Tupperware topper in West Chester

Posted: September 26, 2004

Ann Murtaugh's life changed at a neighbor's Tupperware party in 1989.

"I left thinking, 'I could do this,' " she said.

So, one night a week, while working as a branch manager for a Bryn Mawr bank, she started selling the plastic food-storage containers at gatherings of friends and neighbors. Within 12 weeks, she had sold enough to qualify for a company car. Within six months, she had quit her banking job because she was earning more money selling Tupperware.

At this summer's national convention in Miami, Murtaugh learned that the Tupperware team she runs is one of the top 10 in sales - No. 9, to be exact - among more than 10,000 teams nationwide.

"I've always been in the top 100," she said, "and then I was No. 13, and then No. 11, and finally this year, we cracked the top 10. It's a big recognition thing."

"I'm so proud of her I could just cry," said Diana "Betsy" Swenson of Paoli, who owns the Tupperware distributorship for which Murtaugh works. "She's funny; she's a lot of fun to be with. She's just an all-around great person."

Murtaugh, who lives in West Chester, sells Tupperware two or three nights a week, averaging a profit of least $100 per party, sometimes $300, she said.

One recent Thursday night, she went to Debbie Murphy's house in Broomall for a party.

Murphy, setting out a platter of vegetables and heating up dip in the microwave, said it was the first time she had hosted a Tupperware party.

"I went to one and I thought, 'Oh, why not?' " said Murphy, a nurse educator at Lankenau Hospital. The guests were some of her coworkers and three of her husband's cousins.

Murtaugh arrived about 15 minutes early and set up in Murphy's living room the folding table she carries in her car. Atop it, she placed a blue tablecloth with the Tupperware logo and an assortment of new and old products.

After the guests arrived and chatted about their day and how their children were settling into the new school year, Murtaugh launched into her casual but enthusiastic presentation about "Modular Mates" and other Tupperware products.

She emphasized how useful they are for keeping food fresh and pest-free, saving space in kitchen cabinets, saving money by preserving leftovers, and saving time in meal preparation.

"This is the perfect leftover-size container," she said, holding up a container that has a vent to let steam out in the microwave. "And it will never, ever, ever, ever stain - not even tomato sauce."

She said she recently refilled some of her sample containers for the first time in 14 years - and found that the ancient graham crackers were still crunchy.

Who makes a good Tupperware salesperson?

Swenson said Murtaugh was "wonderful from day one," but Murtaugh said she is often surprised to see unlikely people coming out of their shells in front of a party audience.

Most take the job to supplement their incomes, she said, although some who don't need the money sell Tupperware because they "just want to get out of the house." She said she finds that many nurses and teachers are attracted to Tupperware sales - teachers because of the flexible hours, and nurses because the job is low in stress.

Tupperware parties, she said, are "a fun night out" for people, mostly women. Murtaugh has a part-time assistant who takes care of clerical details, such as stamping catalogs with her name, collating fund-raising packets, and sending mailings to her team.

(Many Tupperware salespeople recruit their husbands for such duties, but hers has shown absolutely no interest in it, Murtaugh said.)

The name of the game in selling Tupperware is to build a team, because the team manager gets a percentage of her recruits' profits. Murtaugh has a team of more than 50 recruits and is a "Diamond Crown Manager," the top of the sales structure.

"I always say, 'Build your team and they will build your business,' " she said.

Murtaugh said selling Tupperware is an ideal job for a person with young children because much of the work is done at night.

"I was home with my two kids during the day and I wasn't paying for day care," she said. (Her children are now 18 and 20 years old). "I missed nothing. . . . I coached soccer and softball."

Murtaugh said that in 2003, her team sold "just under a half-million dollars" worth of Tupperware, and that the team is on track to do better this year.

"I have a certain knack with people," she said.

"She is very, very popular with everyone at Tupperware," Swenson said.

Contact suburban staff writer Wendy Walker at 610-701-7651 or wwalker@phillynews.com.

Snapshot

Ann Murtaugh

Age: 45

Residence: A native of Havertown, she lives in West Chester.

Education: Haverford High School, class of 1977

Family: Her husband of 23 years, Kevin, is a steamfitter at the University of Pennsylvania. They have two children, 18 and 20.

Her most unusual Tupperware party: She traveled to Lancaster County and held two parties for Amish women, who arrived in their horse-drawn buggies. "They buy a lot of Tupperware," she said.

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