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Who Killed The Fuller Brush Man?

Daniel Pink success To Sell is Human


Lesson: The Salesman is dead. Long live the salesman.


Once upon a time in America, bow-tie wearing men would walk door-to-door with a case full of household goodies to pander. They had perfected the art of “getting a foot in the door”—in fact the term was coined based on the Fuller Brush Man’s virtuoso ability to get invited into people’s homes. If you’re under forty, it is likely that you’ve never heard about The Fuller Brush Man. But at one time, this fellow was a cultural icon. And like Oedipus’ father, he has mysteriously disappeared.

The Fuller Brush man was everywhere in the culture. Hollywood made a feature length film about him; they made a feature length film about a female Fullette, too; In the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf disguises as a Fuller Brush Man; even Donald Duck earned his living as a Fuller Brush Man at one point. He was on the pages of magazines, in songs (“I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man”). He was featured on T.V. skits, and on the radio. The Fuller Brush Man was king.

But where is he now?

It is a common theme among the literati and psychoanalytic to imagine every new generation must kill the previous: There was Oedipus, Hamlet and even Luke Skywalker. Millennials consider the baby-boomers to be antiquated blowhards. Yet, in order to understand the death of such a powerful cultural force, we must become detectives. We must investigate the remnants of the Fuller Brush Man. To that end, we must go to San Francisco, where resides, the very last Fuller Brush Man.

His name is Norman Hall. When men and women of a certain age see the 75-year-old man gallantly striding up and down the steep streets of San Francisco they are shocked and amazed. “No!” People often say to him. “I haven’t seen a Fuller Brush Man in years.”

“Would you like a demonstration?” The affable Hall responds.

“Oh no no no. Thank you. I’m in a hurry.” Comes the inevitable response.

Hall smiles and moves along to one of his few appointments that day. He will be giving a presentation at a small private law office.

The office is like many others he has visited. The lawyer, a middle-aged woman specializing in immigration, borders on the fence between patience and impatience. Hall winks, jokes, and flourishes through his demonstration. He attempts to go through the entire catalog and persuade the lawyer she is in need of a few items to spruce up her office.

There is magic still left in the old man. With a flick of his wrist, out bursts a plume of dark feathers. Ostrich feathers, that is. Great for cleaning those hard to reach crevices, he tells her.

A shake of the head—no sale.

Hall, undeterred from decades of rejection, continues. Next he shows her a sturdy white and green scrub brush.

Nope. No sale.

“Here’s a Microfiber cloth that’s works as an anti-fog cloth for windows.”Nope. No sale.

Hall is unflappable. His 1970s glasses and mostly white mustache crackle into a smile. He brings the young lady into his confidence. “Here is a simple straightforward spot-remover. Just spray it on your garments before tossing them into the laundry and like magic—spots disappear!”

Nope. No sale.

His next attempt is moth deodorant blocks. $7.49. “Kills moths, mold, mildew and odor.”

Nope. No sale.

“The lovers kit,” he winks. “Toilet brushes and bowl cleaners.” His timing is impeccable.

Nope. No sale.

“Stainless steel sponges.” He says next. Hall notices her eyes widen with the slightest bit of interest. “Great and unusual product here. Scrubber pads but with a twist: each has eight thousand inches of continuous stainless steel coiled forty thousand times.”


He moves on to several more products, and once the gates have been opened, he was able to march in several products. Final tally: $149.96.

In his kindly, professorial manner he smiles, hands the lady the order and says “I hope we’re still friends after you read this.”

He promises to deliver the products the very next day. Quite unusual in an era on the verge of Amazon drone delivery.

On his way out of the building, Hall meets the newest tenant, Beth. It’s clear by her manner, she very much would like to avoid him. He approaches anyway. He assures her in his sonorous voice he is not pushy, and he’s been working these offices for years. She finally agrees to let him come and demo for her. 

He stops by her office to give his little magic show. Beth listens patiently. Twenty-five minutes later Norman Hall, the Last Fuller Brush Man, returns to the streets of San Francisco, without a sale from Beth.

After a moment’s reflection however, he says, “I think there’s going to be a chance to get her next time.”

The fuller Brush Man and the Avon lady, along with their ilk are all but extinct today. Who needs to buy brushes from an over zealous man when they can choose from an infinite store of options online? Why allow a single man or woman to provide us with all the information regarding brushes, makeup and all other manner of capitalist creation, when the internet provides a treasure trove of information, including reviews by disinterested customers?

When Norman Hall hangs up his bow tie, no one will pick it back up. He says “These days, no one wants to do this kind of work.”

Yet we know how this story ends. Oedipus, young though he may be, becomes the new King of Thebes. His people live happily under his guidance until he is forced by the advent of a plague to discover the cause of his predecessor's mysterious disappearance. After all is said and done, the young Oedipus is still king (though he surely learns a valuable lesson about who he is). Long live the king and such. The Fuller brush man, though? What of his kingdom?

He indeed has been deposed. There is a new type of salesperson. This new “non-sales” seller does not go door-to-door. They do not have the flourish of Norman Hall. In fact, they often eliminate or reduce the human touch altogether. This new King of Sales moves his boss to accept proposals, convinces co-workers to back their project, and even persuades customers to work with his or her company. They are not given the title of salesperson. They are office workers convincing the players in an ever changing market to try out the company’s products. They never planned on selling anything, yet the role or persuading seems like a daily occurance. This new salesperson is even more ubiquitous than the Fuller Brush Man ever was. This new salesperson is YOU.



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