SEBASTIAN, Fla. — The guests wear colorful leis and drink piña coladas out of fake coconuts.
As an icebreaker, Sue Skirvin asks the 15 or so people in the room to give an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name.
“I could either say, ‘Sweet Sue’ or ‘Sexy Sue,’ and based on what I would use for my adjective, you know a little bit about my personality,” Skirvin tells the group.
She also gets to the point of this indoor luau, asking what they know about Tupperware.
Later, Skirvin uses Tupperware’s “SuperSonic Chopper” to cut up and mix onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and pineapple chunks for a pineapple salsa, on theme with the luau. Users just pull a cord on the device, which comes in different sizes, to chop food inside it.
A couple of months later, Skirvin is back at it, making a tomato-based salsa using the same device. But this time she’s chopping the produce inside her Sebastian home while broadcasting a “virtual party” over Zoom.
Selling over the internet is a new approach for someone who has been selling Tupperware for more than four decades.
The coronavirus pandemic prodded Skirvin and other members of Tupperware’s independent sales force into hosting online parties, but the shift took place around the same time Tupperware Brands, which is based in Osceola County, changed things up in a turnaround from years of declining sales.
“We reinvented the food storage category more than 75 years ago, and we’re on a journey now to reinvent the Tupperware of tomorrow,” said Cameron Klaus, Tupperware’s vice president of global communications and public relations.
‘Pedal to the metal’
The in-person Tupperware party took place at the home of Ally Falls, a 42-year-old real estate agent Skirvin knows.
The house is in a residential neighborhood of Sebastian, a city of 25,000 on Florida’s east coast across the Indian River from Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
President Theodore Roosevelt made Pelican Island the country’s first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903. It was more than four decades later when Earl Tupper created his famous plastic containers in 1946.
Three more decades went by, and then a certified dental assistant from West Palm Beach, Skirvin, got her start with Tupperware in 1980.
Skirvin, now 65, held her first party at a neighbor’s place.
She remembers being scared of getting up in front of people.
“I kind of relied on my host and the guests there, because … I was only about 23, so many of them had been using Tupperware for years,” Skirvin said. “Me, I don’t know if I even owned a piece of Tupperware at that point other than my kit.”
Still, Skirvin had fun and her business kept rolling from there. She quit working at the dental office with the birth of her daughter in 1983. Skirvin already had a 10-year-old stepson and 8-year-old stepdaughter with her husband. Then in 1984 a second baby girl came along.
“I decided to put the pedal to the metal and move up the ladder and never looked back,” Skirvin said. “The income [and] the flexibility are probably the two biggest factors [for continuing to sell Tupperware], and then the people … I get kind of renewed every time they’re excited about something or they’re loving what I’m sharing with them.”
Today, Skirvin is a business leader, the highest level in Tupperware’s sales force, and she develops and trains others in addition to having her own parties.
Online business here to stay
Four decades after Skirvin started with Tupperware, the coronavirus pandemic forced her to take her Tupperware parties online.
One of Skirvin’s early virtual parties was with a host who had moved to Wisconsin from Florida.
“I remember her being so excited about it because she was not a Zoom person either. Her husband helped her get on,” Skirvin said. “It was so good and exciting for her because she got to see her friends in Florida that she hadn’t seen in a couple years since she moved. She got to see her family, her daughter and granddaughter in another state.”
More than two years after the start of the pandemic, some of the hiccups of online video calls still popped up during a different virtual party this July. Skirvin tried an icebreaker where guests talk about how long it has been since they’ve seen Tupperware and their favorite item from the company.
“I think you’re on mute,” Skirvin told one of the guests.
But when another person didn’t audibly answer the questions, Skirvin played it cool and got into her presentation.
“Well, the beauty of technology is that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Skirvin said.
The online Tupperware parties have continued, even as the world has emerged from lockdown and social distancing.
“I still do prefer doing them in person,” Skirvin said. “Being in the same room with everybody, it’s just like night and day to me, but I am getting more comfortable and making use, and learning still, how to make more out of the virtual experience.”
And Skirvin is not noticing a big difference in sales, whether the party is online or not.
“Honestly, some of the virtual ones, the sales have been as good or better than the in-person ones,” Skirvin said. “A lot has to do with the host.”
Skirvin said she also uses Facebook Live for demonstrations.
“To look at a product in a catalog and to see it in use are just two totally different things,” Skirvin said.
While Tupperware sales force members were using online parties before coronavirus and the company was “well underway” in putting in place digital strategies, “the pandemic mobilized us to move faster to bring those tools to market,” Klaus said.
One thing in the Tupperware toolbox is “TuppSocial,” which launched in the United States and Canada in 2019. It allows Tupperware’s independent consultants to share content on social media and to schedule posts, Klaus said.
“Over the last couple of years, as a society we have learned that much of a business can be done remotely,” Klaus said. “We encourage Tupperware independent consultants to leverage whatever methods work best for them, their business and their teams – whether that’s a Tupperware party conducted in-person, online or pre-recorded and posted online after the fact – but we have certainly seen an increase in virtual selling’s continuation.”
‘More than just food containers’
Rodney Shiloh, 55, was surprised by the different types of items Tupperware had to offer at the luau party he attended at his neighbor’s house in Sebastian. It was his first Tupperware party and he was eyeing a covered container for a pie or cake as well as a “SuperSonic Chopper.”
“Thinking of Tupperware growing up, I always thought of just plastic bowls that you could keep food that you cooked fresh,” Shiloh said. “I’m going to buy a few items, but I got to calm down because it’s like I want to buy everything.”
One product that surprised Shiloh was Tupperware’s “MicroPro Grill,” which Klaus said can grill anything from meat and fish to sandwiches in the microwave in less than 20 minutes. It debuted in 2016.
“That’s not something my mother or grandmother had the opportunity to get,” Shiloh said. “Tupperware obviously has continued to develop.”
Shiloh was also impressed by the “FridgeSmart” food container which Skirvin showed off at her parties. The containers feature a sliding vent that “adjusts airflow to help your produce breathe and stay fresh longer,” a Tupperware catalog states.
The company also has a product line of reusable water bottles, sandwich containers and reusable straws made with recycled plastics and other materials that would have ended up in a landfill or incinerator, Klaus said.
“Tupperware is in fact so much more than just food containers,” Klaus said. “While the food preservation category is our bread and butter, we also have innovative products in cookware, bakeware and food preparation.”
Skirvin pointed out the pandemic also increased the need for items that helped with those kitchen tasks.
“More people were eating at home and so they were needing products to be able to store and prepare meals in,” Skirvin said.