Confession: I was a teenage Fuller Brush man.
Yes, as an Arlington high schooler in 1970, I spent afternoons in my parents’ Dodge Dart venturing to strange subdivisions in deepest McLean and Falls Church. There I would go door-to-door to hawk the then-classic hair and shaving brushes, mops, brooms and aerosol cleaning products pioneered by that Nova Scotia-originated company that was long a fixture on the American cultural landscape.
I still have the briefcase for the sample kit I used to stock the brochures and receipt book supplied me by route manager “Ned” in his warehouse in the Westgate Research Park.
I recall meeting one housewife, during these early days of the environmental movement, who asked me if a spray cleaner was biodegradable. I had never heard the word. But I assured her it was. And I sold her an order.
Today Fuller Brush is no longer a household name, in part because door-to-door sales have gone the way of the eight-track tape. It seems quaint to recall a time when Arlington subdivisions were regularly visited by enterprising salesmen offering scissor-sharpening, vacuum cleaners, fresh strawberries, Christmas cards or accordion lessons.
Another common endeavor was encyclopedias. I recall opening my front door during high school to entertain a pitch from a college-age kid selling, via a catalog, a youth version of the World Book — he dropped a schoolmate’s name as a sample “satisfied customer.”
My boyhood home in Cherrydale received visits from “the pony man,” who thrilled toddlers such as my brother by taking and selling photos of us kids decked out in cowboy gear in the saddle. Today, nostalgia buffs on the Facebook site “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.” often post these live-pony portraits from many neighborhoods.
In today’s ‘burbs, the door-to-door experience (now seen from my homeowners’ vantage point) has been vastly altered. There’s fear of crime, and modern marketing is done via social media, email and Web advertising. We do get flyers dropped off anonymously touting landscaping, maid service and handyperson businesses.
But the bulk of the home visits from strangers involve politics (and occasionally the Jehovah’s Witnesses). Hearty volunteers from Virginia environmental groups make return trips to our cul de sac, some even remembering our names. Candidates for office, if they’re truly hungry to win, continue the classic door-to-door canvassing. I can name several incumbents on the county and school boards, as well as Arlington constitutional officers, who began their journey toward name recognition by lifting our door knocker and others’.
Such interruptions of private citizens’ home lives require the doer to screw up some courage. As a Fuller Brush teen, I preferred not to operate in any neighborhood inhabited by friends or acquaintances (though, when it happened, some friends’ moms doubtless made purchases just to humor me).
The famous company founded in 1906, I’m happy to report, still exists at, you guessed it, FullerBrush.com. Its exclusively door-to-door approach was abandoned in 1985, and the last walking salesman was retired by 2013. Fuller survived under a series of owners (Sara Lee bought it in 1972, followed more recently by investors) and still offers 175 products.
Though I didn’t personally use them, I credit the Fuller sales experience with teaching me to approach strangers with confidence, to invoke the proverbial “smile and a shoeshine,” in all my adult endeavors.
Jumped-the-gun news published last week in ARLNow reported that the historic Febrey-Lothrop house on Wilson Blvd. “could be” soon sold.
The huge nine-acre Dominion Hills property long owned by homebuilder and horseman Randolph Rouse (who died in 2017) is coveted by homebuilders — and county, school and parks planners.
But accountant Sid Simmonds, who represents the trust deciding the property’s fate, told me it “is not listed for sale” and has not been advertised, and that Rouse’s widow continues living there. The “unsolicited expressions of interest from various parties,” Simmonds added, are a common practice after an owner has died.