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The Fuller Brush Man Goes Bankrupt

In February 2012, the Fuller Brush Company, filed chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Many from the baby boom and generation X remember the Fuller Brush Man, who went door to door selling his wears to keep homes clean.  For those of you unaware, the company also owns Franklin Commercial Cleaning Products and the Masury Columbia Floor Care brands which the company acquired sometime ago.

One can only speculate on what may have caused a once successful company to become unsuccessful, but here are some thoughts and opinions.

  • Failure to keep up with the times.  The information age has drastically changed how users connect with companies, whether you have a direct sales model or through a distribution network.  Failure to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape can catch some companies off guard.
  • Too little too late:  The bankruptcy filing comes on the heels of a much ballyhooed company makeover, new product introductions and new website for Fuller Brush Company.
  • You can’t be all things to all people:  Too many lines and product redundancy:  Fuller retail, Fuller Commercial, Franklin, Masury Columbia, all similar products with confused branding.
  • Too many distribution channels:  Direct sales, internet sales, retail sales and distributor sales.  Distributor sales were further conflicted by the Franklin line re-distributed through LaGasse.
  • The wrong distribution channels:  Retail sales are notoriously low margin, so you have to have a strong brand and tremendous volume.  Selling through re-distribution means another profit center in the mix, requiring lower margins to remain competitive to the end user.

We think there are some key lessons for distributors, as well as manufacturers:

  • Choose your partners wisely:  There are too many manufacturers of cleaning chemicals, equipment and tools talking out of both sides of their mouth about commitment to janitorial and sanitary supply distributors while pursing direct sales or trying to control the business at the end user level to the detriment of the dealer.
  • Avoid the race to zero:  Widespread availability of commercial cleaning products through any source might sound like a good way to give the consumer the best value through robust competition.  However, commoditization of cleaning products forgets the important role the distributor plays in the cleaning process.
  • Offer real value:  The distributor and the distributor sales professional can address the real issue in the cost matrix, LABOR.  Delivering knowledge and resources to clean facilities better, faster and safer is what adds value.  Knowledge helps create trust, lends credibility and fosters loyalty.

We write this blog entry as an opportunity to re-emphasize Multi-Clean’s own 4-STEP value proposition.  That is, delivering Support-Training-Education-Products to authorized distributors to help their customers make the cleaning of facilities better, faster, and safer.

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