Home-based businesses are nothing new. In fact, one of the most-recognized home-based businesses was born in Detroit — the Tupperware® party. The plastic container with the patented, revolutionary, air-tight seal, with that infamous burp, was invented by Earl Silas Tupper in 1938. Originally sold in retail stores, the products did not do well, because they required a demonstration to show consumers how to use them. But it was the ingenuity of a single mom from Detroit who helped launch Tupperware into the household name that it has become today.
That Detroit woman was "Brownie Wise", a divorced single mother who was selling Tupperware® door to door to pay her son's medical bills and supplement her secretarial salary. She had logged considerable sales figures, and an intrigued Earl Tupper sought to discover her secret. Wise had shrewdly recognized the enormous home demonstration potential of Tupperware, and the undeniable success of her direct sales approach convinced Tupper to withdraw his kitchenware from retail outlets in 1951 and distribute the product exclusively in the form of the Tupperware party. In particular, the burgeoning suburbs of the 1950s were targeted as a "picnic ground for direct selling" (p. 100). He hired Wise as vice president of his newly incorporated Tupperware Home Parties (THP), and the two proceeded to divide the company labor: Tupper focused on design, while Wise dealt with promotion and public relations.” (From: Alison J. Clarke. Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.)
According to Tupperware’s Five Decades of Change, "the Tupperware Home Demonstration … was a welcome diversion for women, whose involvement in the community mostly revolved around their family." This "welcome diversion" has, in a half-century become the foundation and model for many other direct-sales models (think Avon, Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple and Arbonne), and parlayed itself into just one home-based business option. In a post-war, pre-feminist America, Wise created a system that was not only empowering to women by offering a different employment option, it also turned out to be good for big business. Without Wise, Tupper’s company clearly would not have had the success that it has seen, and that still exists today.
So what can companies learn from Tupperware® and the Wise-Silas story, especially in an economy marked by much uncertainty, speculations of a recession, downsizing and layoffs in both skilled-trade and corporate employees and the threat of a Lincoln becoming nothing more than a coupon for a gallon of gas? Collaborating and working with work-at-home professionals /home-based businesses can indeed be beneficial alliances. And while its opponents cite drawbacks such as isolation, lack of interaction and company bonding with co-workers, and the inability to “disengage,” for telecommuting employees, telecommuting and flex-time arrangements can have benefits such as increased productivity and employees who are not distracted by the family issues that can come up—such as a string of snow-days that we in Metro Detroit, are all too familiar with. "Workforces that are allowed to telecommute are proven to be more productive, loyal, cost-effective, and happier," says Brandon Dempsey, vice president of SuiteCommute, a telecommuting agency in St. Louis in a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. And in today’s economy, the qualities of cost-effectiveness and increased productivity are essential to corporate survival.