Making the door opener your product

This is one of my favorite stories about how a smart and creative salesman along with his wife created a very successful product that began as a door opener . . .

A 1917 San Francisco door-to-door salesman, Edwin W. Cox sold the new highly touted aluminum cookware. However, because it was difficult to get into the kitchens to demonstrate his products, he found sales were mediocre. He needed a gimmick, a free introductory gift, allowing him to display his line.

Experimenting with small, square steel-wool pads hand-dipped into a soap solution, Cox discovered that the yet-named pads opened doors and boosted sales. Within a few months, demands for the pads out-grew Cox’s ability to dip and dry them in his kitchen. He stopped selling pots and pans and went into the business of manufacturing soap pads. Turning to his wife for a name, Mrs. Cox responded with “S.O.S Pads,” meaning “Save our Saucepans.” The product had a name that stuck.

You may not notice that the product name “S.O.S Pads” leaves out the period after the final “S.”  A mistake?  Nope. Cox wouldn’t be able register the name if it included the final period as that was already in the public domain.  His “S.O.S” could be officially registered, however.

Violet McNeal, Early “Pitchwoman”

This early 20th century “relatively rare pitchman” recalled in her 1947 autobiography, Four White Horses and a Brass Band, that she mixed her medications herself in a disinfected bathtub before bottling and labeling the goods. “Vital Sparks,” her medicinal boost to male virility, were pieces of rock candy rolled in powdered aloes. “Tiger Fat,” a salve with supposedly exotic ingredients, was composed of items purchased wholesale from a mainstream druggist and suspended in a Vaseline base.

DeVos family and Amway

As Betsy DeVos was recently appointed education secretary, it might be interesting to know something about her outstanding salesman father-in-law.

Van Andel with Richard DeVos founded the $6 billion global direct sales giant Amway, relying on a vast sales force to sell products and recruit others to do the same.

Creating Amway in 1959, Van Andel started with the sale of vitamins, then soap and other home care products. Amway expanded rapidly with the development of a network of distributors who were encouraged to sell and consume the company’s products and to promote the virtue of direct sales to others.  The Amway sales method has been continuously supported via sell-help books and motivational tape recordings, binding together Amway’s 3-million international troop of salespeople.

Retiring as chairman of Amway in 1995, Van Andel devoted much of his later years to philanthropic causes, including the Van Andel Institute which financed research for a range of human health topics. He also contributed millions to urban renewal projects in Grand Rapids, MI (his hometown) and was trustee of the Heritage Foundation and Hudson Institute.

Throughout his life, Van Andel was critical of the interfering tendencies of big government.  Though the Federal Trade Commission spent six years investigating whether the company’s practices were an illegal pyramid scheme, charges were eventually dropped. Van Andel passed away in 2004.

Richard DeVos, Betsy’s father, listed by the 2007 Forbes magazine as one of the richest men in the world with a fortune of $3.5 billion, is a heart transplant recipient and owner of pro basketball’s Orlando Magic. Devon was inspired by his successful 1997 transplant experience to write Hope From My Heart: Ten Lessons for Life. Betsy is married to Richard’s son Dick DeVos, former CEO of Amway.

Who is this “Watson?”

You may have been wondering what IBM’s advertising reference to a “Watson” is all about. Many might conclude that the “Watson” is related to Sherlock Holmes’s Watson.  Not so. This is the real story behind Thomas J. Watson, 1874-1956.

An early sales manager for John Patterson’s National Cash Register Company, (known as NCR), Watson became president of the small Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in 1914, later to become the better known IBM in 1934.

Watson introduced the novel idea of bringing salesmen in on meetings with his engineers so that the engineers could explain technical issues with the salesmen. On the other hand, the engineers could hear about customer issues and problem from the salesmen. It was this kind of training and preparation that made the IBM salesmen the best-informed in the business.

Watson, who was fond of aphorisms, contributed the one word “THINK,” a word that would soon become IBM’s credo. Watson demanded his salesmen “think their way to success.

Thomas Watson’s son, Thomas Watson, Jr., took over the presidency of IBM in 1951, aggressively moving the company into electronics and computers. IBM became a billion-dollar company in 1957, moving it far ahead of its business-machine competitors.

Sarah Breedlove Walker (1867-1919)

Some great “salesmen” were women.  One of them being Sarah Breedlove Walker.

Walker was one of the first American Women of any race or rank to become a millionaire through her own efforts, sharing that title with her early St. Louis teacher and “boss,” Annie Turbo Malone.

Madame C.J. Walker, as she would eventually become known, offered a nearly mythic appeal to African American women through her cosmetic business, elevating sophisticated glamour to a new level. In the process her company’s 20,000 agents would generate annual sales of a quarter of a million dollars.

Hilary Clinton Ziglar “Zig”

This salesman, motivational speaker, author, and born-again Christian began work as a door-to-door salesman for the Wearever Aluminum Company. Early on he struggled, however, as he freely admits: “It was really a question of survival. When our first baby was born, I had to literally go out and sell two sets of cookware in order to get her out of the hospital.

His turn-around occurred when a Wearever sales executive took him aside and told Ziglar that if he recognized his ability, he could become a “a great one.” Apparently that was the kind of encouragement Ziglar needed since he soon became the second highest achiever of some 7,000 salesmen.

Since 1970 Ziglar has traveled over five million miles, delivering his life improvement messages.  Headquartered in Dallas, TX, Ziglar Training Systems offers public seminars, customized education programs, workshops and keynote speakers.

Ziglar has written twenty-three books on personal growth, leadership, sales, faith, family and success including his very popular 1984 book, SEE YOU AT THE TOP, which was republished as a 25th anniversary revised edition.

More about Ben Feldman

I had a personal contact with Ben Feldman when I worked for the Million Dollar Round Table as its public relations director.  We produced a documentary about Ben, called “The Man from East Liverpool.”  During the filming, the producer, director, and cameraman were so impressed by Ben that they ended up buying insurance from him.  Ben was especially notable for his introduction of a product called “Key man insurance.” It was successfully promoted to CEOs and other top level officers in companies.  -Ron

Most Productive Salesman — Ben Feldman

I conclude my book THE SOULFUL SALESMAN by identifying Salesmanship’s Super Sixteen — Who’s the Greatest?  Admittedly, the most common criterion is that of production. How much of a particular product or service did the salesman sell?  That’s an important measure for the life insurance industry’s Million Dollar Round Table, as a high level of production is required for membership in the association. One MDRT member, in particular, comes to mind who fits the very highest “production-level” standard — Ben Feldman. In fact, the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS judged Feldman as “the most outstanding salesman in history.” Among his accomplishments was a lifetime sales volume of more than $1 billion!