A Lesson in the Assets that Matter to Small Business Marketing

By: Dan Kennedy on: December 14th, 2009 7 Comments

Art Pearson Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Software Or Web Sites.

Yes, there still is a Fuller Brush Man – although the company’s products are mostly sold today on Home Shopping Network, in catalogs, and by some spare-time reps and home parties ala Tupperware. Art Pearson has been a full-time Fuller Brush Man calling on customers at their homes for 70 years.

If you’re younger than 40, you’ve probably never seen a creature like Art. The Fuller Brush Man, the Cook Coffee Man, the Charles Chips man, the Sealtest Milkman. (There used to be jokes about someone’s new baby resembling the milkman.) They had routes and regular customers, built by knocking on doors; they came weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, brought pre-ordered products – staples like cleaning soaps or coffee and tea – and carried a big tote of other products to show, demonstrate and sell.

When I joined Amway, it was still somewhat like Fuller, with the multi-level recruiting tagged on.

Many distributors had white vans or station wagons with big Amway logos. I did not. But I did develop over 100 regular customers at age 16 that monthly bought between $2,500.00 and $4,000.00 of products from me – some by pre-agreed auto delivery, some by phone, some demo’d at the door when delivering others. (Keep in mind, $4,000.00 was a bigger number in 1971. I bought a new car for twice that.)

Art has more than 4,000 active customers….4,000 4×6” flle cards….4,000 friends. He makes a 6-figure yearly income. He has had and has a nice life. This is from a time when many people routinely left doors unlocked, coffee pot always on; people walked in your back door and hollered that they were there. (No security systems. Those were for banks.)

Customers who weren’t going to be home left cash in envelopes taped to their doors; I made change, opened the door and put the products and change inside. I recall one customer who worked away from home everyday and actually locked up her house when she left gave me a key. I went in, put her stuff away for her in her cupboards, petted her dog. If she left a note asking me to, I fed her dog.

It’s a far cry from text messaging and e-mailing. And you are not going to convince me that our technological progress has beget societal progress. The other day, in a neighborhood where I had customers in 1971 who left houses unlocked, cars unlocked in their driveways, walked around to see their neighbors, a woman out for a walk was attacked and bludgeoned to death with a rock by a crack addict – in order to take $10 from her.

I imagine everyone in that neighborhood is locked up inside, tight, daring only to venture out via text messaging. Much is being said in this presidential campaign about the need to put past behind us and move forward.

I think it might be better to go backward in time. In so many ways, America is a poorer, less civil, less livable, less admirable country than it was 20 and 30 years ago.

I see the childhoods my grandkids have: a house filled with technological marvels, in which they are prisoners; never chased outside and told to roam the neighborhood, play in the woods and be home by dark; out in their own yard only under a wary adult watcher’s eye; shuttled to and from supervised activities, and this in an affluent, upscale suburb. I had no plasma TV, no computer, no computer room; no constant, anxious micromanagement of my life either.

I had use of an old coal bin beneath the house, a giant sandhill and pine woods a quarter mile from the house, free rein by foot or bike of the whole neighborhood, walking in and out of other kids’ houses through open doors, and ample opportunities to bloody my nose or someone else’s, get caught operating a de facto ‘Playboy Club’ in a barn with swiped magazines and two neighborhood girls in their bathing suits as bunnies, jump off a roof with a Superman cape thus learning it ain’t the cape that makes you super. And being home when the Cook Coffee guy came around, to watch him sell, and help my mother buy things. Compared to my grandkids, I think I had the better deal.

Anyway, Fuller Brush began in 1906, and through 1960, an army of Fuller Brush men just like Art Pearson called on 9 out of every 10 homes in America – market penetration unmatched by any company of any kind at any time. Dick Clark and Billy Graham are among the famous citizens who once knocked on doors as Fuller Brush Men. There were two movies, one with Red Skelton, The Fuller Brush Man, and one with Lucille Ball, The Fuller Brush Girl.

As women left the home front, went to the workplace and stuffed their kids into daycare, there were fewer and fewer ladies home to greet the Fuller Brush Men, its sales force dwindled, the company reluctantly turned to other methods of distribution. But Art, now driven around by his adult son, still visits his customers’ homes with reassuring regularity, always in jacket and tie, pants pressed, shoes shined, a smile on his face. And his son, age 63, is thinking about continuing the business when Art can no longer saddle up and ride. A bit of Art’s sales patter for you…

Over 600 feet of stainless steel in this amazing little pad – that never rusts and won’t scratch your stove”…..”Read this testimonial from Elizabeth Gukich of Wisconsin who’s used it for 30 years!”….”Which gift would you like today?

Direct-selling, the industry led for decades by Fuller Brush, beget both multi-level or network marketing and direct marketing. All early direct marketing – print ads, direct-mail, radio ads and later, TV infomercials – was direct selling by media, almost entirely created by people with direct-selling backgrounds.

Much early advertising of all kinds had these same roots – not so at all today. People without this background are at severe disadvantage in sales, marketing and direct marketing jobs and businesses. These days many good direct marketing companies including name giants are driven broke by college educated nitwits with zero actual nose-to-nose, toes-to-toes, kitchen table selling experience.

I’d put old Art in charge of my marketing before any out of college MBA any day.

What guys like Art get, that so few small business marketers do, is that it is ALL ABOUT relationship. Not about products or prices or competition (you could always buy brushes and window cleaner at any store for less) or, for that matter, technology.

What sees a business through tough times and lets it prosper during good times, above all else, is its and its proprietors’, sales peoples’ or staffs’ relationships with its customers. If you build a business absent this asset, you build on weak foundation on shifting sand. And if you don’t know how to sit at the kitchen table and “visit”, if you can’t remember your best customers’ life stories without a software system, if you can’t relate to them and they can’t relate to you, two e-mails a day may not save you.

American business is experiencing an overdue herd-thinning as we speak, to continue for many months to come. The worst, run by people ignorant of all this, neglectful of it, unwilling to invest in it, will shrink or perish.

They will blame gas prices or recession or Wall Street or whatever, but their vulnerability is of their own making. The rise and renaissance of the true small business based on relationship is at hand.

In another of our newsletters about info-marketing and copywriting, I mentioned that I have tried to run my publishing business more like a local diner, with me behind the counter, engaged in coffee shop counter conversation – or like that monthly “visit”, dropping in to my customer’s home, dropping off some product, taking time for a glass of lemonade, walking over to say hi to the husband out mowing the lawn, throwing a stick for the dog – than like a publishing business.

This is the heart and soul of selling. It’s dying out. We’re not the better for it. And it offers enormous opportunity for the astute and agile, ready and willing to “go back to the future.”

They’ll have a better business and a better life.


Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to www.GKIC.com

7 Responses

  1. I had to laugh when I read the subhead because I build websites for businesses, but it’s a great point to make about the basics nevertheless.

    Got my No B.S. Newsletter today. can’t wait for the free online workshops tied to the new books!

  2. Priceless post!

    The other part of being a fuller brush man is not hiding behind a keyboard all the time, sitting in a hermit-like environment and doing business via computers and digital bits… Selling door to door gives you that old-style interaction that creates customer loyalty, friendships, and customers for life….

  3. Charles says:

    The rise and renaissance of the true small business based on relationship is at hand.
    This is the heart and soul of selling. It’s dying out. We’re not the better for it. And it offers enormous opportunity for the astute and agile, ready and willing to “go back to the future.”
    still working hard to building relationships with my customers Dan
    thank you for the insight.

  4. Marla says:

    thank you for saying this. I am a social worker and I was thinking the other day at lunch that the best social worker I know is the lady who runs the diner…she takes the time to chat with her customers. I was witnessing what is truly almost a lost art, while people at the coffee shop down the street are hunched over the laptops, sipping their lattes while textmessaging…..sure it’s packed with young people, but is more information more communication? I think there is a real hunger for connection. each latest technology is a wonderful tool, but there still is a need for simple interactions.

  5. i still will do a delivery of my shops auto repair. I will sit at the kitchen table , explain the bill and pet the family dog, have a drink , and be part of the family as i keep the cargo safe / them in their cars

  6. I wouldn’t trade my 9 years of door-to-door sales and sales management experience for anything. Not to mention my forays into my neighborhood as a kid selling greeting cards and seeds door-to-door, and later a paper route.

    “Web 2.0” is supposed to be all about using the internet as an interactive, relationship-building tool.

    But it can’t beat real feet-on-the-street, face-to-face selling experience. Never will.

  7. bez bik says:

    Interesting article. Yours

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