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Lonny Strum, Fuller Brush Man.

0614_fuller-brush2The “Fuller Brush Man” is a vestige of yesteryear. In today’s world, a knock on the door from an unexpected stranger, let alone a door to door salesperson, is not welcome. But it wasn’t always that way. At one time I was a Fuller Brush Man, or perhaps a Fuller Brush “boy” as the case was.

Here’s my story:

Lonny Strum, Fuller Brush Man. That’s what my business card said. For more than 3 years beginning in the summer of 1968 I was a Fuller Brush Man. I began during the summer, as a young 15 year old knocking on doors in my hometown of Springfield, NJ. Springfield was my “territory” that summer. I later expanded to neighboring towns of Summit, Mountainside, Union, Berkeley Heights and New Providence.

The concept of selling products door to door, foreign today, was common in that era. And Fuller Brush was a major player in door to door sales. Opening one’s door to a stranger just doesn’t happen often today. As I recall in that era Fuller Brush salesman were compensated by commission of 40% of the gross sales. So, the math was easy. Sell $100 worth of stuff, earn $40. The more you hustle, the more you made.

I sold from a catalog which contained pictures of brushes, mops, brooms, etc. I had some sample product with me that I carried in a briefcase. And I had lots of small vegetable brushes which cost me 3 cents apiece and I used them as a free sample and gave to anyone who opened the door. I would sell, take their orders, ask for a deposit and return that Friday with their product, and importantly, collect $.

Thanks to my mother (thanks Pearlie) she would drop me off at a spot in my territory, in the morning usually at 9am in the summers and then pick me up at a pre-agreed upon time, usually around 12:30. Then I would go to the community pool during the day. Later that evening I would repeat the same routine, roughly 6-8:30 p. Obviously at 15 I was not able to drive. We had a set pick up time, and I had no ability to call via cell phone; therefore there was no “quitting early”. The only variable was how much I wanted to hustle during that time.

There was a high awareness of Fuller Brushes in that era so at least when I knocked on a stranger’s door, I started with some built-in awareness. After I knocked the inhabitant would invariably say “Who’s there?” Here’s where I was a little brazen. I would strongly answer “Lonny Strum”, in a tone that implied that I was The Man. Next they would invariably say, “Who are you” and I would say “The Fuller Brush Man”, implying that they should have known. It worked. At least half the time they opened the door and let me in.

It was my first job and I learned a lot about sales and life during those years selling door-to door. Here are the top 5 things I learned.

1. Keep stats

I learned there were 4 key stats in sales–# of doors knocked on, # of people who opened the door, # of sales generated per open door, average $ sale.

I learned early on that What gets Measured, Gets Managed, the simple math of sales and marketing.

2. Persistence

Given the stats above, the way to increase the “top of the funnel” so to speak, was to knock on more doors. Everything else being equal, more doors knocked on yielded more money for me.

3. Salesmanship

Whatever item I sold, I asked the customer whether they might be interested in different item too. For example, if I sold a mop I asked them if they’d like to buy some floor cleaner. Then I’d also ask if they needed any hair brushes etc. It became pretty obvious to me that I could increase my average sale which if I recall ran about $5-7 (remember this was 1968), I could make more money. Respectful suggestive selling increased the size of the order. Again simple math–Increased order size=More $ for me.

4. Follow up

Obviously not everyone was home in the morning when I did my rounds. Record keeping was essential. I would leave a business card in the door in the morning with a note “Sorry I missed you. I’ll be back after 6 this evening”, and then come around again that evening. Some people would actually call me based on my phone number the card, and place an order.

5. Reliability

If I said I was returning with product on Friday at a specific time, I was there at that time. I made sure I had what they offered, right quantity, product, in a bag, with my card, and a thank you. It was important that my “promise” and my delivery were 100% in sync.

For a 15-year old boy, I was a good salesman. I recall I made about $100 a week those summers. Not chopped liver for a kid in high school. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but it taught me a lot about business. Years later in 1976, MBA from NYU in hand, I began my business career as a young account person at an advertising agency called Needham Harper & Steers (now part of DDB). My first boss later told me that the reason he hired me was not my MBA, but rather his impression that if I had the self-confidence to knock on strangers’ doors, then I would have the drive to succeed in the ad business. He was right.

The lessons I learned as a door-to-door salesman were invaluable. Thanks to Fuller Brush for teaching them to me.




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2 Comments

  1. Mark D Glidden says:

    Lonny, really enjoyed your tales of Fuller Brush and the lessons imparted. There is a good chance that you knocked on doors of my family members. I was born in Summit, my fathers office was in Berkeley Heights and my grandfather lived in New Providence.

    Hope you are well, keep Struming, I am a fan.

    All the best,

    Mark

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks for the feedback Mark. Glad you enjoyed my memories. Hope your family bought some of my brushes in yesteryear.

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