This week Longaberger: An American Success Story, the story of the founder of the Longaberger basket company, the late Dave Longaberger, became the No. 1 nonfiction best seller on the New York Times list. How did a book about a basket company become such a hit?
Because about 70,000 people who sell the baskets in people's homes started having parties to sell the book as well. The Longaberger Company, based in Newark, Ohio, is a "direct sales company" that sells $1 billion worth of baskets, pottery, and wrought iron do-dads. In direct sales, women who work for the company, "independent sales associates," convince other women to have gatherings in their homes where baskets, such as the Tic-Tac-Toe Combo ($59) or the Miniature Banker's Waste Basket ($150), are sold. The associates get a percentage of the sales and try to get mere basket purchasers to become basket associates working under them. Because there are now tens of thousands of women out there pushing not only Longaberger baskets but also the Longaberger book, the publisher, HarperBusiness, has gone back and increased the print run to more than 100,000.
The company was started in 1972 when Dave Longaberger asked his father, a retired basket maker, to weave a dozen baskets, which the son sold to an Ohio store. A few years later Longaberger opened a basket shop, but by 1978 the company moved to direct sales. Longaberger died in 1999 of cancer at age 65, and his daughter Tami now runs the business, the headquarters of which are in the shape of a woven basket. The book is filled with such insights as, "Simply put, to be a good people person, you have to genuinely care about other people." And "Remember, too, that the future is forever. The present is only now. The future is where people spend the rest of their lives." (Presumably lives in which every basket need is fully met.) This book is not the company's first attempt to tell its story. An earlier version was self-published, but as the Longaberger Web site boasts, "This time around, we have publishers willing to pay us for the right to publish it!"
For more on the Longaberger Company see their Web site, where anyone is free to order for Explainer the Mother's Day ($89) Vintage Blossoms Basket Combo with Lid and Tie-On.