Brownie Wise, the force behind Tupperware’s sales party technique, would toss sealed bowls full of liquid to demonstrate the product.
Whether you’ve ever sat through a sales “party” for some sort of product — whether it’s cleaning products, makeup, weight-loss treatments or marital aids — the mere existence of this type of social soft sell owes a lot to one woman, Brownie Wise, who didn’t just have a made-for-TV name, but who came out of nowhere to make Tupperware a household name before being left with little to show for her efforts.
Over at Mental Floss, writer Jen Doll takes an in-depth look at Brownie’s fascinating life that is definitely worth a read. But if you’re too busy planning your own sales party for this weekend, here are some of the things we learned about this retail revolutionary:
1. Before getting into sales, she penned a women’s advice column
In the 1940s, while working as a secretary at Bendix Aviation in Michigan, Brownie also penned an advice column for the Detroit News under the pseudonym of “Hibiscus,” a well-heeled housewife who lived with her family in a fictional home dubbed “Lovehaven,” even though Brownie herself was a divorced mom living a very different life from the one she described on paper.
2. Tupperware wasn’t her first stab at throwing sales parties
After being less than impressed by a Stanley Home Products door-to-door salesman, Brownie decided to try her hand at a side job selling Stanley items using the company’s experimental program of hosting parties to demonstrate their products.
She was soon earning enough money to do full-time sales and even reached management level at Stanley before being told by the head of the company that she’d never reach become an executive because the halls of Stanley were “no place for a woman.”
3. She discovered the alluring power of being put on a waiting list
Much like a nightclub can give off the impression of being exclusive and popular by having a long line of people waiting to get inside, a good salesperson knows the value of using scarcity to make a product — even something like Tupperware — more desirable. She would take orders from customers regardless of whether the product was in stock because she knew that putting customers on that waiting list made them more eager to buy.
4. She used a glob of raw polyethylene as a good luck totem
The original Tupperware product was born out of surplus polyethylene that Tupper had procured from the military after the end of World War II.
After Brownie joined the company and showed that her sales technique worked, company founder Earl Tupper showed his graciousness by presenting her with a piece of the material. She named the blob of plastic “Poly” and considered it a prized possession that she told her sellers to touch for good luck.
“Just get your fingers on it, wish for what you want,” she’d tell them. “Know it’s going to come true, and then get out and work like everything… and it will!”
5. She was the first woman on the cover of Business Week
By 1954, Wise’s rapidly growing, mostly female army of sellers was bringing in $25 million a year to a company that could barely get off the ground before she came on board. But when she landed on the cover of Business Week magazine that year, and received much of the credit for the company’s success in the accompanying article, Earl Tupper wasn’t thrilled that she might be overshadowing his creation.
Following the publication of the Business Week piece, he left Brownie a note about the piece that read, “good executive as you are, I still like best the pictures … with TUPPERWARE!”
6. Her name was soon expunged from Tupperware history and her books were buried
The final years of her decade with Tupperware were filled with tension, as Mr. Tupper believed her extravagant events and the rewards she handed out were costing him money. He also got to thinking that Tupperware had just become a way for Brownie to market herself to the public.
So in advance of the sale of Tupperware to the Rexall Drug in 1958, Tupper fired Brownie and eventually ordered that her name be removed from the official company history. He also ordered that the remaining copies of her self-help book be buried in a pit near the Tupperware HQ in Florida.
After a legal battle, Brownie, who held no stock in the company she helped to bring to the fore of American kitchen culture, was awarded one year’s salary, around $30,000.
In spite of her meteoric rise, Brownie would never again achieve the same level of success. She passed away in 1992 at her home in Kissimmee, FL, not far from the company that tried to erase her from its memory decades earlier.