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Oct10
Innovation Keeps a Salad Fresh

One thing we all can count on in the business environment today, is that very little is constant. Change occurs rapidly and markets move globally in seconds.   To compete and lead in industry, you must innovate. 

No CEO can count on keeping her job if she is satisfied with organic growth. Leaders must create markets and product need. They will forge new paths where none previously existed. 

Product innovation has almost become a way of life for us. Think about the innovations that you interact with daily. Perhaps you are listening to an IPod or reading this Blog on a Dell computer. Apple created a new way to store, listen and organize music and Dell created a new way of selling PCs.

Pretty cool stuff for sure. But when I think of innovation, I can’t help but mention one of my favorites, Earl Silas Tupper. You may have heard of him. You know he’s the guy that made plastic gas masks and other defense items in WWII. He doesn’t ring a bell? 

I will tell you more. Earl got after things. He wasn’t a spectator. He began selling his family's produce door-to-door at age 10. He started a tree surgery business (talk about innovation) that was forced to declare bankruptcy in the mid-thirties. Those were tough times for any business.

A couple of decades before Mr. McGuire offered up that classic line to Ben in the Graduate “one word – plastics,” Earl was all over it.  He spent a year at DuPont learning about plastics then figured he knew enough to strike out on his own.  That is when he started a plastics business and sold defense products for the war.  Earl somehow made the connection between polyethylene slag (that is plastic scrap) and food containers.  You may have guessed by now that Earl’s method for purifying black polyethylene slag into a tough, non-greasy plastic became Tupperware. And Tupperware  with its plastic dishes, bowls and cups that can be sealed with airtight, waterproof lids changed the way food was stored.

But really that is only about 35% of Earl’s cool story.  Earl’s Tupperware was so innovative, know one understood it and as Businessweek reported in 1954, "in retail stores it fell flat on its face."  The Tupperware lid required explanation and  demonstration.  So Earl innovated.  He amassed an army of housewives to function as a multilevel sales organization and got his product in the hands of the user.  By the mid-1950s Tupperware parties were all the rage, and a completely new form of sales was born.  Sales at home?  Ludicrous!  Sales by women?  Impossible?  The Tupperware sales model spawned innumerable companies and provided distribution for innumerable products.  And the product?  Pretty solid.  I think my Mom is storing a three-bean salad right now in a Tupperware bowl she bought at a party in 1961 (the Tupperware bowl not the salad).


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