Fine and Dandy II
Bill Long 2/4/06
Fine and Dandy in the Sales Context
The 1920s saw a revolution in American sales and in the "scientific homemaking movement," which, as Professor Walter Friedman tells us, provided housewives with labor-saving devices (Birth of a Salesman, 201). Irons had been invented in the 1890s and sold well in the 1920s. Washing machines, vacuums and other household goods were pedaled door-to-door by an army of Hoover, Westinghouse and other salesmen. Among the most famous door-to-door salesmen of that era, however, were the Fuller Brush Men. The company, named after Alfred Fuller, not only sold a whole line of brushes to America's housewives, but also revolutionized the nature of salesmanship. The 4,200 Fuller Salesmen in the mid-1920s were supposed to perform fifteen thorough demonstrations of their products each day, because studies had showed that housewives were more likely to buy when they had full exposure to the range of tasks the Fuller brushes could perform.
Fuller Salesmen were give a script to master. Key to the script was the concept of "positive response" questions throughout the demonstration--in which the agent was instructed on how to turn every possible objection a housewife could raise into a virtue of the product. They also were required to instill some fear into the hearers--that using any other product might just recycle dirt and dust in an unhealthy way in the house.
The "Inner Life" of the Salesman
Though the title of this subsection may seem to contain a paradox, (i.e., did salesmen really have inner lives?) it is meant to suggest that salesmen not only had to master their "outer" life--their appeal to the customer, but to become motivated in their inner life to do their task. Arising just about this time was the first iteration of the "positive thinking" movement, popularized by Dale Carnegie's 1937 book on winning friends and influencing people and brought home to millions through a mild and inoffensive coating of theology by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale at the Marble Collegiate Church in NYC. The way this "positive thought" seeped into the context of selling in the Fuller Brush organization was through the Fine and Dandy club.
The legendary salesman for Fuller Brush in the 1920s was Mr. Albert Teetsel of Poughkeepsie, NY. Friedman tells of Teetsel's relentlessness, even trying to push Fuller Products to onlookers at Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. He began the Fine and Dandy club at Fuller, where participants in their meetings where instructed to answer every "How are you?" with "Fine and Dandy." I wonder sometimes if this is just sort of a low church adaptation of the Anglican call and response, "The Lord be With You," and then the response, "And Also With You"....
But Teetsel was unstoppable. The idea of the club spread, and Teetsel could say after a while:
"We have Fine and Dandy signs in hotels, restaurants, clubs, trolley cars, banks, Y.M.C.A's...and are using every possible means to advance and advertise this wonderful spirit."
As Friedman says, "There were Fine and Dandy armbands, caps, pins, badges, and five degrees of pins (plain, red stone, green stone, blue stone, diamond" (Birth of a Salesman, 207). Teetsel talked about the psychological effect of hearing these words.
"The psychological effect of the words 'Fine and Dandy' or 'I'm Fine and Dandy, How are You?' [note--I am glad they permitted variation] is to impress the party spoken to with the enthusiasm and cheerful outlook of the speaker" (Id.).
Friedman tells the story of Fuller Brush V-P (in 1925) Frank Beveridge who testified to the wonderful effect of this slogan on a moody salesman:
"We once had a branch manager who made it a rule never to talk to a man until he said he was fine and dandy. It seemed a man went out one day and his automobile broke down, he had difficulties with deliveries, and when he came into the office he wasn't feeling very good. He came in gruffly, spoke with the branch manager and the branch manager didn't reply. He got a little angry and still the branch manager didn't reply. Finally, after the branch manager had asked how he was, and the man had to reply, "Fine and Dandy," naturally he was in a better mood, and a good many of his problems vanished into thin air and it made it much easier to deal with that man and help him solve his problems" (Id. at 207-08).
When asked where he derived this phrase, Teetsel pointed to the Rev. Stanley LeFebre Krebs. Krebs (1864-1935) was married for years to actress Marjorie Main (nee Mary Tomlinson, 1890-1975), whose major claim to fame in her career was her role as Ma Kettle in a series of 10 Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Hm. It seems like the whole history of "fine and dandy" is sandwiched by the lives actors and actresses. But, even though "fine and dandy" has faded out of our collective use, its progeny is in Robert Schuller's "Possibility Thinking"
and in the tapes and seminars of Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins.
I would be cynical, but there is a grain of truth in all of this. Though we simply can't "fine and dandy" away our problems, there is something about dancing, yoga, working out, getting out of our ruts, trying new things, telling ourselves that life is OK, that actually may contribute to mental health. I don't think, however, that saying "fine and dandy" is the way to go in the 21st century. It had quite a journey, however, in the 20th.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long