By Peter Fischetti
He knocked on the front door at the home in Tucson, as he would do hundreds of times that day all over the neighborhood. The woman who answered, he recalled, was “ranting and raving” as he identified himself. “Then she told me to leave the premises.”
But he didn’t. Instead, he found a door on the side of the home and knocked once more. Before the woman could again tell him to get lost, he said, “Hi. Say, who was the grumpy old lady at the front door”?
This time she slammed the door. Joe Laubie, then 24 and a graduate student at the University of Arizona, smiled at the woman’s response, then approached the house next door, where he would knock on the door with a hand that someday would be pretty bruised from knocking on doors.
Such was the life of the persistent salesman, whose exploits actually became a movie in 1948 starring Red Skelton in the title role of "The Fuller Brush Man." But in real life, it was guys like Joe Laubie who knocked on the door of homes across the United States, selling brushes, mops, brooms and other household items.
But in real life, it was guys like Joe Laubie who knocked on the door of homes across the United States, selling brushes, mops, brooms and other household items.
Those knocks on the door were silenced more than 30 years ago. But Joe Laubie is still around, now 79 and a resident of Brea CA for the past 31 years. And he’s still selling—although mostly from the comfort of his home—for CCP Industries, which manufactures and supplies some of the same household and business products that he sold for Fuller 50 years ago.
While Laubie would later get his college degree in Business and Economics, working for Fuller provided him with an equally valuable education. “I learned about rejection,” he said, “and not to take it personally. I might make a sale one out of five times, so I had the attitude that each rejection brought me closer to a sale. And the biggest lesson I learned is to be honest with people.”
He recalled one salesman who was asked at a meeting what product was most popular with his customers. It was a stain sprayer. “Instead of trying to impress people with the chemicals and the manufacturing process, he told them ‘It just works!’ And it did. That’s all they wanted to hear.”
While on the street, Laubie had a territory with 10,000 homes. The job was commission only—40 percent—and he averaged about $300 a week. “It was hard work, especially walking up and down the streets in Tucson when the temperature was 115 degrees. But I always tried to make it fun.”
One day, for example, he approached a house with a large picture window. “On it was a sign in big letters that said salesman weren’t welcomed. When the owner opened the door, she pointed to the sign and said, ‘Didn’t you see that?’ I told her no, I didn’t see a sign. After all, I’m not the kind who looks into people’s front windows.” She slammed the door but he had a good laugh. He also enjoyed talking about an ironing board cover that was great for “pressing engagements.”
During his 17 years with Fuller, Laubie rose to regional manager, one of the top six jobs in the company.
The company was founded in 1906 by Alfred Fuller, and sold brushes with a lifetime guarantee. It remained in the family until 1968, when Consolidated Foods, now the Sara Lee Corp., purchased it. While the 13,000 or so door-to-door salesmen generated all of the sales in the mid-1980s, the changing face of the American workforce meant fewer women were at home during the day to “welcome” the visitors.
The company decided to mail product catalogs and open several outlet stores. Within a few years, they produced 40 percent of the company’s $160 million in sales. Ultimately, a website was built for online sales, and the company scrapped its door-to-door sales force that once included the likes of Billy Graham and Dick Clark. The company’s ownership and even its named have changed at least three times since 1994.
Amid all the company changes, Laubie keeps plugging away, mostly on the phone and through emails, but occasionally visiting longtime customers. Most of his career has been in management, and he’s proud that he’s never fired anyone. “I might tell someone that maybe they’re not cut out for sales, but I’d rather train someone to do their best than let them go.” No doubt his mother, a former Avon Lady, would be proud.
Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Corona CA.