Force of character: the philosophy that built a $35 million company

Force of character: the philosophy that built a $35 million company – Direct Selling

Duncan Maxwell Anderson

Joe Dudley grew up in a three-room farmhouse in Aurora, N.C., with 10 brothers and sisters. Now 58, he heads a direct selling company he founded called Dudley Products of Kernersville, N.C., which makes 150 cosmetics and hair care products. Most of his 25,000 distributors are hairdressers. Annual sales are $35 million and growing. Not for nothing did Dudley get the 1995 Horatio Alger Award. Dudley, who has been in direct selling since the age of 20, says it builds character by rewarding self-discipline and initiative. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to argue.

What was your first job? I worked in a chicken processing plant, taking chickens out of a vat and putting them out to be cut up. I would do any job, the dirtiest jobs at the plant, because I wanted money to go to college. I saved $100 a week.

How did you get into direct selling? I was staying with my aunt in New York and saw a guy on the street going from house to house, selling for Fuller Products, a black beauty products company. I asked him, “Man, how can I do that?” He said it would cost $10. I got $10 together and ran down there.

Did you do well at that? It was one of the most important moments of my life. The founder, S.B. Fuller, was my mentor. He taught his people initiative, courage, loyalty, integrity, and self-improvement. Selling for Fuller paid for college for me and my wife, Eunice. I met her selling for the company. About 1967, we moved to North Carolina to grow my Fuller business.

How did you start Dudley Products? Fuller ran into financial difficulties and couldn’t keep me supplied. So we started our own company in 1969, making products on our kitchen stove.

What made your company work? I sold people my mission — that they could be job-makers rather than job-takers. I called our office a “mental gymnasium”: I washed out “I Can’t and put in “I Can.” People came in from all walks of life and did very well. We had a sales meeting every morning. We still do. Volunteers meet at 6:30 a.m. to discuss books like the Bible, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and Secret of the Ages by Robert Collier.

Did all this make you a local hero? Actually, people didn’t like that this Dudley guy was taking their good people. I got the first black man to manage a Sears and Roebuck to leave that job and work for us on commission. People didn’t understand the industry — they didn’t understand that the Yankee peddler built this country. They said we were a cult. I said “Yes, we’re a success cult.”

By 1983, we were doing $4 million. Then, when we came up with a new line to sell to beauty salons, the company skyrocketed. We were doing $35 million by 1993. But then I brought in some professional managers, and we stopped growing.

What was the problem? All the people I recruited myself had to go through door-to-door selling. That teaches you to meet strangers and speak on your feet, and it develops courage. We had four months of training. But the people the new managers hired had only six weeks of training, they didn’t know the Dudley philosophy, and they produced less.

Now that we’re back to our old system, I estimate we’ll grow 10 to 15 percent per year over the next three years. This is a good business for international growth. When we went to Brazil, they were fascinated at the idea of educating cosmetologists to be entrepreneurs.

What makes people succeed? Having somebody who believes in them and helps them to focus on what’s important. I was labeled retarded in school. My mother said to me, “That’s all right. Slow people take a while to get it, but when they get it, they got it.” We have a program where high school students can become Dudley Fellows or Dudley Ladies. We assign each of them one of our salespeople as a mentor. If they maintain a 3.0 average and show leadership, we help them find college scholarships. I’m writing my own book now about succeeding, I Am, I Can and I Will. It should be out this year.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Success Holdings Company, LLC

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