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Sat, Dec. 07

Williams: Who was Alfred Carl?

If you look up what happened on Jan. 13, 1885, you’ll see two entries: the death of Schuyler Colfax, an American politician who was born in 1823, and the birth of Alfred Carl.

Schuyler Colfax served as the 25th speaker of the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1869 and as vice president under Ulysses S. Grant from 1869 and 1873.

That’s all I’m going to say about this gentleman. This column isn’t about him, anyway.

I want to focus on Alfred Carl.

He was born in Welsford, Kings County, Nova Scotia, the 11th of 12th children, and immigrated in 1903 to Boston at the age of 18 to live with his sister.

His first two years in the US were unsuccessful: Alfred lost his train conductor job, his handy man job, and his wagon-driver job.

He then joined the Somerville Brush and Mop Company, where he began to soak up his first real education – in sales and business.

With a total investment of $375, he started his own company three years later in 1906.

He set up a workshop in his sister’s basement, spending $80 on equipment and materials. On a bench between the furnace and the coal bin, he fashioned his products at night and sold them during the day.

When his business reached the staggering volume of $50 a week in sales, Al moved his company to Hartford, Connecticut, paid $11 a month rent for a shed and hired a shop assistant.

By 1910, Alfred’s company employed 25 sales people and six production workers and had annual sales of $30,000. His sales force fanned out through New England, New York and Pennsylvania.

In an effort to expand his business, he placed a small ad in a magazine and in a few months, had over 100 salesmen selling his products across the country. He incorporated in 1913 and by 1918 was selling $500,000 in products each year.

Despite the fact that he had no high school education or formal business experience, his new company was growing. By 1919, he enjoyed sales of more than $1 million a year.

His success was due to a belief that his products should be constructed properly and made to last. He did not believe in planned obsolescence.

Because his products were vastly superior to those of his competitors, he realized that he and his sales staff needed to educate the customer on how to use them.

As a result, he required that his sales personnel be very familiar with each and every product and be able to instruct the customer on the best uses of each.

By 1923, Alfred’s sales reached $15 million and his company was becoming part of the American culture. His company was mentioned in comic strips for Dagwood and Blondie, Mutt and Jeff, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Even the Disney film, The Three Little Pigs, referenced Alfred’s company

By 1947 America was buying $30 million in Alfred’s products each year. In 1968, he sold his company to Consolidated Foods.

Did I mention that Alfred’s last name was Fuller? Alfred may well have knocked on your mother’s and grandmother’s door as the original door-to-door Fuller Brush Man!

In the first 50 years of business, nine out of ten homes in this country purchased over $800 million worth of products from Alfred. You may even have met him on your front door step, yourself!

Alfred Carl Fuller taught us all that if you make a good product and provide customer service, customers will buy it. Even door-to-door!

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