Saturday, September 30, 2006

Travelling with Tupperware

Tupperware is making me an explorer in my own city. Two parties this week, both in areas of London that are new to me. I had never even heard of Kent House station: it's not that far from me, but I have to take two commuter trains to get there. The trains are packed and my kitbag is in everyone's way. I just have to brazen it out. The roads and pavements around the station are all gravelled, very odd.

At Claire's house, I throw my cloth over her kitchen table and two-year-old Edward promptly spits up a wad of half-chewed peanuts on it. Bless wet wipes. But after this inauspicious start, it is a nice party with friendly people and excellent snacks, especially Tony's bean, spinach and mango wraps, slice on a diagonal. I miss my last train connection and have to take the 468 bus from Herne Hill. This is the bus on which someone was murdered last week. Sleepy and punchy, I start imagining it was me. People are rifling through my kitbag trying to establish my identity: "I don't know who he was, but this silicone spatula is fantastic."

Next day Viv convenes some friends and neighbours in a community centre behind Stockwell tube station. She has a lot of no-shows, but Viv and her 3 guests have fun as we use the centre's kitchen to knock up a quiche without pastry and some peach smoothies. One guest is really keen to book me for a fundraiser at her local Catholic old peoples' home, but she needs to check first that Mother Superior wants to be hostess. I hope so, because the new Accessories Organiser will be fabulous to stop her rosaries getting tangled.

Two parties in two days, plus it's the busiest time of year in my day job and I am doing it full-time at the moment. I am knackered, it's raining, and even though I run with the kitbag when the bus passes me, I just miss it. With 20 minutes to go before the next one, I slip into the little Portugese bar by the bus stop -- I am in the heart of London's Little Lisbon -- and order an ice-cold Sagres beer. It is my first pause for a rest all week, and the beer tastes sensational.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A man alone

My customers think it is interesting and fun that their Tupperware Lady is a man. My fellow consultants also love it that I am on board, and everyone was very sweet and encouraging to me at the Tupperware Jubilee a few weeks ago. But I am starting to think that my gender is a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new consultants.

Once a week or so, Head Office will forward to me an enquiry from someone in my area who is interested in working for Tupperware, always a woman, and I give them a ring. It nearly always goes to voice mail, so I leave a bright and breezy message introducing myself and leaving my number. Not one single person has ever rung me back in six months. I thought it was men who are supposed to never ring you back?

Now I know that people are busy, especially if you are running a home and family and maybe doing a "real" job too. I also know from other consultants that recruiting new people is tough for everyone. But these are not cold calls, they are people who have specifically contacted Tupperware and asked for information on becoming a consultant.

So here is my theory. They do not expect a man to ring them, so when one does, it puts them off. For the most part, Tupperware is proudly a community of women, and it is a very attractive and supportive environment for women to work in, especially if you have not been part of the male-oriented working world for a while, or ever. I think that when the prospective consultant hears my message, they think (or perhaps it's subconscious) "Hang on, yet another male manager, even at Tupperware. Forget it."

I sympathise, because part of the reason this is such an interesting venture for me is negotiating and fitting in to the congenial and overwhelming female world of Tupperware. I find there are some advantages to being a male consultant, but I think this may be the key disadvantage. If my fears are true, and potential recruits are put off the moment they hear my voice, I will not be getting very far in Tupperware.

Londoners are a tough crowd in general, never mind in recruiting. No parties this week again, and even the offer of coffee, muffins, new catalogues and free gifts has not tempted any of my previous customers and hosts to come to my Open House afternoon today. I sit here alone with, as my photo above shows, a pot of coffee, a tray of Parmesan muffins and the Coronation Street omnibus on ITV2.

So it's been a slightly downbeat week for your Tupperware man. But next week I have two big parties and the Homo Homemakers autumn fayre, which will be opened by Sir Ian McKellen. The following weekend, I have a stall at an Autumn Fayre at the Notre Dame Catholic Girls High School down the road. You can't say I am not creating a diverse customer base!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Time out... and Time Out

No parties this week. I can take a bit of time to gather my thoughts and familiarise myself with the new products for Autumn/Winter.

When I started as a Tupperware consultant back in May, I decided I would give it until September. If it wasn't working out by then, I would jack it in. Well, I have decided to continue. Right now I am the sixth best selling consultant in the UK and Ireland, and I already have some ideas for expanding my business during the autumn and winter. I still haven't managed to find anyone to work with me as a little London team, but I am hopeful.

Later this month Time Out London magazine will be running an article in their Gay section about the "Homo Homemakers" church fayre at St Johns, Waterloo, where I will have a stall. The organisers are very excited that Tupperware is on board. A journalist contacts me and asks for a few words about my involvement, and I pontificate about lesbians and gay men celebrating their inner hausrau.

I get a party request from Viv during the week. She is just back from Belgium where she fell for Tupperware's UltraPlus range and wants some for herself. This is the priciest range in the catalogue, unique plastic ovenware which can go in the freezer and microwave as well as the conventional oven. It comes in black, and looks very stylish. It is cheaper than Le Creuset, but lasts just as long and is more versatile. And because it is plastic, you don't sprain a wrist trying to get it out of the bottom cupboard. I thought Tupperware for the oven was a relatively new idea, but I have stumbled on an ultra-corny 1985 US television ad on YouTube for UltraPlus's predecessor Ultra 21, which came in a rather naff cream colour. But didn't everything in 1985?

Update 9 November 2006: Since I wrote this blog entry, YouTube has removed the Ultra 21 ad for violating its rules, so I have removed the link. Shame, because it was a fun piece of Tupper-history

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Catford Wives

A very long day. Fellow consultant Collette arrives at my place at 8:00 a.m. After rooibos tea and scrambled eggs, we head off to Luton by train. The Holiday Inn near Luton Airport is the venue for the first Jubilee meeting of Tupperware UK and Ireland since the relaunch a year or so ago. The Jubilee recognises the top consultants, introduces new products and the new catalogue, and generally gets us all fired up with the love of Tupperware.

I am the only male consultant. Marc from Blackpool is on holiday this week, so he can't make it. I do think I approach the work a bit differently to other consultants, both procedurally and philosphically. Maybe that has something to do with being a man. But probably it has more to do with other factors: as a gay man living in the centre of a very diverse city, my parties have a much broader range of social, ethnic and income demographics than many other consultants'. My parties are often run for groups of colleagues in their work place, or for friends who live wildly scattered, so I have to be prepared for anything and anyone. At one party, one of the guests turned out to be someone I had met on a dating website. He said nothing, and neither did I.

Summer has felt a bit slow Tupper-wise, so I am surprised but thrilled to be named number 6 consultant for summer sales in the UK and Ireland. I am rewarded with a new and improved Quick Chef, Tupperware's hand-operated food processor, to add to my demonstration kit.

Another new item in the Autumn/Winter catalogue is the Multi-Server, a Tupperware classic which has been off-menu for a while. Customers have been begging for it, but as a new kid on the block, I didn't even know what it was. When the Managing Director whips out a Multi-Server onstage and announces its return, my fellow consultants start whooping and screaming. So what is this thing? Well, it is a rice cooker, a fish poacher, a defroster, a cool box, you name it. I am told it cooks pasta without continuously boiling water, but my jury is still out on that one, and I am going to try it for myself this weekend.

Consultants are showered with gifts, prizes and a chance to buy all the new items for our demo kit. On the train home I am absolutely laden (see photo above): a BreadSmart bread bin with separate bread boad, Tupperware branded umbella, carrier bag of smaller items, my own backpack and my prize Quick Chef which is all dragged up in florist's wrap and a bow.

Back home, I have barely half an hour before I am boarding the 171 bus to Catford to run a party for Maria. I had already packed my big black kit bag last night, thank goodness. Sadly, my handy trolley-bag on wheels is history already: it has taken a lot of punishment these last few months as I hauled it through puddles, across cobbles and on and off buses and trains. It now has a dodgy wheel, the zips are broken, and a bag of flour leaked on the way home a few weeks ago. As it happens, a new trolley bag is the latest incentive Tupperware is offering for recruiting a new consultant, so I will see what I can do.

Maria is an ex-Tupperware consultant, and she intends to stay that way (I tried). Six of her friends barrel in, and the next few hours are a blur of scandal aired, bowls burped, ciggies smoked, consultant teased, salsa prepared, teenage daughters compared and contrasted, and a lot of Chardonnay poured. And it's a good party for Maria, she comes out with £100 worth of Tupperware for less than £50.

I am home just before midnight and go straight to bed. As I drift off, I hatch a plan to host a weekend Open House at my home in the next few weeks for everyone on my mailing list. I can show off the new products, bake a few muffins in the Silicone Muffin Form which is a special offer for September, and give away some of the bits and bobs I have picked up at the Jubilee (an orange peeler, an thing for lifting boiled eggs out of the pan, etc.). If you are on my mailing list, stand by for an invitation. If you are not on the list, feel free to join.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Who's the happiest housewife in the kitchen?"

When I am not dithering in front of the wardrobe trying to choose an outfit for Wednesday's national Tupperware Jubilee, I am marching around my house to The Tupperware Brigade. This is the song that was recorded especially by the King Brothers for the 1967 UK Tupperware distributors' conference, and which I bought on eBay recently.

The photo above shows the Kings at the start of their career in the 1950s. From my research, the Tupperware promo record seems to be one of their last recordings. The cod military march style has a bit of a Colonel Bogey vibe, and the singing style has a touch of Herman's Hermits. Composer and youngest King brother Denis has gone on to have a long career writing TV theme tunes, including the classic "Galloping Home", the theme to the 1970s series The Adbventures of Black Beauty. The lyrics are by humourist John Junkin, who died earlier this year. I have had a very nice email from Denis King today, after I emailed him via his agent on Saturday (bless Google), and he gives me permission to include the song on my blog.

Listen to The Tupperware Brigade.

The Tupperware Brigade
Music by Denis King, Lyrics by John Junkin

Who's the happiest housewife in the kitchen?
The one with Tupperware on the shelf
I tell you any housewife finds that it's bewitchin'
It's light, it's bright, the price is right
And you can make some cash yourself
We're giving a party soon and you can come for free
So come along and see, we're sure that you'll agree

Tupperware, Tupperware
Is the finest kitchenware that ever was made
Tupperware, Tupperware
Fall in and join the Tupperware brigade

They've got a range of kitchen goods that are the best
Why don't you come along and put them to the test?
Once you've tried them you'll agree it's true
All the things that we are telling you.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Collecting Tuppernalia

Tupperware consultants in the US offer online parties. I think the idea is that hosts invite their friends to shop at the consultant's own Tupperware website within a given time period, and the host earns their percentage reward from all the sales. There are no online parties in the UK yet, although I offer existing customers the chance to put in additional orders by email, and to pay by Paypal.

I don't sell or buy Tupperware on eBay (it isn't allowed) but I do keep an eye open for any interesting memorabilia. It could be something I can use at a party, like the German key chains with miniature Tupperware products that I wear on my apron, or just something that amuses me, like the 1980s Tupperware cookbook.

Most intriguingly, I found on eBay a 40-year old EP record by the King Brothers. It was recorded especially for the Fifth Tupperware Distributors Concert in London in 1967, and alongside some showtunes it features a rousing song called The Tupperware Brigade. Like most people these days, I don't have a record player, so on a visit to my friends Been and Mike this weekend, I asked Mike if he could help me transfer it into a format that I share with visitors to my website and blog. Mike is a record producer and musician, so I figured he would have the technology. There is no publisher listed on the record or sleeve, so I cannot ask anyone for permission to include it, but I have found composer Denis King's agent through Google, and have emailed him and asked if it is OK. I will upload the song as soon as I have figured out how to do it, and assuming Mr King agrees.

I spot a very old Space Saver in my friends' kitchen (see pic), not to mention a Mix and Stor without a seal, and the seal and blender of a long-lost Quick Shake. I will put a new Quick Shake in the post to Been and Mike to say thanks for The Tupperware Brigade.