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|Privately held subsidiary (since 2007)|
Avard E. Fuller
|Products||Branded and private label products for personal care as well as commercial and household cleaning|
|Parent||Sara Lee (1968–1989); Privately held (1989–1994); CPAC Inc. (1994–2012); Victory Park Capital and David Sabin (2012–)|
The Fuller Brush Company sells branded and private label products for personal care as well as commercial and household cleaning. It was founded in 1906 by Alfred Fuller. Consolidated Foods, now Sara Lee Corporation, acquired Fuller Brush in 1968. In 1991 the company was placed in private ownership but, in 1994, it became a subsidiary of CPAC Inc., which from 2007 – 2012 was owned by the private equity group Buckingham Capital Partners. Since December 2012, the Fuller Brush Company has been owned and operated by David Sabin and Victory Park Capital.
The company began with door-to-door sales of brushes of various sorts, including hairbrushes with a lifetime guarantee for which they are famous.
In 1931, the establishment of the first of what became known as the Green River Ordinance led Fuller Brush to challenge the ordinance's limits on door-to-door sales; the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where on March 1, 1937 it dismissed the appeal "for want of a substantial federal question."
In the mid 1930s, Fuller relocated from rented space on Union Place opposite Hartford's railroad station, to a purpose-built sprawling factory and office complex on North Main St at the Windsor town line.
World War II saw the company "cut its normal civilian output drastically to make brushes for the cleaning of guns"; Fuller's son Howard Fuller became president in 1943. After the war, Fuller added Daggett & Ramsdell, Inc.'s Débutante Cosmetics to its line of products it sold house-to-house, sold by a sales force of women, a strategy resurrected after a wartime attempt to have "Fullerettes" sell their core products. Fuller had evidence that women could succeed at sales since Stanley Beveridge, who had left his position as Fuller's sales vice president in 1929, had by 1949 employed women as "dealers" to grow sales at his own company, Stanley Home Products, to $35 million, exceeding Fuller's sales for the first time.
Fuller's oldest son Howard succeeded his father as president, serving until he and his wife Dora died in the high-speed crash of his Mercedes 300SL gullwing sports car near Lunning, Nevada in May 1959.
Having long outgrown the Hartford location, in 1960, the company moved to a new, purpose-built campus on Long Hill St. in East Hartford, Conn.
Consolidated Foods, now Sara Lee Corporation, acquired Fuller Brush in 1968; Avard Fuller retired a year later. Office operations moved initially to Niles, Ill., then relocated along with manufacturing and research to Great Bend, Kansas in 1973.
By 1985, all of the company's sales were still generated door-to-door. By the mid-1980s, in recognition of the decrease in the number of women at home during the day, Fuller Brush began introducing other sales channels beyond door-to-door, including a mail-order catalog that sent out 10 million catalogs a year, and several outlet stores selling "slow-selling items, returned merchandise or slightly flawed goods"; by mid-1989, 35% of that year's estimated $160 million in sales came from catalogs, with another 5% coming from its stores. Later that same year, a group of investors from Kansas headed by Lee Turner, a trial lawyer, took Fuller private; by 1991 the company now known as Fuller Industries and led by Stuart A. Ochiltree, had integrated its door-to-door and catalog business, with its 12,000 mostly part-time sales representatives receiving commissions for sales from either channel.
In June 1994, Fuller, once again known as Fuller Brush Company, was acquired by CPAC Inc., a Leicester, New York-based manufacturer of photographic chemicals; CPAC took on the "heavy debt burden" accumulated while the company was private and whose annual sales, increasingly focused on chemicals, had shrunk to $24 million.
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In December, 2012, Victory Park Capital and CEO, David Sabin, bought the iconic American company out of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The headquarters were moved from Great Bend, Kansas to Napa, California.
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The main factory for the Fuller Brush Company was located in East Hartford, Connecticut during the 1960s, where Fuller's son Avard ran the company. It had moved from Hartford on the other side of the Connecticut River some years earlier. The Research Division was there, led by Hank Whitman, along with the plastics molding operation.
The Industrial Division, under Verne Joy, was also at the East Hartford plant, where they made large motor-driven brushes for developing newspaper printing photo metal plates. All the mops were sewn at this plant. The perfuming operation was there also, including a large machine to detect what was in perfume made by other companies.
In front of the East Hartford plant was a large glass case with a stuffed large boar that represented the boar hair used in some of the original Fuller brushes.
Fuller had a "private label" division, Charter Products, that sold duplicate products under other brand names chosen by the distributor. Avard's interest in boating resulted in experiments at the plant with plastic molding of port lights (windows) for boats, including full plastic hardware.
The plastic bottle and toothbrush manufacturing operation was in Philmont, New York. According to Fuller's memoir, Fuller Brush distributed the Bristlecomb, a hairbrush introduced by the Mohawk Company in 1928. In 1942, Fuller Brush bought out the Mohawk Brush Company and subsequently all the hairbrushes and industrial floor brushes were manufactured at the Mohawk Plant in Albany, New York.
Headquarters were moved from Kansas to California shortly after being purchased by David Sabin and Victory Park Capital, while the manufacturing remains in Great Bend, KS.
Former employees include evangelist Billy Graham, who became a Fuller Brush salesman during the summer after high school, and outsold "every other salesman in North Carolina"; in his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am, Graham describes in some detail his experiences selling Fuller brushes door-to-door. Ellen Barkin was "born in the Bronx to a father who worked as a Fuller Brush man". Clifford Irving "was a Fuller Brush man in Syracuse."
Other former employees include Frank Gross, photographer Tom Leutwiler, Dennis Quaid, Dick Clark, J. Bruce Llewellyn (co-founder of 100 Black Men of America), Ed Mirvish, Jack Sensenbrenner, Kin Shriner, and Ed Stelmach. Jack Nicholson and Felicia Farr were also featured in a few pictures in "The Fuller Magazine." Broadcaster Lowell Green admitted during his April 24, 2014 program to selling Fuller Brushes in Montreal's Westmount area during his college days in the 1950s.