Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Once it was marketed effectively, Tupperware changed the way Americans viewed plastic products. The successful marketing of the product through Tupperware parties created the standard for home sales, confirming that such sales could form the basis for distribution of a mass-marketed, national brand.

Summary of Event

Relying on a belief that plastic Plastic was the wave of the future and wanting to improve on the newest refrigeration technology, Earl S. Tupper—a self-described “ham inventor and Yankee trader”—created an empire of products that changed America’s kitchens. Tupper, a self-taught chemical engineer, began working at the Du Pont Corporation Du Pont Corporation[Dupont Corporation] in the 1930’s. This was a time of important developments in the field of polymers and the technology behind plastics. Wanting to experiment with this new material yet unable to purchase the needed supplies, Tupper went to his employer for help. Because of the limited availability of materials, major chemical companies had been receiving all the raw goods for plastic production. Although Du Pont would not part with raw materials, the company was willing to let Tupper have the slag. Tupperware Marketing [kw]Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware (Apr., 1951) [kw]Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware, Tupper Adopts (Apr., 1951)[Home Sales Strategy for Tupperware, Tupper Adopts] [kw]Sales Strategy for Tupperware, Tupper Adopts Home- (Apr., 1951) Tupperware Marketing [g]North America;Apr., 1951: Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware[03490] [g]United States;Apr., 1951: Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware[03490] [c]Inventions;Apr., 1951: Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware[03490] [c]Manufacturing and industry;Apr., 1951: Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware[03490] [c]Trade and commerce;Apr., 1951: Tupper Adopts Home-Sales Strategy for Tupperware[03490] Tupper, Earl S. Wise, Brownie

At a home party in the 1950’s, saleswoman Brownie Wise throws a piece of Tupperware to demonstrate its resilience.

(Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Behring Center)

Polyethylene slag was a black, rock-hard, malodorous waste product of oil refining. It was virtually unusable. Undaunted, Tupper developed methods to purify the slag. He then designed an injection molding machine to form bowls and other containers out of his “Poly-T.” Tupper did not want to call the substance plastic, because the public distrusted that substance. In 1938, he founded the Tupper Plastics Company Tupper Plastics Company to pursue his dream. It was during those first years that he formulated the design for the famous Tupperware seal.

Refrigeration Refrigeration techniques had improved tremendously during the first part of the twentieth century. The iceboxes in use prior to the 1940’s were inconsistent in their interior conditions and were usually damp inside as a result of ice melting. In addition, the metal, glass, or earthenware food-storage containers used during the first half of the century did not seal tightly. The combination of the loose seal on the containers and the damp interior of the iceboxes allowed food to stay moist. Iceboxes allowed mixing of food odors, which was particularly evident with strong-smelling items such as onions and fish.

In contrast to iceboxes, the electric refrigerators available starting in the 1940’s maintained dry interiors and low temperatures. This change in environment resulted in food drying out and wilting. Tupper set out to alleviate this problem with his plastic containers. The key to Tupper’s solution was his containers’ seal, which was achieved by inverting the design of paint-can lids. The tight seal of Tupper’s containers created a partial vacuum that protected food from the dry refrigeration process and kept food odors from being absorbed or circulating.

In 1942, Tupper bought his first manufacturing plant, in Farnumsville, Massachusetts. There, he continued to improve his designs. In 1945, Tupper introduced Tupperware, selling it through hardware and department stores, as well as through catalogs. Tupperware products were made of flexible, translucent plastic. Available in frosted crystal and five pastel colors, the new containers were airtight and waterproof. In addition, they carried a lifetime warranty against chipping, cracking, peeling, and breaking in normal, noncommercial use. Early supporters of Tupperware included the American Thermos Bottle Company, which purchased seven million nesting cups, and the Tek Corporation, which ordered fifty thousand tumblers to sell with toothbrushes.

Even though he benefited from this type of corporate support, Tupper wanted his products to be used in homes. Marketing the new products proved to be difficult in the early years. Tupperware sat unpurchased on hardware and department store shelves, and catalog sales were nearly nonexistent. The problem appeared to involve a basic distrust of plastic by consumers and an unfamiliarity with how to use the new products. The product did not come with instructions on how to seal the containers or descriptions of how a closed container protected the food within it. Brownie Wise, an early direct seller and veteran distributor of Stanley Home Products, stated that it took her several days to understand the technology behind the seal and the now-famous Tupperware “burp,” the sound made when air left the container as it sealed.

Wise and two other direct sellers, Tom Damigella Damigella, Tom and Harvey Hollenbush Hollenbush, Harvey , found the niche for selling Tupperware for daily use: home sales. Wise approached Tupper with a home-party sales strategy and detailed how such parties would provide a relaxed atmosphere in which to learn about the products, thus lowering sales resistance. In April, 1951, Tupper took his product off store shelves and hired Wise to create a new direct-selling system under the name of Tupperware Home Parties, Inc.

Home sales had already proved to be successful for the Fuller Brush Company and numerous encyclopedia publishers, yet Brownie Wise wanted to expand the possibilities of the strategy. Her first step was to found a campus-like headquarters in Kissimmee, Florida. There, Tupper and a design department worked to develop new products, and Tupperware Home Parties, Inc., under Wise’s direction, worked to develop new incentives for Tupperware’s direct sellers, called hostesses.

Wise added spark to the notion of home demonstrations. “Parties,” as they were called, included games, recipes, giveaways, and other ideas designed to help housewives learn how to use Tupperware products. The marketing philosophy was to make parties appealing events at which women could get together while their children were in school. This model fit into the suburban lifestyle of the 1950’s. The parties offered a nonthreatening means for home sales representatives to attract audiences for their demonstrations and gave guests a chance to meet and socialize with their neighbors.

Often compared to the barbecue parties of the 1950’s, Tupperware parties were social yet educational affairs. While guests ate lunch or snacked on desserts, the Tupperware hostess educated them about the technology behind the bowls and their seals as well as suggesting a wide variety of uses for the products. For example, a party might include recipes for dinner parties, with information provided on how party leftovers could be stored efficiently and economically with Tupperware products.

While Tupperware products were changing the kitchens of America, they were also changing the women who sold them (almost all the hostesses were women). Tupperware sales offered employment for women Women;workforce participation Labor;women at a time when society disapproved of women working outside the home. Being a hostess, however, was not a nine-to-five position. The job allowed women freedom to tailor their schedules to meet family needs. Employment offered more than the economic incentive of commissions equal to 35 percent of gross sales: Hostesses also learned new skills and developed self-esteem. An acclaimed mentoring program for new and advancing employees provided motivational training.

Company managers were drawn only from the ranks of the hostesses; moving up the corporate ladder meant spending time selling Tupperware at home parties. The opportunity to advance offered incentive. In addition, annual sales conventions were renowned for teaching new marketing strategies in fun-filled classes. These conventions also gave women an opportunity to network and establish contacts. These experiences proved to be invaluable as women entered the workforce in increasing numbers in later decades.

Significance

The tremendous success of Tupperware’s marketing philosophy helped set the stage for other companies to enter home sales. These companies used home-based parties to educate potential customers in familiar surroundings, in their own homes or in the homes of friends. The Mary Kay Cosmetics Company, founded in 1963, used beauty makeovers in the home-party setting as its chief marketing tool. Discovery Toys, founded in 1978, encouraged guests to get on the floor and play with the toys demonstrated at its home parties. Both companies extended the socialization aspects found in Tupperware parties.

In addition to setting the standard for home sales, Tupperware is also credited with starting the plastics revolution. Early plastics were of poor quality and cracked or broke easily. This created distrust of plastic products among consumers. Earl Tupper’s demand for quality set the stage for the future of plastics. He started with high-quality resin and developed a process that kept the “Poly-T” from splitting. He then invented an injection molding machine that mass-produced his bowl and cup designs. His standards of quality from start to finish helped other companies expand into plastics. The 1950’s saw a wide variety of products appear in the improved material, including furniture and toys. This shift from wood, glass, and metal to plastic continued for decades.

Tupperware designs have been well received over the years. Early designs prompted a 1947 edition of House Beautiful to call the product “Fine Art for 39 cents.” Fifteen of Tupper’s earliest designs are housed in a permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Other museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, also house Tupperware designs. Tupperware established its own Museum of Historic Food Containers at its international headquarters in Florida. Despite this critical acclaim, the company faced a constant struggle to keep product lines competitive with more accessible products, such as those made by Rubbermaid, that could be found on the shelves of local grocery or department stores. The subsequent rises of the shopping mall, of specialty stores, of discount stores, and of the Internet all damaged the ability of Tupperware’s business model, so suited to the 1950’s and 1960’s, to experience continued success. Tupperware Marketing

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ash, Mary Kay. Mary Kay. New York: Harper and Row, 1981. Although at times self-serving, this book looks at how the Mary Kay Cosmetics Company found success through home sales.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Patricia Leigh. “New Designs to Keep Tupperware Fresh.” The New York Times, June 10, 1993, p. B1. Looks at the changes being made at Tupperware under the design direction of Morison Cousins.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clarke, Allison J. Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950’s America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999. Study of the history of Tupperware and its importance specifically to postwar American culture. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gershman, Michael. Getting It Right the Second Time. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990. Discusses how forty-nine products went from initial failure to success with a change in marketing strategy. In the case of Tupperware, products were offered through the wrong sales outlets. Success came through home sales.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hemingway, Wayne. Cocktail Shakers, Lava Lamps, and Tupperware: A Celebration of Lifestyle Design from the Last Half of the Twentieth Century. Gloucester, Mass.: Rockport, 2003. A study of the form and meaning of designs for the home. Discusses the design of Tupperware and its importance as an object incorporated into one’s home life, both aesthetically and practically. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hine, Thomas. Populuxe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. Discusses the popular culture of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Looks at the designs of the two decades with particular attention to the plastics revolution. Sections on suburbia include a look at Tupperware not only as a product but also as a social phenomenon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lumpkin, James R., Marjorie J. Caballero, and Lawrence B. Chonko. Direct Marketing, Direct Selling, and the Mature Consumer. New York: Quorum Books, 1989. Discusses the buying patterns of mature adults and the effectiveness of different marketing strategies for mature consumers. Tupperware products were second only to women’s apparel in sales through direct marketing.

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