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Knocking In

Prior to getting hired on as a contractor for the National Guard Finance office, I sold Kirby vacuums door to door.  For about a month, I was an independent dealer of these high-priced multi-purpose machines, working to make enough commission off of each sale to make it worth my time.  I did not work directly for the Kirby company; the company I worked for was run by a gentleman whose family had been in the business for years.  Each sale one of his dealers made was cash in his pocket, and he was always quick to tell us that he was once in our shoes, and with hard work we could one day be in his.  With the chance to make $500 per sale, and time to make up to three sales per day, this job seemed pretty sweet for an interim gig.

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Obviously I was not making upwards of $1500 per day selling these things, otherwise I sure as hell would not be working here when I could make over $300,000 annually slinging vacuums.  But with the promise of that type of incoming cash, it’s easy to see how people can get sucked into these things and end up losing themselves to it.  Hell, I consider myself to be pretty intelligent and even I was fooled at the start.  Let me explain.  I heard about the company via a classified ad looking for “Dealer representatives. Typical job functions include but not limited to scheduling to meet with potential customers, product demonstrations, negotiation, order processing, record keeping, product delivery, customer service.”  Easy stuff, right?  It also highlighted the ease of advancement, so I applied and scored an interview almost immediately.

The interview should have been a red flag that sent me running.  I was part of a group of about 20.  We handed in our resume and a short questionnaire to a man who addressed us all together.  He told us how exciting this job was, how we were basically guaranteed to earn at least $1000 a week, if not much more, and how we would be paid $1500 for the first month even if we didn’t make a single sale, so long as we showed up every day to work.  None of us were spoken to individually, so I feel odd even calling this an interview.  I received a call back to come for training the very next day and I assume that everyone else in my group that had half a brain was called back as well.

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I had two days of training, which I would be paid for provided I finished out the entire four weeks and did not miss a day.  Oh, and had at least three appointments per day where I did a full demonstration of what a Kirby vacuum can do that was verified by my team lead.  And worked every Saturday, since that counted as part of the full work week.  And did I mention that my start time was 10am and I could potentially still be in the field until 11 at night?  A couple of those very important details were somehow left out when I started.  But no matter because in a month, I could be able to run my own team if I played my cards right!

Each morning at this company, we started out with a high energy meeting.  People who made sales would go to the front of the room, state how they had “knocked in” to the home, relate what they did to make the sale, and sometimes brag about how they sold the unit without any discounts.  I won’t lie; it was exciting to watch and even more exciting to be able to go to the front and tell your own story.  I was wowed by some of the dealers who sold the units for full price and who made enough sales monthly to qualify for some of the perks the company offered; vacations, expensive prizes such as snow mobiles, all sorts of award certificates, and quick promotions.

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It’s such bull.  Any and all companies like this are bull.  Our team lead would drop us in neighborhoods where we would go door to door, knocking and offering people a free room of carpet cleaning.  Often, we were encouraged to lie and tell them that we got paid simply to do the demo (we did not) and we just wanted to show off the Kirby.  Other times we were told to lie about a new store opening (there was no new store anywhere) and say that we wanted to spread the news to our new neighbors by offering free carpet cleaning.  No lie was too big, so long as it got us in the door.  Once the homeowner agreed to let us in, either the dealer (me) or our team lead would run back to the van to retrieve one of the large Kirby boxes.  We’d quickly bring it inside and start unpacking it while engaging the homeowner in small talk about their beautiful home, the weather, or anything else unrelated to the giant vacuum we were unpacking.

My team lead was incredible at this.  Often, the homeowner would try to protest to me unpacking and setting up the vacuum, but he would distract them with conversation until I was done and ready to go.  He’d then leave with a few encouraging words and I’d be alone in some stranger’s house.  I would then go through all the Kirby’s attachments, showing the homeowner how filthy their home was by removing the filter pads after every vacuum sweep and laying that pad on their floor.  Those pads, covered in dirt and who knows what else, were to lay on the floor until my team lead returned in order to prove that I had done a full demonstration.  It was gross and no one was happy about it.

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Oh, and did I mention that we also had special black filter pads?  Those were made specifically for mattresses.  Part of our demo involved going into the homeowner’s bedroom and cleaning their mattress, using the black pads to show dust mites and other nasty mattress critters.  As you can imagine, people didn’t like strangers in their bedroom.  I always asked permission, and when I was obviously turned down at some homes, was instructed to simply pick up the Kirby, say “where is the bedroom,” and just start walking until I found it.  No permission needed.  It was so insulting and invasive, but that was what was required of me.  The final portion of the demo involved finally hooking up the shampooer and giving the homeowner the promised carpet cleaning.  While I was doing this, my team lead was heading back to the house to negotiate the sale (since I was new, this was on him, but I would be required to do it later on).

My first sale was to a woman who could not afford it.  The asking price was $2200, but my team lead gave it to her for $999, which she had to finance.  The sale price meant that my team lead would make a small profit, the company would make a larger profit, and I would make nothing but would at least have a sale on my record.  Out of all the people I sold to, I feel confident in saying that only one of those families could afford it.  Out of all the people I sold to, I feel confident in saying that only one of those families actually needed it; the rest were fine with the vacuum and/or shampooer they already had.  I ripped people off and I’m pretty damn ashamed of it.

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During my time at Kirby, I barely saw my family.  After paying for gas to drive back and forth, I was up only $100 after a month due to tiny profits after everyone took their cut.  My knees ached from all the time I spent on them (hold the jokes) while doing demos.  I was unable to get my $1500 because it is impossible to do three demos each day, seeing as how people work and generally don’t want to let a stranger into their house, no matter what they have to offer.  Even if I had been able to complete it and get that $1500, it would have equaled out to about $3 per hour for the time I put in.  It seemed too good to be true at the get go and I should have been smarter about it and run for the hills as soon as I found out that the job was nothing more than door to door sales.

Sure, some dealers get lucky and end up with their own office, like the company I worked for.  But they are only one out of a hundred, or more, that get lucky and make it work.  I was only there for a month and I saw dozens of people come and go.  My team changed almost every day due to people dropping off after coming to their senses.  The company made crazy profit off of us dealers, as we were paid pennies while they raked in the real cash.  I was a rarity in the place; a female dealer who was actually really good at making sales.  Had I been willing to sacrifice time with my family, I could have gone far.  I could have had my own team and taught others to lie to homeowners in order to make a sale.  I could have made some crazy cash.

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No amount of money is worth it though.  I barely saw my child and my husband during that month, and they both were very unhappy about my absence.  I have no doubt that I put some people in debt after giving them an overpriced vacuum with payments they couldn’t afford.  I caused a few arguments between couples by forcing a sale down their throat.  I lied my ass off so I could invade people’s homes and take their money.  I was horrible to everyone.  I wish I had done my research after that very first day of Kirby training.  I wish someone had warned me.  But at least I got out after just a month before any damage was done to my family and myself.

Never again will I put myself in a situation where I am basically working for free or working for the promise of pay.  Never again will I trust a company simply because it seems fun and because they constantly present me with success stories from people “just like me.”  I’d love to be able to warn others away from places like this, but it’s really one of those live and learn things.  It might work for some of you and that’s not something I can determine.  But for 99% of us, jobs like this should be avoided like the plague.  We are nothing to these companies but free labor; expendable profit on legs.  Customers are nothing to these companies but open wallets.  If that sounds appealing to you, have at it.  For those of us who have a heart and still have morals, it’s not a place we should ever be.

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on March 14, 2014, in Money, Work and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Wow. Very interesting story. I’ve often wondered what the backroom on these operations looked like. I did some time selling people fake AT&T long distance service, and I didn’t feel good about that either, even though in most cases we were actually saving them money, but I’ve never done any straight-up raw core door to door sales like you did which I have to say is the quintessential noun of “sales” in the verb of “sales.”

    I also had some guy try to sell me a whole-home water filter after I called a plumber in to fix a leaky sink. In that case, I just felt a little greasy from the onslaught of the sales pitch, and I researched the entire concept of these filters afterwards, as well as tested my water with a lab to verify what he had said about my water was true, which of course it wasn’t. So I’ve only been on THIS side of this type of sales. Needless to say, I never bought one.

    Very, very interesting story. Very enlightening as to how these types of operations work. I try to warn people to just assume that everything they are being told is suspect when it comes from someone who has something to gain on a decision you are going to make based on what they are telling you. You should NEVER assume anything at face value in such cases. But, human nature is to trust, to be polite, to not offend, to help others…and sales can get a lot of profit off what some would say is a “weakness” of being human.

    I think people need to learn that understanding human incentives is really important. It’s something none of us are taught, and yet it solves a lot of the problems we have today. If we understand, and more importantly ACCEPT, that humans are incentivized to pursue courses of action that are in their own best interest, then we can protect ourselves from making a lot of the bad decisions that we currently are making. I think too many people want to wear rose-colored glasses, and put blind faith and trust into their fellow human beings which sounds great in theory, but never pencils out in reality. It’s really a shame we don’t teach economic theory. People think its all about supply and demand, but its really not. It’s a combination of history, psychology, economics and philosophy. From economic theory, so much of the way the world works comes into crystal clear focus, which I think is precisely the reason it is not part of school curriculum.

    Some will probably accuse me of saying I think human kindness is a weakness, which is not what I am saying at all. Such people look at everything as black and white. It’s possible to donate $1,000 to a charity in the morning, but then turn down changing your long distance in the afternoon because you don’t believe they are being honest with you, and are trying to take advantage of your “weakness.” I simply believe that we have swung the pendulum too far in one direction. We are now a society that is supposed to trust SOCIETY, and everyone in it, to honestly be doing their best, at all times…to be looking for work while unemployed, to be trying every day to get off government welfare, to not lie when applying for disability, to honestly believe their union pension plans are “fair,” to believe people when they say if you like your Doctor, you can keep your Doctor. People lie. People lie to serve their own interests. It’s human nature and we need to not blind ourselves to this reality, otherwise we will all end up switching our long distance carrier, and nobody wants that. 😉

    lol….I am dating myself by even SAYING things like “switch your long distance carrier.” How funny.

  2. My elderly mother-in-law got ripped off by a Kirby salesman once. The machine was way too heavy and large for her to be able to maneuver inside a single-wide mobile home. She ended up giving it to my wife and me. While it works well and has lasted a long time, I’d never pay that much just for a vacuum cleaner. Then again, we’re thinking of getting a Roomba. They aren’t cheap, but at least we wouldn’t have to vacuum anymore.

  3. We contracted a company to manage my search engine optimisation and about a
    month later I checked and the website had gone down in traffic, I assume that isn’t meant to
    happen.
    p.s Don’t take advice from the Warrior Forums haha

  4. Not all kirby offices are immoral

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