NEW YORK (CNNfn) - It was just the two of them: Cy Honts and a very angry Doberman. The dog charged and Honts reacted, stuffing a can of furniture polish right into the vicious canine's mouth.
"That was a close one," Honts says simply.
Honts, 77, of Bakersfield, Calif., has been a Fuller Brush man for 35 years. But, if the company that practically invented the door-to-door sales business has its way, he won't have to worry about dog attacks anymore because Fuller Brush Co. is expanding into cyberspace.
Fuller Brush, based in Great Bend, Kan., launched its Website on May 30, 1997 and received 1,800 page views per month for the first 10 months.
The number jumped 40 percent in the site's second 10 months to 2,600 page views. The Website showcases many of the company's 175 products and there are plans to expand the site to display more of Fuller's wares.
"We're focusing on the Internet site to get the word out that Fuller Brush is alive and well," said Larry Gray, vice president of consumer sales and marketing at Fuller Brush. "We see this as a new avenue of picking up awareness of who we are and what we represent."
Fuller is also using the Internet to help distributors recruit potential sales people. The new site, which is being tested, provides distributors with their own Web pages, where prospective sales people can complete a cyber-application.
"Instead of the distributor having to talk to someone on the telephone and send something through the mail," Gray said, "this can all happen virtually instantaneously."
Gray said the Web site will not take business away from the Fuller distributors.
"Most of our distributors deal with their customers one-on-one," he said. "The customers are not going to go to the Internet when they're getting good service from their distributor."
While some people may have thought the Fuller Brush Co. went the way of the Edsel and the eight-track, the folks at CPAC Inc. (CPAK), Fuller Brush's parent company, beg to differ--although they do understand the confusion.
"The demographics that make up our customer base is graying," said Karen McCulley, media marketing assistant at the Leicester, N.Y.-based CPAC. "If you say 'Fuller Brush' to a lot of people under 35, they say 'huh?' "
CPAC, which acquired Fuller Brush in 1994, sells specialty chemicals for imaging, cleaning and personal care. The company's Fuller Brands segment includes Stanley Home Products and Cleaning Technologies group and accounts for 65 percent of CPAC's business.
"When people find out we're still around, they're thrilled," McCulley said.
Tales of Fuller
The Fuller Brush Co. came into being in 1906, when Nova Scotia native Alfred C. Fuller started the operation in the basement of his sister's Boston home. Initial investment: $375.
"Mr. Fuller was a lovely guy," Cy Honts said. "He'd come to visit us and we'd stand up at attention when he came in the door. We just loved that old man."
During World War II, Fuller Brush handled millions of dollars of subcontracts and introduced a new female sales force in 1948 known as the Fullerettes.
The Fuller name was so linked to the image of the door-to-door salesman that Playwright Arthur Miller asked Howard Fuller, Alfred's son, to review "Death of a Salesman" for Fortune magazine.
And, before they became famous, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Graham, Dennis Quaid and Dick Clark were all Fuller Brush distributors.
Sara Lee Corp. bought Fuller in 1968, moved the manufacturing operations from Hartford, Conn. to Great Bend, and sold the company to Fuller Industries Inc., a Kansas investment group, in 1989-90.
Bess Metcalf, a Fuller distributor in Miami who has been with the company for 25 years, said door-to-door selling lost ground as more people went to work and big city crime made residents more reluctant to open their doors to strangers. But there are exceptions
"You can sell door-to-door with existing customers and small businesses," Metcalf said. "That's very lucrative. That's where the homemakers are now-at work."
Now, with the new Website set to launch, Metcalf is ready.
"I'm fully confident this is going to be an excellent tool we can use," she said. "A few individual distributors had their own sites. Some of them were pretty dreadful and some of them disappeared. But there are a couple of really good ones."
Fuller Brush has evolved into a family operation for Cy Honts, as his wife, Hazel, and three of the couple's four children have joined him in the business.
"You'd be amazed how many people know Fuller Brush," Honts said. "They've never been hard to sell. I'd get a crab once in a while, but you get that with anything."
Gloria Afanador, one of Honts' children, is working with her parents and is looking forward to Fuller's expanded Internet service.
"I've taken over some of the reins of the business and expanded it," she said. "We're going to get the whole organization on the Internet."
Oh, say can you CPAC?
Now that CPAC has Fuller, what's the plan? The company says it is looking to make more acquisitions, but others have their doubts.
"It doesn't get the attention of the investment community," said Roger Favale, president of Infonalysis Inc. "It's a very interesting little company, but unfortunately, from an investment standpoint, it hasn't done anything in the last 3-4 years. No banker will do much them. There's not much to do."
CPAC saw its stock drop after the company issued a warning about third quarter earnings on Jan. 25. The downturn prompted CPAC to accelerate release of its third quarter earnings, which were down to $28.4 million from $29.1 million in the year ago period.
"I invested in it years ago," Favale said, "and it went absolutely no place. Probably, on a long term basis, the whole operation would be better off being absorbed into a larger corporation."
Kate Kreger, CPAC's director of communications, said the company is taking steps to improve the portfolio.
"We're focusing on national accounts," she said. "We're pursuing e-commerce opportunities, along with acquisitions. We've got a couple of alliances or joint ventures coming to reality."
-- by staff writer Rob Lenihan