Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Guided by the moral principles of its founder, the Fuller Brush Company transformed the image of door-to-door salespeople and introduced new selling techniques to the business world.

Summary of Event

Alfred Carl Fuller’s life story would have made a satisfactory plot for one of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches novels. Fuller was a shy, awkward, uneducated young man reared on a subsistence farm in Nova Scotia. He failed at several jobs before discovering that he had a talent for making and selling brushes. Marketing;door-to-door[door to door] Fuller Brush Company Door-to-door sales[Door to door sales] [kw]Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated (1913) [kw]Brush Company Is Incorporated, Fuller (1913) Marketing;door-to-door[door to door] Fuller Brush Company Door-to-door sales[Door to door sales] [g]United States;1913: Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated[03260] [c]Marketing and advertising;1913: Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated[03260] [c]Trade and commerce;1913: Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated[03260] [c]Organizations and institutions;1913: Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated[03260] Fuller, Alfred Carl Fuller, Howard Fuller, Avard E.

Fuller estimated that the typical household in the early part of the twentieth century used as many as eighty brushes, including toothbrushes, nailbrushes, hairbrushes, clothes brushes, shoe brushes, brushes for scrubbing pots and pans, brushes for currying horses and grooming other animals, brushes for basting, brushes for scrubbing potatoes and other vegetables, and brushes for cleaning up the kitchen and the rest of the house. He conceived of the idea of a business concentrating solely on brushes, an early example of the principle of specialization refined to a considerable extent by American entrepreneurs.

Fuller was reared by strict parents who taught their children the importance of integrity, self-discipline, industry, and religious faith. At an early age, he became acquainted with the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and he remained a devout Christian Scientist throughout his life. He applied strict moral standards to every aspect of his business, demanding the same qualities from his subordinates.

At the time, door-to-door salespeople, historically called peddlers and drummers, had a bad reputation in the United States because so many had victimized customers by selling shoddy merchandise ever since the days of the original English colonies. Many peddlers were outright scoundrels looking for opportunities to commit burglaries, rapes, and other crimes. Fuller’s high moral standards, more than any managerial feature, were responsible for the success of the Fuller Brush Company, as he imposed the same standards on his sales force. Many American women who would have nothing to do with other house-to-house salespeople would welcome the “Fuller Brush man” (Fuller’s original salespeople were all male) into their homes because they regarded him as a trustworthy neighbor who sold the most reliable products of their kind.

When the business was still in its infancy and Fuller was still making his own brushes in his little shop in Hartford, Connecticut, he had the idea of advertising in a national magazine to recruit sales personnel. This proved to be the best merchandising idea he ever had. He was astonished by the response. “That little ad changed the whole thing from a one-man effort to a company operating nation-wide,” he later noted. Practically overnight, and with virtually no capital, he built up a network of dealers. The dealers were not employees but instead independent operators assigned exclusive rights to specific territories, so Fuller did not have to worry about payroll expenses for them. It was not until Fuller received the huge response to his recruiting ads that he decided to incorporate as the Fuller Brush Company in 1913.

The Fuller Brush men bought their merchandise from the company and sold it at company-authorized prices to people within their own territories, averaging a 30 percent profit. The representatives had an agreement with the company to sell nothing but Fuller products, and in turn the company guaranteed the quality of each item and gave dealers the benefits of national advertising. This was one of the earliest examples of the idea of franchising, Franchising Business franchising which has since been applied to countless other types of enterprises.

Fuller’s success nearly overwhelmed him. He suddenly had more orders for his brushes than he was able to fill. Many of his representatives earned more money than they had at any other job. The typical Fuller Brush man was an ambitious individualist who liked being his own boss and being compensated in proportion to his efforts.

In order to keep control of his rapidly growing business, Fuller had to employ people to supervise the twin aspects of his enterprise, production and sales. In addition to supervising and motivating the far-flung army of sales representatives, his executives worked hard to improve manufacturing methods. They strived to provide better products at lower prices as well as to create new kinds of brushes to fit every conceivable need. The fact that the Fuller Brush man was always able to show new items when he called on his regular rounds made for more enthusiastic reception. Fuller was one of the earliest American entrepreneurs to understand the importance of giving “new value” to familiar products. The company eventually added such products as waxes and polishes, and in 1948 it began employing women, called “Fullerettes,” who offered a line of cosmetics.

Alfred Fuller also conceived the brilliant idea of overcoming sales resistance and circumventing the many local antipeddler laws by having his representatives give housewives free gifts every time they called. This “giveaway” idea has been imitated widely and is still effective in generating sales and goodwill.

Although the Fuller Brush Company remained in business into the twenty-first century, it was taken over by the Sara Lee Corporation in 1968, and no member of the Fuller family was involved in its operation after that time. In 1994, Fuller Brush Company was acquired by the Computerized Pollution Abatement Corporation, or CPAC, of New York.


The Fuller Brush Company, under the leadership of Alfred Fuller and his two sons, Howard Fuller and Avard E. Fuller, who succeeded him as presidents of the company, contributed many important ideas to American business. Perhaps the most important was the idea of specialization. Not only did the company specialize in selling brushes, but it also devoted intense effort to developing new kinds of brushes for every conceivable purpose. Modern consumers are offered a nearly infinite variety of highly specialized tools, appliances, and other gadgets, and more are being invented and marketed every year. The Fuller Brush Company set an early example of achieving success through understanding customers’ needs and using ingenuity to satisfy them.

The Fuller Brush Company was one of the first business firms to utilize the concept of franchising. Its representatives were not employees but independent dealers who were assigned specific territories in which they had the exclusive right to sell Fuller products. Franchising revolutionized American business and changed the American business landscape. The McDonald’s fast-food chain provides an excellent example of the power of franchising, with its familiar “Golden Arches” logo in every corner of the land. People patronize these establishments because they can depend on getting the same quality of food and service wherever they go. Many kinds of businesses operate through franchises, including real estate dealers, barbershops, and hardware stores; individual outlets are independently owned but operate under the same name and follow operating guidelines laid down by the parent company.

The Fuller management realized that strict control of far-flung franchises was essential to maintaining the company’s reputation for quality and integrity. The company pioneered in the art of maintaining communication with its representatives, teaching them improved selling techniques and offering frequent motivational talks to ensure continued high performance. This was done through literature and directly through regional sales representatives.

Programs to teach similar motivational techniques and promotion of ongoing sales education are now common in large U.S. corporations. Motivational speakers still refer to the Fuller Brush man as an outstanding example of the professional salesperson who knew how to be aggressive without becoming obnoxious, who believed in what he was selling, who took pride in his profession, who believed in the principles of the American free enterprise system, and who was willing to work hard for legitimately earned rewards.

The Fuller Brush Company pioneered in studying and teaching sales psychology. Fuller Brush men are still legendary in the business world for their ability to achieve success in selling from house to house, an occupation that historically has a huge turnover rate because only rare individuals are strong enough to put up with barking dogs and doors being slammed in their faces. The company developed a sophisticated recruitment and training program because management discovered that only two out of seven new dealers had the necessary qualities to prosper in the field. The company also pioneered in establishing rigid ethical and performance standards for its representatives through a system of field managers and district supervisors.

Alfred Fuller himself remains an inspiration to American business because he was able to rise to wealth and social prominence with little education, almost no capital, and few social connections. Fuller had worked as a door-to-door salesman himself and understood what his representatives were up against. He never forgot what he owed to the men on the “firing line.” He and his managerial staff developed dozens of new techniques for gaining entrance to people’s homes, for winning confidence, for coping with sales resistance, and for maintaining courage and confidence in the face of rudeness and rejection.

The idea of giving a gift on every visit was a stroke of genius on the part of the company’s founder. Although the door-to-door method of selling merchandise declined in importance over the course of the twentieth century, the concept of presenting potential customers with free items was imitated by many types of businesses. Promotional calendars and key chains, trading stamps, and various kinds of coupons are common examples. Fuller taught American businesspeople the importance of building a friendly company image in order to generate repeat sales.

The company gradually declined in importance in the decades following World War II. A number of factors contributed to its demise, including the proliferation of supermarkets, the appearance of more efficient competitors (such as the Avon Company), the increased availability of inexpensive automobiles, which gave housewives more mobility, and the development of other forms of marketing, such as direct-mail selling, home shopping services, and discount stores. Another important reason for the company’s decline was the entrance of millions of women into the labor market, leaving no one to answer the door during the daytime at many homes. Marketing;door-to-door[door to door] Fuller Brush Company Door-to-door sales[Door to door sales]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bainbridge, John. “May I Just Step Inside?” The New Yorker 24 (November 13, 1948): 36-48. In-depth profile of Alfred Fuller presents shrewd insights into his personality and those of other company executives. Offers an overview of the Fuller Brush Company from its inception to its peak period in the late 1940’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Rev. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981. The most famous book ever written on the subject of using an understanding of human psychology in order to achieve success. Incorporates many of the ideas originally developed by the Fuller Brush Company.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carson, Gerald. “The Fuller Brush Man.” American Heritage 37 (August/September, 1986): 26-31. A retrospective article about the days when the Fuller Brush Company was a nationally famous institution and its dealers were the subject of many cartoons satirizing their notorious persistence and the incredible variety of oddly shaped brushes they had to offer. Contains much valuable information about the company and its golden era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuller, Alfred Carl, as told to Hartzell Spence. A Foot in the Door: The Life Appraisal of the Original Fuller Brush Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960. Fuller’s life story, told in an interesting conversational manner. Full of anecdotes about Fuller’s own experiences as well as information on general business conditions during the first half of the twentieth century. Offers much valuable practical advice to young people entering the business world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lifskey, Earl. Door-to-Door Selling: The Factual Story of a Little Known but Rapidly Growing $7 Billion Industry. New York: Fairchild, 1948. Collection of feature articles that originally appeared in Retailing Daily in the 1940’s. Recognizes the growing importance of door-to-door selling in the rapidly expanding American economy during that era. Discusses the techniques used by Fuller Brush dealers to overcome sales resistance and enhance the image of the company’s line of products.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michman, Ronald D., and Alan J. Greco. Retailing Triumphs and Blunders. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books, 1995. Describes how retailers of various kinds have responded to changes in American society and the marketplace. Final chapter includes brief mention of the Fuller Brush Company.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Never Say Quit to Charlie Tucker or He’s Likely to Give You the Brush.” People Weekly 32 (July 10, 1989): 106-107. Brief, nostalgic profile of the oldest living Fuller Brush salesman, who at ninety years of age was still selling brushes from door to door. Tucker exemplifies the aggressive, optimistic spirit that characterized Fuller Brush men in the company’s heyday.

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Categories: History