The Surprisingly Interesting Story of Tupperware

James Logie
Tupperware containersPhoto by Kim Deachul on Unsplash

No matter where you live; there are probably Tupperware containers there. Or, at the very least, some knock-off versions of it.

You may not even ever remember buying Tupperware — it just seems to appear.

But how did one woman turn this product into a household name? And what was the unique approach that didn’t even include retail sales at first?

Also, what can marketers learn from this iconic product?

How Did Tupperware Become a Giant Company?

Tupperware has never really gone away. Even though it’s faced some dips over the years, it remains a big seller in the houseware/kitchen space.

With more people cooking at home during the pandemic, Tupperware sales skyrocketed. The company made $477.2 million in the third quarter of 2020.

This was up 14% compared to that time the previous year. The stock price has gone up by 279%.

With everyone whipping up new meals, they had to be stored in something.

Tupperware held a virtual sales conference and had over 8,000 people attend. They usually get 2,500 to 3,000 people.

You could consider this a digital version of their famous Tupperware parties. And that’s where this story begins.

Earl Tupper created Tupperware in 1947 — which is probably the best fact you’ll learn today. Tupper created an open-mouth container that could snap shut and seal in freshness.

Leftover food didn’t have to go to waste, could be kept fresh, and the bowls were virtually indestructible.

To sell his new creation, Tupper distributed the bowls to hardware and department stores. Things didn’t exactly take off. Enter “Stanley Home Products.”

How Can You Sell Things in Your Home?

Door-to-door sales seem to have been around since the Stone Age. Whether it was a vacuum or life insurance; people have been annoying us at our front door for decades.

Stanley Home Products changed all this by eliminating door-to-door sales. Instead, they put on home parties where people would gather, have some refreshments, and get a look at certain products to buy.

This was working pretty well, but could it work for this new brand of plastic containers? A woman named Brownie Wise would take the young company to the next level.

Wise was selling many items from SHP and had helped create the “hostess group demonstration.”

She was an elite salesperson and was approached about selling a new product called Tupperware.

Brownie Wise was such a natural salesperson that she was soon selling Tupperware faster than she could get it.

Things were going so well that she started her own company: Tupperware Patio Parties.

That’s when Earl Tupper got hold of her.

A Unique Way to Sell

Most salespeople were way too pushy. Or, the product just wasn’t beneficial to the average person.

Wise knew Tupperware was a great product, but she took a unique approach to sell it.

Instead of pushing for the hard sale, Wise took a more personal and calm approach.

Not only did she let the product speak for itself, but she allowed people to see how their life would improve by using it.

No longer did you have to throw out wasted food. Meals could also be prepared in advance — kept fresh — and then just heated up.

These simple plastic bowls could make life easier.

Wise was charming and helped to make people feel comfortable. No matter the product, she was soon outselling everyone around her.

Not only that, but she was outselling department stores. Soon, Wise was even outselling New York department stores.

The relaxed home environment, some appetizers, and displaying how the product could make life easier sent sales through the roof.

Earl Tupper had to hire her. They then split the company into two divisions: Tupperware manufacturing and Tupperware home parties.

The Rapid Growth of the Company

Brownie Wise helped to take a product that was just sitting on shelves, to living rooms all across the country.

Tupperware was an award-winning piece of design, and Time Magazine named it one of the great new inventions — but it was Wise that made it more personal to people.

The rapid growth of Tupperware was because Wise saw a unique change happening across the country.

Going into the 1950s, suburbs were quickly developing. Wise understood that suburb developments were actually just collections of social networks.

With many houses on one block, it was easy to get people together at one home. Plus, everyone knew each other, so word-of-mouth would easily spread the benefits of Tupperware.

Not only was this a great market to sell to, but each home could now be its own Tupperware business.

Wise presented the idea that each person she interacted with could sell Tupperware on their own.

A Tupperware party of ten people could now lead to many new salespeople. The suburbs provided an entire workforce all across the country that could easily sell their product for them.

Wise created a system where you could rise through the ranks from:

  • Consultant (hosting a Tupperware party)
  • Manager (organizes a certain number of parties)
  • Distributer (the person who had recruited other managers and increased sales)

The distributer was at the highest level. They would have their own offices and manage a network of managers who would then manage the hosts of the parties.

This structure worked, and today, there are still 2.9 million people who continue to sell Tupperware. Companies like Avon and Mary Kay would copy this model.

Brownie Wise didn’t invent this structure — but she perfected it. She would reward their customers and throw huge Jubilee parties in Orlando for sales associates.

Picture “Oprah’s Favorite Things” but with more plastic.

The crazy thing is, Tupperware still wasn’t being sold in stores. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s when it would be available in a retail setting.

They had created the entire industry in people’s living rooms.

Tupperware is now sold in over 100 countries and Tupperware parties would be thrown every 1.4 seconds. Wise helped to develop a company that today is worth $1.15 billion.

Brownie Wise was a powerhouse entrepreneur, and she became the first woman ever to be featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine.

Key Takeaways

The story of Tupperware is how you don’t always have to use conventional marketing methods to find success.

Earl Tupperware was only focused on retail stores and could never predict that in-home sales could make him a multi-millionaire.

The other key takeaway is about making the product or service as personal as possible. People need to envision themselves using it.

They need to see how it is going to make their life better. This is what Brownie Wise excelled at.

Tupperware is also a classic example of identifying a problem and providing a solution.

With Tupperware, it was pretty simple: the problem was food going to waste; the solution is inexpensive bowls that keep it fresh.

The customer needs to see what they are missing out on by not buying the product. The easy convenience of Tupperware made it a no-brainer purchase.

The story of Tupperware is as much the story of Brownie Wise.

She had the foresight to take an alternative approach to market a product and — at the same time — was able to identify the changing landscape of the culture.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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