Founded in 1906 by Alfred C. Fuller in Hartford, Connecticut, the Fuller Brush Company predominately sold a wide range of cleaning products, marketed for personal care, housekeeping, and commercial users. Mostly a direct-selling company, it is perhaps best known for its independent, door-to-door salesmen, a figure referred to in popular culture as "the Fuller Brush Man." Calling on the housewives of America, the Fuller Brush Man would visit households with a gift, flyers, and a case full of samples, with which he would demonstrate the use of cleaning implements of various shapes and sizes. Through techniques such as developing new products based on customer feedback, and providing a satisfaction guarantee by allowing for product returns during the Fuller Brush Man's next visit, the Fuller Brush Company inspired new levels of trust and credibility in direct selling. In return, the company reaped massive profits. During the peak of the company's popularity, in around the 1950s, the Fuller Brush Man was a ubiquitous part of the American landscape, alluded to in comic strips, radio programs, and popular films, such as the 1948 Red Skelton comedy
The Fuller Brush Man
and the 1950 comedy
The Fuller Brush Girl
, starring Lucille Ball.
The Fuller Brush Company continually used its resources to promote and establish the identity of the Fuller Brush Man, to its own salespeople as well as the public. Traditional print advertisements were supplemented with extensive publicity coverage, carefully crafted by the Fuller Brush Company's advertising and public relations team. The company fostered a culture of achievable aspiration among new recruits, through in-house publications, which celebrated the accomplishments of fellow dealers, incentive programs, and a career ladder pipeline, which allowed high achieving salesmen to advance from independent dealers to regional sales managers--who were considered formal employees of the Fuller Brush Company. Some sales managers became local celebrities in their districts, adding their own charisma to the development of the Fuller Brush Man--such as New York District's Al Teetsel--whose "Fine and Dandy" personal motto established a cult following. Other Fuller Brush Company salesmen used the Fuller Brush Man's distinctive optimism, pluck, and perseverance to later become celebrities in their own right, such as evangelist Billy Graham, who attributed his high school days as a successful Fuller Brush Man to his future success.
While the Fuller Brush Company is best known for its door-to-door network of Fuller Brush Men, and its household products division, the company experimented with various channels of distribution and other specialized products during its over 100-year history. The Fuller Brush Company produced implements to clean guns during World War II, and in 1945 was honored with the E Award for its war effort contributions. In the 1940s, the Fuller Brush Company introduced female salespeople, or "Fullerettes" to their door-to-door ranks (mostly to promote their Debutante Cosmetics line, released by Daggett & Ramsdell, Inc. in 1948). The company returned to actively recruiting Fullerettes in 1966, and thereafter welcomed distributors of either sex. The company's Machine Division produced the mast for the sailboat "Columbia" in 1958, and in the 1960s, its Marine Division produced items for the maintenance of nautical equipment. Around the 1960s, its Household Division incorporated new items such as vitamins and hormone treatments into its personal care product line. The company experimented with retail brick-and-mortar locations, and, in 1974, instigated a telemarketing program. After 1985, the Fuller Brush Company began to move away from door-to-door sales techniques, redeveloping its sale channel distribution system to include mail order catalogs, a secure sales website for distributors, network-marketing techniques, and a reinterpretation of sales territories for distributors where district territories began to blur in favor of nationwide sales opportunities.
Founded in Hartford, Connecticut, the company remained in the region through the 1960s, though the company shifted locations to larger offices and manufacturing facilities as it grew. In 1960, operational facilities and headquarters moved to a large, custom-built campus in East Hartford, Connecticut. However, in 1968, the company was acquired by the Kitchens of Sara Lee, Inc. (then a part of the Consolidated Foods Corporation). During the 1970s the Fuller Brush Company experienced rapid changes in administration and organization. Under President Nat Zivin, headquarters relocated to Niles, Illinois in 1973. Later the same year, headquarters and operations moved to a large manufacturing facility in Great Bend, Kansas. The company remained a division of Sara Lee until 1989.
The Fuller Brush Company grew to involve multiple subsidiaries, including many that were international. The Fuller Brush Company established a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary in 1921, called the Fuller Brush Company, Limited. In 1942, the Fuller Brush Company bought out a competitor, the Albany, New York-based Mohawk Brush Company. The "bristlecomb" hairbrush, introduced by the Mohawk Brush Company in 1928, remained one of the Fuller Brush Company's signature products. In 1961, the Fuller Brush Company founded and incorporated Charter Supply Corporation as a wholly-owned Mohawk subsidiary. Charter Products operated as a "private label" division, to rebrand duplicate products. The Fuller Brush Company also owned subsidiaries in Mexico; in 1968, the Fuller Brush Company held 100% interest in House of Fuller, S.A. and Charter de Mexico, S.A., both established in Mexico. Also in 1968, the Fuller Brush Company was a partial owner of House of Fuller (Jamaica), Ltd. The Fuller Brush Company conducted business around the world, including dealings in England, France, Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Venezuela.
With growth came legal challenges. The Green River Ordinance, established in 1931, placed limits on door-to-door sales. The Fuller Brush Company challenged the ordinance, when it went to the Supreme Court in 1937. Over the course of its history, the Fuller Brush Company weathered lawsuits ranging from trademark disputes to labor treatment complaints from area managers in Puerto Rico.
After the sale by Sara Lee in 1989, the Fuller Brush Company was held by a series of private owners, including Lee Turner and Stuart A. Ochiltree. In June 1994, CPAC, Inc. purchased the company. In 1995, CPAC, Inc. also bought a longtime competitor of the Fuller Brush Company, Stanley Home Products, a company founded in 1929 by Stanley Beverage, a former sales vice president for the Fuller Brush Company. The two companies became siblings under the same parent organization; items from the Stanley Home Products line were sold by Fuller Brush Company distributors, and manufactured at the Fuller Brush Company plant in Great Bend. In 2012, both the Fuller Brush Company and Stanley Home Products filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The companies merged their product lines and catalogs, eliminating equivalent products, to cut costs and streamline operations.
In December 2012, David Sabin and Chicago-based private equity firm Victory Park Capital purchased the Fuller Brush Company. The company headquarters moved to Napa Valley, California. Facing increased financial difficulties, in 2016 the company began to phase out its independent distributor system and domestic manufacturing operations. Around January 2018, the company was sold to Galaxy Brush LLC of Lakewood, New Jersey.
Alfred C. Fuller (January 13, 1885 - December 4, 1973), was founder and first president of the Fuller Brush Company, as well as the "original Fuller Brush Man." He was born in rural Nova Scotia, to parents Leander Joseph Fuller and Phebe Jane Collins. The eleventh of twelve children, Fuller took pride in the resilient and self-sufficient spirit he developed growing up on a Nova Scotian farm, and valued such qualities throughout his life over formal education. Long after his success, he promoted himself as an average man among average men.
In 1903, at age eighteen, Alfred Fuller left his family home in Nova Scotia, and followed siblings who settled in the United States. He moved in with his sister Annie and her husband, Frank Adler, in Somerville, Massachusetts. After a series of odd jobs, Fuller considered trying his hand at selling brushes (he was inspired by a brother, Dwight, who made and sold brushes before his death by tuberculosis in 1901). Alfred discovered a knack for trade; unlike many other direct salesmen at the time, his sales technique emphasized product demonstrations. Eventually, Fuller decided to make his own brushes. He set up a workbench in his sister's basement in January 1906. Four months later, he moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he founded the Fuller Brush Company.
The rapid success of the company, improved Alfred C. Fuller's romantic prospects. With the enthusiastic support of his sister, Annie, Alfred initiated a courtship with a Nova Scotian woman who had formerly caught his eye, Evelyn Ellis. They were married on April 10, 1908. However, the marriage was strained, and they divorced in 1930. In 1932, Alfred Fuller remarried. His second wife, Mary Primrose Pelton, was also Nova Scotian, the daughter of a judge from Yarmouth. They remained together for the rest of his life.
Alfred C. Fuller and his first wife Evelyn had two sons. Alfred Howard was born in 1913 and Avard in 1916. Both would later rise to prominence within the Fuller Brush Company, serving as its second and third presidents. The elder son, Howard, was Fuller Brush Company President from 1943 until 1959. From an early age, Howard challenged his father regarding the direction of the company. With his bold and aggressive personality, Howard was able to institute changes to the company that resulted in higher profits, such as distributing catalogs before the salesman's visit, shortening product demonstrations, prioritizing many small sales over few large sales, and developing other techniques that emphasized speed and efficiency. However, his temperament also contributed to Howard and his wife Dora's untimely deaths. Howard, always interested in thrilling, high-risk pursuits (such as driving sports cars, piloting airplanes, and racing speedboats and sailboats) was cruising through Nevada at 120-miles per hour for a business trip, uncharacteristically accompanied by his wife, when his Mercedes-Benz 300 SL blew a tire. Both Fullers died in the accident.
Following the tragic accident, Avard assumed leadership of the Fuller Brush Company. Avard's more conservative nature ushered in an era of leadership where his father, Alfred C. Fuller, rose in honor and influence with the company. However, Avard relied on traditional sales strategies (such as promoting a culture around the Fuller Brush Man, rather than take a more active strategy toward integrating female distributors) which placed the Fuller Brush Company at a disadvantage with competitors such as Avon Cosmetics. Avard served as President of the Fuller Brush Company until 1969.
Although Alfred C. Fuller never reclaimed presidency of the Fuller Brush Company, he remained chairman emeritus for the duration of his life. A treasured company figurehead, celebrations were held in his honor long after his retirement. In 1956, a testimonial dinner was held where a portrait of Fuller was unveiled in honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Fuller Brush Company. In 1965, Alfred C. Fuller was further honored, when his birthplace was dedicated as a historic landmark. Alfred C. Fuller was known as "Dad" Fuller to the thousands of Fuller Brush Men and Fullerettes who represented the company door-to-door throughout the country, and made frequent appearances in in-house publications and external publicity. Working with Hartzell Spence, Alfred C. Fuller wrote an autobiography, titled
A Foot in the Door
, published by the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. in 1960. A practicing Christian Scientist with a devout Methodist mother, Fuller frequently alludes to the influence of his faith in his autobiography. Alfred C. Fuller passed away on December 4, 1973.