Death of a Kirby Salesman

Retro-salesman-e1367455001858Dr. John Jones/Belinda Burk

We were sitting amongst friends, somewhere on the west side; when a young man came up to us and asked if we were interested in buying a vacuum cleaner? In a witty fashion, I responded by telling him that we were not interested in a vacuum…however, we were very interested in hearing how he began his successful climb up the vacuum cleaner corporate ladder. As the young man talked and told his tale of misconduct and shame, I felt a compelling need to inform the public of his dark story of false advertisement, corruption, and slave labor.
While the cigarette smoke drifted from his fingers, he waved me to come have a seat outside and he’d tell me the entire “play”. The unwrapping of this beast began by seeing a post on the internet. He informed me that the post stated “$500 weekly for Customer Service Reps!” After calling the number, he was given an interview the next morning. As a father, he felt good about the comfort of having $500 weekly to help provide for his family, and he was excited to be a part of a professional company and have a career with meaning. Upon arriving for his interview, he was asked by a very well dressed man to come into a small office with very little furniture. The man spoke about the company and the benefits of working for “the company”. He asked several times what exactly “the company” did, and was told that it was customer service within a fast paced environment. At the end of the interview, he was told he would receive a call that evening if he received the job. He left the office feeling great, and like a new light had begun to shine upon his luck. He received the call…and the job.
The young man began to giggle as he said ..”Ya know, my wife told me that she was so proud of me, and that she knew that I had finally found the job that I could be good at.” He continued to tell me how he was asked to dress professional and that he had spent his last $150 on new shoes, slacks, and several shirts and ties. The excitement of finding a new life was beaming from his face as he walked into the front doors of his new office. He was to begin his training with a small class of ten other people. He walked in and had a seat in the “training room”. A small man dressed in cheap suit came into the room with a laptop and a Kirby Cleaning System. At this point, he stopped and said “Let me be honest, Kirby Vacuums are literally the best cleaners on the market! Nothing can clean better, and that’s proven.” He continued saying “But….the sales tactics are the nastiest in the business.”
I lit another cigarette, and had a drink of tea; then asked….”Tell me the low down man!” The young man laid it out like this. Distributors pull in “workers” with a promise of a base weekly pay. They train 10-15 NEW people weekly. They teach the new recruits how to un-box and re-box the Kirby Cleaning System. They give them promises of vacations, Rolex watches, and huge commissions! After his second day of training he felt like a new man! Everyone would want this amazing system for the small price of $3200! He was ready to be a “company” man!

Day one arrived, and he showed up for work in business attire and ready to tackle the world at10 a.m. The staff meeting was very inspirational and motivational. He was told to ride in Van #2 with a group of people, including three salesmen, a canvassing specialist, and a team leader. Once the van left the office, the development began to unfold as he learned that most of the “current” employs all lived together in one home. Most of them, with the exception of the team leader, had been with the company for less than two weeks and had yet to receive payment…since the company holds back their first check, just to make sure their serious about work. The van arrived at an apartment complex on the east side, and dropped off the “canvassing” member of the team…then drove away. The young man asked for a cigarette and a light, as he had just run out of matches. He said “This is where it all began
to seem fishy to me, and I had no idea what was about to happen.” The phone rang, and the team leader said “We got a door!”, which is code for…the canvasser was able to tell the home owner that his representative was going to return and clean an entire room in their home for FREE, with no mention of Kirby! He was driven back to the apartment complex and told to grab a cleaning system from the back of the van, and call to check in.” The young man smiled and said “I knew I could sell this thing,plus Kirby gave me all the needed training to demo the unit and everything to say.” He followed the protocol and demoed the machine, showed the price to the home owner, the homeowner said “Wow…No!”, and then he called his team leader. The team leader arrived and closed the deal…for the price of $600! He described his feelings as confused between accomplishment and disappointment. Once back in the Van, he was told that unless he could sell the cleaning system for at least $1300, that he would not receive any commission, and only the team leader would receive any paid commissions. He said they did not do another demo the entire day, and the van returned to the office at 11:30 PM that evening, a work day of thirteen hours.
The sun was beginning to go down as the young man received a text message and looked up and said “I’ve got about five more minutes before I have to get back in this van and probably not make any money, so let me wrap this up.” He said that this was day number three for him, and he was beginning to think that he was involved in something off key. While he had seen people receiving “bonus” checks for $100 and $200, he had also seen 3 people not get their promised pay of $500 for 15 Weekly Demos. As mentioned, he was currently on day three, and had only performed 4 demos so far. I wrote down the young man’s number and told him I would call him in a week, just to see how it turned out. At that moment, an older Chevy mini-van pulled to the curb and honked. He stood and thanked me for the smoke and jogged to the van. I returned home and dug deep into the world of vacuum sales, just to see what was out there. Here are the facts.

• The Kirby Company manufacturers the unit and sells it to a group of authorized distributors.
Each distributor is an independent business, and as such sets their own price for the unit and conducts their own business operations.

• As of 2011, of the 31 state consumer protection agencies, 27 had received a total of more than
6,000 complaints annually.

• In 2009, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection received 503 complaints regarding Kirby dealers from A.C. Distributing and concluded from its investigation that Kirby, through its distributors, engaged in a “statewide pattern of trade practices” violation of state consumer-protection laws.

• Between 1998 and 2001, in Colorado alone, more than 100 lawsuits were filed against Kirby and its affiliates and subsidiaries, resulting in nearly $4 million in judgments and settlements

• 92% of Kirby Independent Customer Sales Representatives leave Kirby after 16 days with allegations of not receiving promised pay.

After a week, I called the young man to check in. He had informed me that he was no longer with Kirby. He had learned that most of the “company veterans” were from Wisconsin. His paycheck was for only $185 per a combined 76 hours in six days. He was told to sell the machine for more money, and learn to close his own deals. In closing he had told me that while in training, they are told to hang the vacuum bag on the left side of box during the demonstration, which hides the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1799. He had learned that the distributors purchase the cleaning system for less than $400 and begin the selling price at $3200, and close with an average selling price of $1200. At an average closing price of $1200, it’s hard to make good money and be able to ENJOY life. I wished the kid luck, said goodbye, and smiled as I set the phone down. The simple idea that I could bust out the next Vacuum team leader that comes into my house warmed my heart. Bless the young door to door salesman, he’s only following orders and unknowingly wasting his own time. Be kind and sweet to the person doing the demo, but remember…when the snake oil salesman “team leader” comes in to close the deal, stick to your guns and get the best cleaning product on the market for less than $600 and smile. You did not save money…your simply an informed consumer and didn’t get scammed.