I Convinced People to Buy a $2,000 Vacuum
3 Weeks of Dying on the Inside
Why I Felt THIS Job Was My Best Option:
Before this vacuum job, I was working for 50-60 hours a week for around $450 a week. It was physically demanding, and heavily commission based, so you usually only saw $400 a week. Rent's $1650 on average for an apartment. Thankfully, me and my roommate bargain hunted, and found a great place for $1,000/month.
Back then, I was working with little to show. The work days were ten to twelve hours, five to seven days a week, running around in winter, as an outdoor makeup saleswoman. Yeah, that's a whole other long story. Anyways, I frantically started sending in applications to jobs on Indeed, and Zip-Recruiter looking for no more than 40 hours, and more pay. I would get in ten applications a day.
After little luck (jobs not hiring until months or even a year down the line, not enough years experience, too far away due to my lack of a car, etc.), I poured through Craigslist jobs feeling absolutely defeated. I had been told all throughout college that in-person job inquiries were the best way to go when looking for a new job, but I worked from seven AM until eight or nine PM. Business hours had either yet to start, or were over. At least Indeed, and Zip-Recruiter were recommended alternatives given by my college adviser, before I graduated last May. Craigslist was described to me, as only able to provide unsustainable work with inadequate leadership from the boss(es).
Yet, rent was due, and the cautionary tales told by my beloved college professor eight months ago weren't going to pay my rent, and make sure I could eat. I found a job two weeks later selling vacuums door-to-door.
My job was to sell the Kirby Avalir II vacuum cleaners door-to-door for at least $1298, a maximum asking price of $2345. But usually I stuck to $2,000.
On my interview day, I'm filling in my job history, and references, as I waited for my interviewer to finish a task. She was around my age (I'm 22 BTW), with an awesome Jolly Rancher blue dye job, and her face sprinkled with freckles.
The office was about 6500 square feet, but was constantly being sharply sectioned by weirdly placed walls, oddly placed private offices, and the constant occupancy of at least ten blue and black cardboard boxes with the words, "KIRBY HOME CARE SYSTEM," proudly printed in white with a bald eagle set in front of an American flag on the adjacent side.
Tall enough to hit his head on his own ceiling, he bellowed out a brusque, "GOOD MORNING!" I visibly jolt, and clench my jaw from the out-of-nowhere sound, and look up to see he has plastered on an overly rehearsed smile: he started the smile, and then comfortably adjusted his face to make it so uncomfortably big that it seemed to cause pain, and then when he thought I was not looking his plastered smile turns into a more sincere resting b**** face.
What would have really inspired me is if appointments were set for us, as he said multiple times over that door-to-door cold opens would not exceed appointments. That way, we didn't have to convince people to let us in their house. We would already be happily expected, and would have an easier time selling the Avalir II, instead of every demonstration in someone's house wracking my nerves with the high likelihood that the homeowner would tell me to leave before I could show off the entire machine.
My boss would cackle "we f*** with people for a living! It's amazing." Everything about how we would introduce ourselves to the person at the door was rehearsed down to the word, and yet we were still largely despised.
My 6 Point Job Description: Cold Open, Front Talk, Kill Tests, Attachments, Mattress, Call Boss, and Then Hope to Make a Sale after Creeping Them Out
(If you're not interested in learning the specifics of my job, and just want to get to the part where I quit you can skip this section)
Knock. knock. knock. Door opens.
"Hi, how's it going! Are you the (king/queen) of the castle!" I would practically yell with the prettiest smile I could muster, and hand gestures meant to come off as casual, but both actions were meticulously rehearsed to me in daily hour-long morning trainings.
"Uh-huh," the person would usually frown at my arrival despite my boss saying calling the homeowner a king/queen would psychologically associate me in their minds as their friend. There are four main types of people we would talk to. We would catch a lot of blue-collar workers in the middle of naps before going to a night shift. Affluent stay-at-home parent was another one, usually having a glass of wine or a beer around noon before the kids get out of school. Then there was the college house on the block being rented out by two to six students, my personal favorite. Last but not least, the retired grandparent(s) that usually offered the advice of getting a real job.
Whoever the person was, they became even more confused when I exclaimed, "GREAT!" But we were trained to exclaim in an animated manner that sounds like the way a daycare worker flatters a toddler's scribble art. We were meant to flatter the homeowner, and see ourselves as their best friend.
After screaming, "great," I would hand the person the air freshener or the laundry detergent, depending on which type of gift our boss had in stock that day. The homeowner would take it, still confused, and wary. Then I would bolt in a run to the trunk of the boss's van to get the small shampoo box. The truck was typically parked three to five houses away. More times than not, people would shut their doors while we were running back to the car, and leave the air freshener outside their door. Sometimes they stole it from us. A few were bold enough to yell at our backs, "I don't care what you have to show me!" But if they did miraculously happen to still be there by the time we got back with the small shampoo box I would continue reciting my script.
"I'm in a HUGE contest and my boss pays me fifty bucks to show the machine off right THERE." Then as instructed, I was to bend over at the waist at a 90 degree angle, look at a space one to three feet inside their home, and point to said space while wiping my feet on their doormat. If there was no doormat, we were told to wipe our feet anyways. The perplexed homeowner would turn around to see what I was pointing at in their home and that was my scripted opportunity to slither my way into the strangers' home. Just as I was taught to do...
This was all taught through morning trainings done by my boss. "Make sure your head is down, down, DOWN towards the ground. This puts them at ease... WRITE THIS DOWN! Also, 90 degree angle. Not 45, not 60, 90. You're going to look like an elephant but you'll be an elephant with a sale. Now everybody up... FASTER NOW-" his words began to sound more like growls from a frustrated parent than instructions set for a professional workplace. In morning meetings he would say we were doing amazing, and just needed to tweak a few things, then turn around and do a facepalm when we showed the slightest bit of discontent.
In his mind, our outward appearance of happiness directly correlated with how well he thought we'd do that day. If we weren't smiling, that was a problem, and he had no qualms about micromanaging our facial expressions. Funny enough, some of my angriest days on the job are when I performed the best. Our boss was pretending that he wasn't crumbling apart due to his own temper, his own over-controlling nature, and the disorganization of his office. He would release this anger out in the only ways he knew how on the job. With growls, facepalms, and then a fake and skin-splitting smile.
... As I did my elephant dance, the homeowner would turn around to look at the spot in their home I was pointing at. That's when I slithered into their house, and one of two things would happen. One, they would immediately block me from further entry with their arm, and say some variation of, "no." Two, the person would go with it, and I would internally sigh with relief. Cold open completed.
Next was the front talk.
"So what's your name!" I would stick out my arm. "Nice to meet you! Like I said, I'm in a HUGE contest, so thank you for helping me out. I'm going to have a buddy of mine knock on the door in a minute with my other box."
As soon as it was seen I was entering the house, a co-worker in the car would sprint to the trunk to carry the larger of the Avalir II boxes to the house door. To make a long story short, front talk is when we treat the homeowner like a loaf of bread to be drenched in butter. Buttering them up was easy. Just find an item in their home and pretend you have a deep connection with it. I would look for college memorabilia and pretend to have gone to that college. I would see a picture of someone's kid and get them to tell me all about their little angel. All the while, I was assembling a $2,000 vacuum in their living room.
Now it's time to KILL!
Not actual killing, calm down. The kill tests were done to show how much better the Kirby Avalir II was compared to whatever vacuum they had. It always was, the Kirby's are crazy good. There were three kill tests. The first was to show the homeowner that most vacuums have a two inch suction hole while the Kirby has a seventeen inch suction row. Then we would freak out the homeowner by dumping a quarter of a bag of flour or sugar on their carpet. I would tell the homeowner to say, "stop," when they thought their own vacuum had gotten up all the flour or sugar. Then I went over it with the Kirby and would show them 10-15 hemp filter sphere covered with flour to their surprise. Then I would put down a ruler, and vacuum the side to the left of the ruler 30 times with their vacuum on, and then the other side with the vacuum off.
"The side that was vacuumed should be cleaner, right?" I would say. They obviously would agree. Then vacuuming with the Kirby would show that both sides had virtually the same amount of dirt on the hemp filter sphere pads. It was definitely impressive, but they had yet to see the price sheet. If they were okay with the price they would let me show them all the different types of attachments we had to go with the vacuum and they ranged from a dog hair removal device called the ZipBrush, to the lightbulb un-screwer that looked like a castle tower. The dreaded price sheet got me kicked out of a lot of houses by people who had started to love the vacuum, only to be reminded of reality.
I remember one lady who laughed bitterly and said, "Of course the pretty black stranger isn't here to just clean my house for free. Of course this s*** comes with a $2100 b****slap. Get the f*** out! What do I look like, JLo!" She yelled while slurring her words, and then chugged her homemade margarita, as she walked me out of the trailer she lived in. After that, I asked my boss why we even bother with people in a trailer home to try and sell a $2000 vacuum to.
He huffed and said, "they don't care enough to call the cops on an unusual car in trailer parks." I was hoping for a reason that stated we'd somehow increase our chances of selling a Kirby or finishing a demo. Nope, just trying to avoid the cops.
Being kicked out of a house, before the boss showed up to count your dirty hemp filter spheres, meant that demonstration didn't count. You were that much farther away from obtaining your $600/week from 15 demos. Some days, I would get into four to five houses, but be counted for not a single demonstration, because all of them had kicked me out, before the boss could see my work for all kinds of reasons:
"I have to pick up my kid from school,"
"I need to go to work,"
"I just don't have the money,"
"It's cool and all, but I don't need this."
Sitting in the car at 9 PM, on the ride back to the office at the end of the day, realizing I hadn't made a single cent that day from 12 hours of work, reminded me of the job I had right before Kirby, and that had me crying fast, angry tears in the pitch black car even as the boss insisted to everyone in the car who had not gotten a single demo in for the day (a normal occurrence that all was fine. Better than fine, everything was AMAZING apparently.
I was done with people kicking me out of their homes. I was tired of my boss' patronizing tone, the fake smiles, the hour-long morning meetings with repetitive, and/or redundant information. I was furious with the fact that my boss frequently took 20-40 minutes to pick me up after I was kicked out of a house, usually with no explanation. I spent that time shivering outside in ten degree weather, or lower, and try to ignore the curious stares I got from people looking at me through their curtains from inside their warm homes, wondering why a stranger was sitting on a curb with two blue and black boxes. I was sick of wrapping three plastic bags around each foot in the morning and putting on two pairs of socks because I knew I would be forgotten about again, and again, and for longer, and longer stretches of time. As time went on, I used the 20-40 minutes to call my boyfriend, and friends. Then I would start my new hobby of bursting out into tears while talking on the phone with him about how I must have royally messed up to end up in a horrible job like this one, which was startling worse than the one I had before.
I was pissed, that by the third week of working there, I had not received a single $600 paycheck due to my boss not believing the completion of 15 demos in that week. The paycheck I got from my first week was for $450. I was counted for two demos instead of the three I did, leaving my boss with the convenient option of not having to disburse my full paycheck. At first he tried to make it seem as if I didn't deserve a single cent. Then after a discussion that was like pulling teeth I got him to give me most of what was owed to me, but it should go without saying that everyone should be paid for all the work they do, not just most of it.
During my second week, I sold three Kirby's. I told myself there is no way I'm going to have less than a $1000 paycheck. I studied up on the names, and uses of all the attachments with a more diligent eye than my studying the week before. I did practice scenarios of interactions with homeowners outside of work hours with my friends. I even gave advice to the three new co-workers that passed through, and quickly quit their jobs, because it gave me the chance to quickly review knowledge about my job. I even rehearsed safe for work jokes that could work for any demographic. Yet, I still only made $450 and even worse, my boss made it seem as if I should have expected yet another incomplete paycheck after selling three $2000 vacuums. He spun this story full of language about credit scores, and loans that I simply did not understand, and I realize now this was his point.
By the time the last week showed up, I was fuming at the guest speakers our boss had brought in to tell us about all the career promises Kirby has in store for us, only to see a disheveled and grumpy boss pretending everyday to be having the best day of his life, and failing miserably, BUT getting mad at me for not having fun around his negativity.
The guest speakers used rehearsed phrases like, "last job you'll apply to," and, "It's like Burger King! You can have it your way with Kirby today!!" They were positive, but corny phrases with no sustenance, giving you everything positive about selling Kirby's, and ignoring the much larger pile of negatives about the job.
Most days it was just me and him quietly sitting in his truck, as he drove us out to the field. Others quit too quickly for me to remember names, and since I was signed on as independent contractor instead of employee, I was not legally obligated to work everyday the office had work hours. Yet, I worked every day available to have the highest chances of getting a lot of money, and out of respect of the fact that I was usually the only one who came into work prepared. It was a weird work relationship between my boss and I. He verbally said he was grateful for me being there over, and over, but his actions rarely showed this.
I was sick of looking at all the plaques on the wall that rewarded the accomplishments of Kirby salesmen that had since decided to take their career away from Kirby. I wonder why? Maybe because we worked 10-12 hours a day without scheduled food breaks. Maybe because we worked 10-12 hours a day in residential areas, and my boss would get irritated with me when I would ask for a trip to the restroom. Possibly it was because Blue Raspberry said to me two days before I quit, "I hate my job," in the quietest, soberest voice imaginable. Then our boss came in, and she felt obligated to promptly slap on a fake smile on her face, instead of be truthful with her boss, and say that she feels she is working a dead end job, and to please prove her, and me, wrong.
My last day was insane. I came to the office with more people there than I had ever seen. My boss had called around eight guys who used to work for him to take me out to the field that day, since he had to finish up office work for a couple of hours, before meeting us out there. We took an hour long trip to a ten mile stretch of trailer parks. I was furious. We had been to trailer parks for the past three days, and nobody had bought. I really didn't understand why my boss thought people living in rusted trailers would have $2000 to spare for a vacuum. I pretended to knock on doors, and waited in front of them for as few seconds as possible so we could get the trailer parks over with. One of the guys noticed, and tried to get angry at me, but I started getting obnoxiously sarcastic, and loud with him in my complaints about where we were trying to sell these high end vacuums, and he ended up having to agree with me, and we moved on to nicer homes.
After an hour and a half of not getting a single door to answer, the first one that does I get inside. The woman goes to pick a piece of lint out of my afro as I'm setting up the vacuum inside. I swerve my head away from her, but she insists on clamping her hand on my head while telling me what a waste my hair was.
"You have so much of it, and it could look so pretty after a flat iron. But your hair is fun, like Willy Wonka Laffy Taffy" Then she proceeded to stretch out a lock of my afro past my shoulder.
Fed up, I stopped assembling the vacuum, and repeated her behavior to me on her head. I clamped my hand down on her head and wordlessly finger rake the curls out of her hair that she flat ironed into her hair. She tries to jerk away, but I follow her, even going as far as to follow her when she walks away from me. When I'm done I say, "It's funny how white people have a problem with curls until they put them in their hair."
"Your hair isn't curly, it's in an afro."
"I have type 4c hair, kinky."
"And? That doesn't make your hair curly. You're wearing an afro."
That was it. I threw all the parts hap hazardously in the boxes, and dragged the bulging, incorrectly packed, boxes out of her front door, out of her driveway, past her two other neighbors houses, and to the perpendicular street. I stared numbly at the boxes and thought of the two achievement certificates I had gotten earlier that week for selling my first Kirby, and then for selling more than one Kirby in a week. I threw the certificates away at a gas station trashcan sitting outside beside a gas pump.
I waited 52 minutes for someone to pick me up. I knew that calling them for an estimate wait time was pointless, these guys had inherited their boss' bad habit of not answering their phones. When they finally did show up, we were down from three cars to two, because an officer saw one of the guys was driving around with four month expired tags, and then when his ID was scanned, realized he shouldn't be driving at all, because of his DUIs among other things he felt uncomfortable sharing with me, but shared freely with the other guys. It sucked being the only female in the office; it meant I was left out of a lot of conversation.
Our boss showed up, an hour later than expected, and I told him about the racist incident. He quickly laughed at my story, and told one of his own about how an old white man had called him a sp**k and kept calling him, "boy," despite him being 35 years old. He made a point out of showing he will appease a racist for the small chance that he may buy a vacuum. Then he told me to, "... stick it out unless it gets too bad. But don't forget the mattress test or else it doesn't count."
I went to college to make a difference in this world about how black and brown people are seen, and to fight against unfair treatment against them. I am an activist. Obtaining the attitude a passive house slave is not what I signed up for. So when we got five streets over, and all of us hopped out of the cars to knock on doors with our Febreze, I hopped out. I walked down the street, took a left, took two rights, and after burning off angry energy, and seeing a bus stop to unload, I hopped on that bus without a word to my boss. He didn't deserve a goodbye. He had disrespected his race, and all people of color by choosing money over self-respect, and choosing it over educating someone on their own hurtfulness, and how to end it. Then finally, telling me he'd choose for me to endure an incident of racism, just so long as it wasn't, "too bad".
My boss texted me 15 minutes later asking where I had gone. I blocked his number, and played Common's, "Black America Again," over and over, then Nina Simone's, "Mississippi G*dd*mn," over and over. In that moment I was reminded of who I was. I wasn't meant to be a salesman, I am an activist down to my bones because I'm a fighter. I fought to make the job work, pushing away obvious signs that my time there wouldn't last, pretending my boss respected me when really he had rehearsed all the right things to say, and desperate to pay my bills on time with money left over to eat more than hot pockets for a week straight.
I'm happy to say I found an amazing job where we put people above profits in every way imaginable. We fight for the protection of homeless people from criminalization, we fight for climate change, we fight for racial justice, and I have not had to force a single smile since day one.