved to Plantation.
During Wise’s first year in Florida, she recruited a dozen dealers and sold $200,000 worth of Tupperware using the home party method of sales.
In 1951, Tupper took the product off retail shelves and hired Wise to start up the direct selling system. Five years later, the company’s estimated sales volume was $100 million.
Tupper may have been ahead of his time in making Wise his VP of sales but when push came to shove, he bent to his own prejudices and fired Wise before selling the company. He didn’t believe anyone would be willing to buy the company with a woman in leadership.
His loss. After her success at Tupperware, Wise was a much sought-after business consultant and well respected in her community.
”Brownie Wise was probably the most forward-thinking woman we had in Osceola County, if not all of Florida,” said Bob Bobroff, The Orlando Sentinel’s Osceola bureau chief in the 1960s.
High praise! Great story.
This is another stellar example of how one woman with a unique vision and a clear understanding of her customer and her product can change an entire business!
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