Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Embarrassing Confession

This is a bit of an embarrassment and I do feel a bit of shame about this.

My confession?

For about three weeks in the summer of 91 I sold vacuum cleaners door to door. This is not something I am proud of because I
a) was dishonest with people in several ways.
b) sold what essentially a decent product but was badly highly overpriced to people who really didn't need them and couldn't really afford them.

How I got sucked into it? It was desperation and the need for a job right now. I answered a want ad that sounded too good to be true (and you know what they say "if it sounds too good to be true . . ."). Because I needed a job badly I took it and I really didn't do badly as a salesman but I never felt comfortable doing it.

I would sell one to one person for $900 and another of exactly the same model to their neighbor for $1100. My excuse was that one was a "demo model" meaning I used it in the presentation instead of giving them a untouched one out of a box (though that one could have been used in a previous demo.)

One of our favorite demos was running our vacuum over where the victim's vacuum had gone and showing them how much dirt was still there. (Had they gone over again with their vacuum where we had vacuumed they would have gotten the same results . . . that demo is a joke.)

On my last day one customer shut me up and pulled out a pad of paper and had me do some figuring. I was working 12 hours 6 days a week and 8 on Sunday. That works out to 80 hours a week. If you figure time and half over 40 I was essentially getting paid for 100 straight time hours. My per-hour pay amounted to less then 2/3 of the minimum wage at the time. I hadn't looked at it from that angle. She told me her son had once been sucked in by a similar scheme. I didn't speak as I went home and the next day I turned in my stuff and got a factory job three days later.

What brings this up? The other day at our local Wendys I noticed a beat up old van in the parking lot with stickers for the vacuum I used to sell for and inside I saw the man who I once worked for. I did not address him but thought about him as I ate. At one time years ago I despised the man. Now I pity him. I did talk to him a few years ago and he was still working 80 hours a week, living out of a suitcase, never spending more than a few months in the same town, despised by many and still convinced that millions of dollars are just around the corner for him. Sure district and regional managers make a lot of money but unit managers and salesmen, for the most part, work hard for a pittance with the promise of millions as a hanging carrot that the vast majority of them will never reach. That door to door salesman who shows up at your door is not always an eager con-artist but very likely a desperate person trying to do the only job they can find.

He opened the back door to his van as I watched through the window. Sure enough it was full of brand-new top-of-the-line vacuum cleaners. I remembered him saying "These, my van and my clothes are all I own, but they will one day make me rich." He appeared to still be in the same state.

He also had several young and not-so-young "sales associates" with him. A crowd that I was briefly part of.

He has spent the last 17+ years making the circuit coming back to this town to set up shop every few years. After he has fully shopped out here he'll go to the next town and another after that until in 3 or 4 more years he'll be back here again.

I'm all for chasing your dreams, but from time to time you have step back and evaluate. Are you making progress or are you running on a treadmill? I may not be rich, I may even be struggling right now, but I have a home in a place I call my own. I too am chasing a dream, but I have a fall back plan and it's called a regular job. When your dream is no closer to fulfillment after a reasonable time you need to reconsider either your dream or your means of getting it. An occasional reevaluation and course adjustment will make your dream's fulfillment all the more likely

I no longer despise him. I feel sorry for him. His dream is worthwhile but the path he is on will never take him there. I have once said and will say again: the product is a good one but the sales system is wrong and is lined up for a highly inflated price (I know for certainty that when I was in the target sales price was 250% of the wholesale price. Wholesale Price $480 Target sales price $1200.) The people he is working for will never let him make real money.

If you want to go for the money do so, by any moral and legal means, especially if you can come up with something new. But don't be played for a fool.


Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

What a great story. No need to be ashamed of being a door-to-door salesman. I never did it because I'm no good at selling things - if people don't know what they want, too bad. But I've done worse jobs.

8:33 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

I'm not ashamed of that aspect. I'm a bit troubled that I lied to people to make money.

9:03 PM  
Blogger dons_mind said...

you and three thousand used car salesmen sr......i understand your feelings (we did the amway bit a number of years ago), but we all have those experiences - it makes up life sometimes. ya learn, ya move on, ya get better at making better choices.....wouldn't be any fun if we all knew all the right moves :)

10:52 AM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Hey, listen, you do what you have to do when you have to do it, in order to survive. And my guess is that, since 1991, you're a much different man now than then. Am I correct?


4:09 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

My forty dollar Dirt Devil works fine.

Have you heard ads for the Three Step Plan? It involves selling a fruit drink featuring a fruit that comes from Asia. The cost is close to 30 dollars for a half gallon, if I recall correctly.

My question: who can afford either of these products?

6:58 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Ah, good 'ol rainbow vacuums, a college student/rainbow selling young lady talked my wife into a demo once, glad I was home! my wife was suckered by the tricks, but I told her there was no way in hell I was payin a thousand bucks for a vacuum! the Girl was bummed at not making a sale and I had to brag up her abilities, she was a good seller, just needed a good reasonably priced product to push, and find somebody other than a stubborn, tight, pragmatist like myself.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

Wow!!! It is unfathomable to me that the guy hasn't gotten a clue by now. My husband and I learned early on that unless you are a genuine, talented salesman no sales job is going to work for you.

My husband got talked into doing Amway (I was against it from the start) but it didn't take long for him to see how futile it was. He did one other sales job and since then we will never, ever do anything related to sales because of the nature of it.

I'm amazed at how often others will take many more times of getting burned before they learn.

8:57 PM  

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