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Month: November 2014

Brownie Wise – the Queen of Tupperware

Brownie Wise – the Queen of Tupperware

This week’s story is a little longer than usual but I would recommend you stick with it. The story of Brown Wise is an amazing one and one I wish I could take an option on to turn into a screenplay. 

In 1956 the Houston Post reported that “It has been estimated that Brownie Wise has helped more women to financial success than any other single living person.”

But who was Brownie Wise and what was the brand on which her and so many other women’s success was built? 

Brownie’s story starts when she was born in rural Georgia and given her name for her big, brown eyes. Her parents divorced, and, as a teen, she travelled with her mother, who organised union rallies. It was on these trips that Brownie started giving speeches and soon proved to be an extraordinarily gifted and motivating orator. She “awed people,” wrote her biographer Bob Kealing “[They] were surprised that someone so young could deliver a speech like a pastor.”

The next stage on her path to success started with a bad door-to-door salesman. When a Stanley Home Products salesman knocked on her door and proceeded to deliver a terrible sales pitch for cleaning supplies, Wise scoffed and said she could do better. 

By coincidence Stanley had just started experimenting with home parties as a sales method and the salesman said if Brownie was so sure of herself why didn’t she show them what she could do. She jumped at the chance and started selling Stanley products at parties. Before long she was making enough money to quit her secretarial job.

Wise was blessed with the gift of the gab. She quickly started to rise through Stanley’s ranks and she was soon in management and hoping to ascend even higher. However those aspirations were quashed at a meeting with Stanley’ head, Frank Beveridge, who told her she’d never become an executive. Its halls were “no place for a woman,” he said. 

She was furious and started to look for other opportunities and it was a near-accident at a sales meeting that was to give her inspiration. One of her co-workers had seen some plastic storage tubs gathering dust in a department store and decided to bring them in. At first Wise didn’t think they were anything special, but when she accidentally knocked a bowl off the table, it bounced instead of breaking, and the contents remained safe inside. Brownie saw the potential there and then. 

The brand was Tupperware and, looking at it more closely, Brownie could see it looked attractive, came in attractive pastel colours and flexible shapes but above all it was extremely functional. Convinced of its potential, Wise left Stanley and in 1949 started throwing parties to sell Tupperware. It was a move that was to spark a mini revolution; Tupperware didn’t just help extend the life of leftovers, it was to become a career maker for Brownie and millions of other women.

Many of the women who came to one of Wise’s parties, were convinced not only to buy the products but to become Tupperware salespeople themselves. 

As she hosted more and more parties, Brownie discovered more and more ways to convert women into Tupperware loyalists and advocates. She found that putting people on waiting lists, something she was initially reluctant to do, actually made them more eager to buy. 

She quickly amassed outstanding sales but equally importantly she started to build her team of more and more saleswomen, and they in turn built their own networks. Soon, other Tupperware parties were taking place across the country. Wise’s team in Detroit was selling more Tupperware than most department stores. This soon attracted the attention of the founder of the Tupperware Corporation, Earl Silas Tupper.

He offered her a promotion: distribution rights for the entire state of Florida. In the spring of 1950, she moved south with her son and mother.

However things didn’t go as smoothly as she hoped; there were disputes over turf with other distributors but what annoyed her most was that she was constantly contending with botched orders, shipping delays and product shortages. 

In March of 1951 Wise had had enough. She called Tupper in a fury and demanded action – this was hurting not just her bottom line, but also his. Tupper listened and assured her that he’d fix the issues but wanted a favour; to hear her sales secrets and thoughts on growing the business.


The next month, the two met at a conference on Long Island and Wise explained her belief in the power of parties where people could touch Tupperware, squeeze it, drop it and seal it in the company of trusted friends or neighbours. With regard to growing the business, her suggestion was radical: ditch department stores altogether and focus entirely on throwing home parties.

Tupper took the advice to heart and the day after their meeting he created a new division just for home parties and asked Wise to be the general manager. The halls of Tupperware executives weren’t closed to women. Her stellar track record continued – she was selling more Tupperware than anyone anywhere.

The new approach saw Tupperware sales rocket, wholesale orders exceeded $2 million in 1952. Tupper increased her salary to $20,000 and, on her birthday in 1953, he presented her with a gold-dyed palomino horse. He also gave her the freedom to do practically whatever she wanted. 

Wise started travelling the country recruiting, presiding over sales conferences and announcing contests and doling out prizes as an incentive—including, sometimes, her own clothes.

The beauty of selling Tupperware at parties for many women was it allowed them to be employed, yet not appear to challenge their husbands’ authority or the status quo in what was still a very traditional male-dominated world. The parties allowed women to contribute to their family’s bottom line. Wise embraced the spirit of female entrepreneurship wholeheartedly, she wrote a newsletter called Tupperware Sparks, published a primer called Tupperware Know-How, and had a 52-minute film, A Tupperware Home Party, made as a training tool

Wise had become the face of Tupperware, the result of her success, but unfortunately it also sowed the seeds of discontent with Tupper. In 1954, she was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. The magazine’s profile was glowing to say the least. It credited Wise and her sales technique with Tupperware’s estimated $25 million in retail sales whilst seeming to downplay Tupper’s role as president of the company he had created.

Tupper had never craved the spotlight for himself; in fact, he was known to use the back door of his office, but he believed the focus should be on the product and not the employees. After the Business Week article, Tupper sent a note to Wise “However good an executive you are, I still like best the pictures … with TUPPERWARE!”

It was the beginning of the end. Their relationship started to deteriorate and, in 1958, Tupper fired Wise. After a heated legal battle, she received only $30,000 as a settlement. She had no stocks in the company. 

Tupper ordered her name expunged from the company history and buried the 600 remaining copies of her book in an unmarked pit behind Tupperware’s Florida headquarters. Later that year he sold the company to Rexall Drug for $16 million. 

Wise tried starting new companies but never achieved the same success she had with Tupperware. She ended up leading a quiet life, with her horses, pottery and her son until she died at her home in 1992.



Greggs – a delicious and dangerous addiction?

Greggs – a delicious and dangerous addiction?

Ukrainian-born Milla Jovovich is a model and film actress who has worked for Prada, Chanel and Versace and starred in films such as Fifth Element and Resident Evil.

She has however a “dangerous addiction”, one to which she was introduced by her English born, Geordie husband, Paul Anderson; her director in Mortal Kombat.

It was in 2002 that Anderson took Jovovich to see his home town “We stayed on the quayside in Newcastle, went to visit Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle – and, more importantly, Greggs.”

“Milla was overwhelmed by Greggs,” Anderson remembers. “She tried to spend a hundred and fifty dollars in there and was really confused when they couldn’t take her credit card.” Jovovich remembers the occasion equally fondly: “They didn’t know what had hit them.”


Later on that same trip but now in London the couple were almost late for a press conference for their film after they went in search of a Greggs to let Jovovich enjoy another fix of the pasties. Anderson explained, “We were staying down the road from the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane where the interviews were, and you can’t find a Greggs in Mayfair… we had to go all the way to Victoria.”

It was at this point that Anderson announced that “Milla showed a dangerous addiction to Greggs pasties.” Her favourites are the Cheese and Onion and the Corned Beef.

Anderson suggested “I think Milla should be employed as the new face of Greggs, instead of the face of L’Oreal.”

Nothing, however, came of the offer, as Greggs – though appreciating the free publicity Jovovich was providing – recognised that her image didn’t fit with the brand.

Greggs is a family bakery business that was founded on Tyneside in the 1930s when John Gregg delivered eggs and yeast to local families on his pushbike. It now has more than 1,000 bakery stores across the UK, though obviously not in Mayfair. It is not a “sexy” brand; rather it is a down-to-earth brand of the people and for the people.

Its pasties are all baked at every premise to ensure they are “always fresh, always tasty” and are a delicious addiction for millions of Britons – and at least one Hollywood star – today

Just a smile and a few drops of Chanel No. 5

Just a smile and a few drops of Chanel No. 5

There are many versions of the quote which seems to have first appeared in Life magazine on April 7, 1952.

Marilyn Monroe, then just 26 years old, was asked “What do you wear to bed?” and her reply, according to different sources was “What do I wear to bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course” or “Just a few drops of Chanel No 5” or maybe and my personal favourite, “Nothing but Chanel No 5 and a smile”.

A year later in 1953, Monroe was photographed in bed for Modern Screen magazine and, although the photos weren’t published at the time, a bottle of Chanel No. 5 can clearly be seen on her bed stand, which seemed to confirm the gist of the quote.

Then, in 1983, a long lost sound recording was rediscovered which at least confirmed the truth of the original story and suggests at the star’s original phrasing.

The audio clip features the then Marie Claire editor-in-chief  Georges Belmont interviewing Monroe in 1960 for her film “Let’s Make Love.”


In her signature breathless voice, Marilyn can be heard saying: “You know, they ask me questions. Just an example: ‘What do you wear to bed? A pyjama top? The bottoms of the pyjamas? A nightgown?’ So I said, ‘Chanel No.5,’ because it’s the truth … and yet, I don’t want to say ‘nude’. But it’s the truth!”

The sound clip was subsequently used by Chanel for a TV campaign featuring footage of the actress in a variety of situations including walking into a premiere, dancing, and on vacation.


And an an apologies for late posting his week, a bonus little story; Why No 5?

Between the ages of 12 and 18 Chanel lived in a convent orphanage at Aubazine, in the care of the nuns and it from these days that the number five seemed to have developed potent associations for her. The paths that led her to the cathedral for daily prayer were laid out in circular patterns repeating the number five and she came to believe that the number five signified the pure embodiment of a thing, its spirit, its mystic meaning.


So in 1920, when she was presented with a number of small glass vials containing sample scents numbered 1 to 5 and 20 to 24 for her assessment, she chose the fifth vial. Chanel told Ernest Beaux, the master perfumer she had commissioned to develop a fragrance ,”I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it has already, it will bring good luck”

Big, Green & Yeller

Big, Green & Yeller

The relationship between workers and their ‘beasts of burden’ has always been close, as the lyrics from Thos S. Allen’s 1905 song “Low Bridge, Everybody Down!” testify…

We’d better look around for a job, old gal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

 You can bet your life I’ll never part with Sal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

(The song was recently re-recorded as Erie Canal by Bruce Springsteen)

A more modern equivalent but equally loving relationship seems to exist between many farmers and their John Deere tractors. It too has been celebrated in song. This one “Big Green And Yeller” by Seasick Steve who often appears wearing his green and ‘yeller’ John Deere cap 

 I’m gon’ get me

An old John Deere

Old model 60

Or somethin’ pretty near

Gonna go out and buy me

Ten acre now

Get that ol’ tractor

Gonna plow, plow, plow

One reason for the closeness of the farming community and their John Deere tractors can be traced back to 1895 when the brand launched it’s magazine The Furrow. The magazine, considered by many to be the the first and longest running example of ‘content marketing’, is still very much in circulation, reaching about 2 million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages.

“The precise circumstances under which the idea for The Furrow was hatched are unclear. I can tell you the company was under the direction of John Deere’s son, Charles, when The Furrow was first published. Charles was known as a fairly astute marketer; he recognized farmers’ need for an accurate, unbiased source of information, and recognized the marketing potential associated with providing that information” said David G. Jones, the current Publications Manager.

Right from The Furrow‘s first issue its popularity quickly snowballed; circulation grew to reach more than 4 million consumers at its peak in 1912.


John Deere’s manager of corporate history, Neil Dahlstrom picks up the story.“Looking back at our archives, you can see the changes, from an advertorial, to a general agriculture journal with farming hints and reprinted articles that look a lot like the Farmers’ Almanac, to today’s magazine that tells farmers how to run their businesses,” he said.

However despite those changes Jones believes that the real success of the magazine is its ability to tell stories…

“I’ve never worked for a brand magazine like this that people loved so much. Telling stories that folks enjoy reading—and that they can use in their own operations—has been the recipe since the beginning.”

“Even the most technical subject has to have a human story behind it. We’ve always been able to convince the management that the content shouldn’t be about John Deere equipment. We’ve stuck to that over time.”

And it’s a formula that remains successful, today, the magazine reaches about 570,000 consumers in the U.S. and Canada, and about 2 million globally.

Recalling his early days at John Deere, Jones recalls

“I was trying to familiarise myself with the brand on the editorial side, and I kept feeling a little like Harry Potter, lost in a new world,…[The Furrow] is a portal into a brand that people feel passionately about—to the level that kids are wallpapering their rooms with [our] tractors. … You just don’t run across that every day”

Double Dipping; The Second Scoop:

Double Dipping; The Second Scoop:

Ben, Jerry …& Yves

In April 2000, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield sold their company to the giant Anglo-Dutch multinational, Unilever. Their alternative management style lacked the fiscal and managerial discipline that market analysts and investors demanded; returns hadn’t been good. The value of the company’s stock had fallen from almost $34 in 1993 to $17 in 1999.

Although the founders’ names were obviously still going to be attached to the brand, neither of them was to hold any board or management position and neither was to be involved in day-to-day management of the company.

There was surprise, shock and a great deal of worry amongst employees, loyal users and the marketing world as to whether the new masters would want, and be able to stay true, to the brand’s three fold mission(s):

Ben and Jerry’s Social Mission: To operate the Company in a way that actively recognises the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally, and internationally.

Ben and Jerry’s Product Mission: To make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

Ben and Jerry’s Economic Mission:  To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.

Unilever however said it hoped to carry on the tradition of engaging “in these critical, global economic and social missions”, which was no small undertaking as this meant continuing Ben & Jerry’s commitments to work with sustainable, Fair Trade certified and organic suppliers; use environmentally friendly packaging; pay premium prices to dairy farmers who did not give their cows growth hormones, creating business opportunities for depressed areas and disadvantaged people and giving a percentage of their pre-tax revenues to charity.

The terms of the acquisition allowed Ben & Jerry’s to operate separately from Unilever’s existing U.S. ice cream business, with an independent Board of Directors to provide leadership for its social mission and brand integrity. Additionally, Unilever committed $1.1 million a year to charitable causes, made a $5 million one-time grant to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, and promised to donate 7.5 % of Ben & Jerry’s pre-tax profits to a charitable foundation

However the choice of the new CEO was still going to be crucial; Yves Couette was that choice.


French-born Couette, was a long-time and well-travelled Unilever executive. He had spent several years running businesses in Mexico and India and gaining crucial experience in cross-cultural sensitivities. His mission at Ben and Jerry’s was to balance the need to maintain the brand’s unique positioning while at the same time introducing some parent-company fiscal and managerial controls.

He saw his first role as demonstrating his commitment to the brand. He adopted Ben and Jerry’s version of his CEO title – Chief Euphoria Officer. He came to work dressed casually, and volunteered to mix mulch at a company-sponsored gardening project in the local community.

He re-confirmed the commitment to the corporate social responsibility approach of the founders, saying that he envisioned Ben & Jerry’s to be “a grain of sand in the eye of Unilever” and the company continues to contribute about $1.1 million annually through employee-led corporate philanthropy and makes substantial product donations to community groups.

However, Couette also knew that some things needed to change if the business was to be able to deliver the financial returns Unilever expected. So in a very un–Ben & Jerry’s act, he downsized the company, eliminating jobs and even closing some plants. He provided more structure and introduced some basic organisational practices, and opened Ben & Jerry’s positions to Unilever’s global talent pool. He began using the Unilever performance management system, but crucially added a new performance dimension of maintaining the company’s social mission.

Recognising that some of these moves would be unpopular with the employees, he explained that, while not ideal, ultimately “the best way to spread Ben & Jerry’s enlightened ethic throughout the business world was to make the company successful.”

And ultimately that is what has happened. Under Unilever’s ownership Ben & Jerry’s has been able both to maintain its unique brand image and at the same time become profitable.