KAI RYSSDAL: IBM’s doing it. Caterpillar’s doing it. Today, Tupperware did it — announced a $150 million stock buyback program. It’s the kind of thing a company does when it’s feeling pretty good about itself. Which Tupperware is.
Sixty-one years ago this month it started selling plastic storage containers. Those famous parties gave women opportunities they’d never have dreamed of in patriarchal, post-war America.
But the Tupperworld is changing. For one thing, more men are selling the product now. And not just in somebody’s living room. Marketplace’s Sean Cole has more.
SEAN COLE: Not only are more men are selling Tupperware these days. Last year, at least three of the top 10 sellers in the country were men. Including this guy:
JOE HAGEN: The main reason that I even said I would sell was actually for the discount.
His name’s Joe Hagen. And he’s always been thrifty. So when he found out — at a Tupperware party — that sellers get 35 percent off all their cake-takers and modular-mates, he was hooked. And then Tupperware came out with a cookware line.
JOE: And being in the restaurant business for 10 years, I was like, “I have to have that cookware.” You know? And so all of a sudden I’m like, “OK, well, I gotta start having parties and I gotta have friends over and try it out.”
He was kind of a natural — enticing people with door prizes, showing them a good time. And, in a way, none of this is really that surprising. It’s 2007. Men cook, women run for president. And yet, Tupperware as a company didn’t seem to know that. Joe says a lot of the documentation he got as a seller referred to him as . . .
JOE: . . . She . . . her. Even when I filled out the first agreement it said “her.” You know? So I crossed all this out in my agreement and put “his” and so forth.
But Tupperware’s catching on. At its annual jubilees, it’s made a few adjustments for men who win sales prizes.
RICK GOINGS: We did recognition on stage. In the past it was usually necklaces and crowns, and we said “Wait a minute!”
This is Rick Goings, the CEO of Tupperware.
GOINGS: They still like crowns by the way but they want a king’s crown. No tiara!
Goings told me less than 1 percent of Tupperware’s global sales force — global . . . they’re in 100 countries now — are men. But the fact that he even mentioned a whole number is a big change from the 50s. And he says the nature of the job has changed too.
GOINGS: Now we’ve reengineered the opportunity so that you can not only hold parties but you can, in fact, build your own sales organization. So that’s attracted lot of men to the business as well.
Not only that but every seller has her — or his — own website now. And about a year ago not very many sellers were taking advantge of the Internet yet.
JOE: A lot of women didn’t see that as a revenue for sales.
But Joe Hagen did.
JOE: I thought, “You know, I could start doing advertising and getting people to go to my site. Well, I had no idea of the impact.
He put a sidebar ad up on Google and started pulling down $20,000 and $25,000 a month.
JOE: A month.
He’d go to Tupperware events and everyone would be buzzing about him.
JOE: Like, “How is he doing that? He’s a guy. How can he do that?”
And then more people started doing it. And more. And then another guy started trying to push his fellow Tupperware sellers out of the market. Joe says the guy basically stole their Internet customers and fraudulently drove up their advertising costs.
JOE: And I spoke to one woman . . . She ended up paying $11,000 in one week from abuse that other consultants were doing to her. You know it became very much a war ground.
Tupperware ended up changing the rules for online advertising, which ended the war. Nonetheless, the unethical guy was the number one seller last year. And Joe was number two. Men have arrived in Tupperland. Even the rapper Ice T, one of the toughest guys in the world, held a Tupperware party for charity a while back. And then he went on late-night TV and talked about how much he loved it. Rick Goings was watching.
GOINGS: And then he kept sayin'”And Tupperware is OG.” And I turned to my wife and I said, “Honey, what in the world is ‘OG.’ And then I find out it’s ‘O Gangster.’
COLE: No, it’s original gangster.
GOINGS: Original gangster. ‘Scuse me, how did you know that?
Well, under the circumstances, I think a better question is, How did you not know that?
In Boston, I ain’t no superhero. I ain’t no Marvel comic. But when it comes to game, I’m atomic and droppin’ straight point blank . . . [Ice T song] Original gangster.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.