MARCH 2009 – APRIL 2009
My freshman year of high school I was 4’ 10” and weighed just less than one hundred pounds. Any prospect of me becoming a bully was a long shot. By the time I graduated, I had broken five and a half feet and managed to put on sixty pounds. After military school, I hit 5’ 8” and another decade has pushed me up to 190. My vanity forces me to attempt to disguise my balding by shaving my skull. I have prominent facial features—jawline, nose, brow, etc—not pretty, and I’m definitely not the guy who looks like he’s led a pure, wholesome lifestyle. Since high school, I’ve tuned up a fair share of unlucky motherfuckers, and I’ve spent some nap time with the pavement myself. The stories behind those events are relative to being just sober enough to remember or drunk enough to forget. Still, I never thought of myself as a bully until I took a job selling Kirby home cleaning systems.
The ad said flexible hours and the commission was two hundred bucks for every machine sold. Even if you didn’t sell a machine, the ad said you’d get paid if you did enough demonstrations over the course of the week. This, of course, was after a week of unpaid training and a forty five minute commute to and from work every day back when gas prices were groping four dollars a gallon. I was already broke and after the week of training, I had to take my chances selling some machines and attempt to break even. Like any sales job, everything is a pitch, and with every pitch there are things left unmentioned. In the case of Kirby, and their recruiting, there were a few things:
1) Morning meetings were voluntary. However, if you didn’t make the morning meeting, you weren’t scheduled for any appointments.
2) If you sold a machine at a discount, just to get a machine sold, the difference was taken out of your commission.
3) A minimum of fifteen demonstrations had to be conducted in order to be paid if there were no sales. There were only seventeen time slots available during the week. Each demonstration, including travel time, was about four hours. So much for the flexible schedule.
Getting to a demonstration was a lot like a set up for home invasion. We offered free demonstrations and a free carpet cleaning valued between $200 and $500. We said whatever we needed to just to get in the house. Sometimes, they even brought candy or flowers to bribe customers with. Some places were cold called, but the majority of our appointments came from referrals; friends of friends who had been kind enough to allow us to do a demo, and in return, we shampooed a carpet for them. It didn’t matter to the managers that the people we were intimidating in their own home were our friends or relatives.
During the two hour demo, you try your best to make the potential customer feel disgusted in their home by pulling dirt out of their carpet that their regular vacuum cleaner couldn’t get up. If they had kids, all the better. Ms. So-and-So, do you really feel comfortable allowing your children to play on a carpet this filthy? It’s not bad enough that we offered a free demonstration only to get into the house, but we promoted feelings of guilt to get the customer to buy. The tactics were pure genius.
Then the point came when the demonstration was over. The customer sat in awe of the many patents the machine held, the safety features that prevented children from getting their fingers ripped off, and the many intricate parts designed by NASA (because it’s impressive to have a track record similar to Tilikum, the SeaWorld killer whale). If interested, the customer asked for the price. When I told him or her that the $2,000 machine was guaranteed for life, they were thankful for the free carpet cleaning and politely waited for me to leave. Conveniently, our training dictated that we called the manager while packing up the machine to leave. This process can take a very long time. Our strategy was to make the customer say, No, seven times before leaving. Their theory (my boss’) was that a customer would say, No, seven times before saying, Yes. Basically, if you’re in the house, one way for them to get you to leave was to buy the product. This was a tactic that never worked for selling a Kirby, and the most I ever got from a customer with this approach was a warm, kind promise that they would shove my Kirby home cleaning system in my bum. The promise was also extended to my boss who was in the office a safe distance away from any real danger to their anus. This was usually stated around the third or fourth No.
I should have known it was all bullshit when one of the managers’ faces looked like a tire tread and they were an overweight health aficionado and the other was missing a quarter of his teeth and the rest were rotting and on their way out too, and who also stuffed an economy size package of t-shirts in his shorts, which made pants look like his dick was pregnant. But, I stayed. Out of the nine demonstrations that I did over the course of two weeks, I sold four machines. The second machine I sold was at a discount, so when Friday came, and the boss handed me my commission check, I had a slight problem. One of my $200 dollar commissions was only $140. Rather than address the issue with my boss in front of the other manager and my tenacious coworkers, I told the boss that I had an idea for a new pitch that I wanted to discuss in private.
Behind the closed door of her office, I slipped the check onto her desk and told her there must have been some mistake. She explained to me that it’s better to sell a machine and get some commission than nothing to which I replied, “Exactly. So, why is the $60 taken from my $200 commission when it could be subtracted from the $1,100 profit you made on the product that I sold?”
Somewhere in our short debate a sound emitted from my throat slightly resembling a growl and the manager caved and wrote me a new check. The following Friday, the same ordeal arose, but this time, nothing short of going postal would have made my boss budge. After that, she informed they were going to do door to door sales for a while, which, in my interview, I explained them I wouldn’t do. When I was twenty, I sold security systems in Prichard, Alabama, door to door. My experience there was not a positive influence on my motivation to try it again. Besides, door to door sales is just as effective as getting a date with a woman by taking a shit on her front lawn. I took the next few days off.
The company had this policy about having a machine and not being in contact for a period longer than 48 hours. On the third day, and after more than a dozen unanswered phone calls from my boss, the message finally came about the worry they held for their machine. The following message was transcribed from my voicemail:
“Joe, hey it’s B—-. Um, ah we haven’t heard from you in like three days and we’re getting kind of worried. You need to bring in your machine, your Kirby book, and your dirt meter, or at least call us, or we’re going to have to go down to the police station and fill out a missing Kirby report.”
I wasn’t really willing to test them, despite my curiosity of what a “Missing Kirby Report” looked like. I even wondered if there were a special cubby for it in the police station; perhaps there was a space in the upper right hand corner where the police would attach the most recent photo of the missing machine. “Missing Kirby Report” or not, I wasn’t going to take the chance, so I brought the machine back savoring my triumph of evading the repercussions of a “Missing Kirby Report”.