Sales lessons from a Fuller Brush salesman

I was once a lender, both commercial and retail, and I thought I was pretty good.  But I worked for a bank, and most bankers would agree that the very best lenders are the ones who work for finance companies, because rates are higher and they tend to attract less creditworthy borrowers, which means their decisions have to be very sound. 

In my day they also had to collect their own bad loans, so they learned a lot about their customers and sharpened their skills over time. These guys were very good.

But here we’re talking about sales, and just as I respect great lenders, I also respect the best salespeople.  That’s why I wrote about Cutco knives a while back and how great salespeople have great routines and practices.  Today I’ll tell you about a friend of mine who got very good at selling for Fuller Brush.  Here’s his story:

 “I was a Fuller Brush salesman in the early 70’s, selling door to door. We were not high-pressure salespeople, although we did pressure potential customers to take free samples.

 I was given a route which I covered every month. The minimum wage back then was $1.25 an hour and I think I made about $4 an hour. We were constantly reminded that it’s better to have one customer who buys something from you ten times, than ten customers who buy from you once.

I used to buy a bag of 100 free samples for about $5.00. Many of them were one-time use samples of products we sold. Others were bottle and vegetable brushes and other items made just for free samples. Some of the free samples were very popular and others no one would ever take. 

My first goal was to get the person who answered the door to take the free sample. If they did, then they felt they at least owed you a little time.  I would knock on the door, and when a lady answered and she looked to be under 40, I asked, ‘Is your mother home?’ If she indicated she was the lady of the house I would hold the free gift bag out and say, ‘Here is a free gift from Fuller Brush.’ 

Sometimes they would say they loved Fuller Brush, sometimes they were reluctant; sometimes they said they wouldn’t buy anything. If they said they wouldn’t buy, I would say, ‘That’s fine. You don’t have to buy anything, but please take a free gift.’ If I could convince them to take a gift, I would say thank you and walk away.

The hope was that when I came by the following month they would be a little more open. For those who took the gift more willingly, I would hand them a sales catalog, offer to demonstrate anything on sale and take it from there.

I used to walk away from houses that had ‘No Solicitors’ signs. Once when I saw that sign, I turned to leave and a lady came out and asked me who I was.  I told her and she said, ‘That sign doesn’t apply to Fuller Brush,’ and that ended up being one of my biggest sales.  After that I ignored those signs. One day a man answered the door and read me the riot act. He said, ‘Can’t you read? What does the sign say?’  I looked down at the mat under my feet and said, ‘It says Welcome.’

So what did you learn from this? Give your salespeople as many opportunities to practice. It’s amazing how quickly they’ll brush up.

 Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

2 Responses to Sales lessons from a Fuller Brush salesman

  1. I am a Fuller Brush salesperson. I would love to get better.

    • David Hamilton says:


      I don’t want to hijack this thread, but i am the former Fuller brush salesman that Gregory commented on. If you would care to share what that job is like 40 years later I would be interested.
      Thanks, Dave

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