Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Decline of Door-To-Door Salesmanship

A few Saturdays ago, as I was just about to step into the shower and pamper my scalp with the best Equate dandruff shampoo money can buy, my wife runs into the bathroom with a look of sheer terror and informs me that someone is trying to get in the front door. Since it is 4:30 in the afternoon and several of my neighbors are outside mowing their yards, it seems unlikely that even the most unseasoned criminal would be that inept. I reapply my shorts and make my way to the front door where I am greeted by a young man who is wearing a blue polo, carrying a metal sign, and sweating profusely despite the mild temperatures. He eyes me careful for a few seconds, and with all of the authority he can muster; requests that I go and get my parents so he may speak with them.

The man was obviously a salesman, and had I been a more intelligent (or less prideful) person, I would have used this opportunity to disengage myself by telling him that my dad was serving a nickel upstate for breaking and entering and my mom was in the spare bedroom going over a bank floor plan and could not be bothered. However, hubris got the best of me and I indignantly replied that my parents do not live here and that I owned the house (or at least I would in another 25 years.) He took a few moments to digest this information, and having apparently decided that I must be confused he replied, “Really?!, because this is a pretty nice house.” Interrupting my shower was one thing, but being summoned to the door in order to have my ability to sustain a mortgage called into question was quite another. If I wanted my ego deflated this much I would have used the gym guest pass I received at the employee health fair.

It was at this point the young salesman perceived that his “call the customer a filthy liar” approach was unlikely to yield any revenue, so he politely ask if he could have a few minutes to inform me of the wonderful promotion that ADT Home Security Systems was offering to residents in my area. Not waiting for an answer, he immediately began assaulting me with a myriad of baseless statistics:

“Did you know that your home has an 84% chance of being broken into?”

“Did you know that your front door design makes you 22% more susceptible to home-invasion?”

“Were you aware that 37% of felonies occur in homes with stain-resistant carpeting?”

This was quickly followed by an unprecedented offer that ADT was prepared to make me due to my close proximity to the road, high visibility to the neighborhood, and the fact that I was stupid enough to actually answer the door. If I would allow them to simply place a metal sign in the front yard, they will give me a free security system and all I have to do is pay for the monthly monitoring. He paused for dramatic effect, and then asked if I had a girlfriend. Unsure whether or not I was being insulted again or flirted with, I replied that I was unable to retain one since I could not get my wife onboard with the concept of polygamy.

Sensing that a sale was slipping away, he explained that for a limited time (we can’t do this all day) they were authorized to give away two free keychain remotes! Going for broke, he also pointed out that although I had conventional smoke detectors, there was a very real chance I would be burned alive before they alerted me of impending doom. I thanked him for his time and promptly shut the door.

Unfortunately, this gentleman was not the first enterprising young salesman to grace my under-fortified front door; he wasn’t even the first to make me the same offer on a security system. That honor belonged to a man we will refer to as Jim.

Jim was employed by a competing security company (with a much smaller uniform budget) and had obviously taken several courses in the art of name repetition as he managed to work “Mr. Taylor“ into conversation so much I felt like he was calling roll in phys-ed . Not to be upstaged by his polo-clad nemesis, he too was armed with shockingly illogical statistics:

“Did you know that 86% of rapes could occur in the next two years?”

“Did you know that 44% of crimes that do not occur are prevented by a home security system?”

“Were you aware that a split floor plan makes you more susceptible to Scandinavian biker gangs?”

He followed this statistical onslaught with a few mentions of homicide and kidnapping for good measure and then asked if I had any good reason not to own a security system. I began to wonder if Jim wasn’t casing the neighborhood, so I hastily asked for his card (he was fresh out) and closed the door.

This decline in salesmanship is in no way limited to the quasi-legitimate home security promotions field. Almost a year ago, as I was enjoying a delicious lunch of hot-dogs and Tostitos, I was visited by a traveling investment adviser from Edward Jones. Apparently he was canvassing my neighborhood to give business and/or retirement advice to “everyday people” such as myself.

I was immediately suspicious of any business advice that originated with a man who felt his best chance at shaking loose un-tethered investment capital was random home visits at 2:00 PM on a Wednesday. If he had any illusions about my portfolio, I am sure they melted away when he saw the newly-acquired mustard stain on my shirt and realized that he was interrupting my Law & Order reruns on cable. To his credit, he forged ahead as if he had just been granted an audience with Warren Buffett and assured me that I too could secure my financial future. While I was interested in a more diversified investment strategy, it also came to my attention that Sam Waterston was about to make a key defense witness cry on the stand and I had to keep my priorities in order. I asked him for his card and indicated that we would be in touch (we are not in touch.)

Maybe my expectations are too high, but when I was younger I remember a salesman visiting our house to sell my parents a Rainbow Vacuum System. If you have not had the pleasure of a Rainbow in-home demonstration, let me outline the basic premise:

1. The salesperson allocates a time (usually in the evening) and requests that you clean all of your carpets with your own embarrassingly under-powered vacuum.

2. The salesperson comes in with the Rainbow system and proceeds to vacuum over the carpet you have just cleaned while commenting on what a beautiful family you have.

3. The salesperson then disassembles the water-based filter basin and points out the unholy soup of dust, dirt, and carcinogens your beloved family is exposed too every time you have the audacity to vacuum with an inferior product.

4. You are given several moments of self-loathing and then asked to chose which bonus scent additive you would like with your purchase (I believe we selected Pine Breeze.)

It was a thing of beauty; a stranger walks into your house, insults your ability as a homemaker, and sells you a sweeper so unwieldy you feel as if you are dragging an iron lung behind you. Now that, my friends, is how it is done.

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