Consumerist Undercover At IDT Energy: The Day Of O

I sat in the offices of Midtown Promotions, watching the receptionist field calls from job prospects, still surprised at having been one of those callers not even twenty-four hours prior.

I was in it for real on Day Two, no turning back now. Day Two, also known as the Day of O, short for Day of Observation in DS-Max (now known as Innovage) companies, is a field-test that no one has been known to fail. DS-Max, it has been said, will take anybody. So far, Midtown Promotion’s methodology for handling new recruits seemed to be tracking parallel to what I’ve read are the standard practices and procedures for DS-MAX type businesses.

Eric called me into his office to quickly run down the day. “You are going to be with these two gentleman, okay?” he said, sitting down in his leather chair. He indicated Carl, a manager-to-be, and James, an employee on his third day. Carl was in his late forties, in a nice grey button-down shirt and red and blue-striped tie. James was in a suit and green tie to match the lime-green strap around his neck that held his IDT-Energy badge. He was in his late twenties, a suave and good-looking Jamaican immigrant with a wry smile that seemed to say, “Don’t worry, I will get what I want.”

This is part 3 of our undercover report into IDT Energy, an energy reseller in the New York area…


“They’re going to initiate you into the sales and promotional campaign, okay? They’re going to show you the outside promotional side, how we do contracts. Ask them questions because upon their evaluation and the final interview with us tonight at seven, we’ll determine whether you meet our search criteria. Brian, best of luck.”

Eric barely had time for a handshake before barreling past me, flipping eagerly through a stack of papers. I sat back down in reception, waiting for the morning meeting to clear out, really wishing I could shove my tape recorder under that conference room door. I wondered if, behind those doors, employees were pledging allegiance to Midtown Promotions, or chanting “juice.” Maybe they were even being given clean ConEd shirts to replace yesterday’s.

Also waiting outside were five other prospects, chewing their nails and texting up a storm. My friend with the headband from yesterday wasn’t there,; all of these young employees-to-be were in business casual wear, which means my attire the day before was the right choice. What I couldn’t figure out was why we were wearing ties when, pretty soon, they’d surely be slipping us some shirts with ConEd patches.

The only thing I could hear over the ringing of the receptionist’s phone was a smattering of applause emanating from the meeting room once every few minutes. I rose from my seat and walked to the conference room doors, hoping to peek through the crack between them. Soon, about twenty-five people spilled out of what I could see was a large, furniture-free room with a blackboard. The last employee out closed the door behind him and gave me a puzzled look.

“What was all that clapping?” I asked James later that day.

“That was the managers, the head people, giving us all the energy we needed for the day. And we were going over yesterday, seeing what was working for everyone.” After a moment of thought, he added, “It’s easy to lose the momentum… so that keeps the momentum going, too… keeps you focused.” In researching DS-MAX online, former employees had referenced something that sounded similar to this, called “Atmosphere.”

After the meeting let out, Carl, James, and I headed off to Elmhurst, Queens, so they could sell and I could learn. As we went down the stairs into the 34th St. station, something began to dawn on me. All three of us were still. wearing ties and slacks. Nobody seemed to be carrying a bag that could fit ConEd uniforms.

I asked, “Hey, so… a couple months ago… some guy came to my door and he was in a ConEd uniform selling IDT. How come we’re not doing that?”

Carl’s eyebrows went up over the rim of his sunglasses. “That’s something different,” he said.

“Were you here when they were doing that?”

“I started in October.”

“It was only a few weeks ago,” I said, “They wanted to switch me to IDT. When I came in today, I fully expected everyone to be wearing Con Ed uniforms.”

Carl pointed to his dress shirt and snazzy tie. “I wear this every day.”

I got the sense Carl was being straight with me; he really didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Still, I pressed the issue. All he would say further was, “Isn’t that illegal?”

On the V train, Carl broke down the commission structure. He said it was $6 or $7 per application, up to $20 for businesses, with good people scoring 13-20 applications per day, which worked out to something around $600 a week. I wondered to myself how much the not-so “good people” got, before taxes, for their sixty hours.

Meanwhile, James peppered me with questions about what I wanted to do with my life, where I grew up, where I lived, etc. I wasn’t sure whether he simply took a relentless interest in me, or whether he just wanted to practice his already well-developed conversational skills. This tactic sounded similar to what one former DS-MAX manager described about dealing with new recruits on “The Day of O:”

“…Find out what he likes and dislikes. What he is motivated for or running away from? If it is an older guy — talk about management. If it is a kid talk about learning and growth. If the guy hates being in a cubicle then promote the fresh air. If she likes international business talk about how many country’s ds-max is in.”

We arrived in Jackson Heights and hopped a bus into Elmhurst, arriving at our first house at 11:30. Carl picked this area, around 81st St. and Northern Blvd. He said he’d been “doing well” with it on Monday and Tuesday.

For most of the day, Carl knocked and stood at the door, while we stood off to the side. Carl didn’t want us to look overwhelming. He figured more people would open the door if they thought it was one-on-one. For the first ten minutes, we got no answer for any of our knocks. Carl mentioned how do most of our sales after school lets out. Two two minutes later, he hit the proverbial jackpot: a landlord who owned lots of New York property and paid his tenants’ electric and gas bills.

He was Colombian, in his late sixties, thin, and balding. The landlord seemed perpetually stressed by how little money he was making. “The market is slow, so I don’t buy,” he muttered. Carl ignored the chatter just— he was buried under the paperwork, writing down account and phone numbers, addresses for each service location and separate billing location. It took him about three minutes for each application, and with two applications for every property (one for electric and one for gas), he had filled out a total of fourteen forms. By the end of it, the poor guy was covered in sweat.

Carl’s engrossment gave me a chance to give him a good look-over. A middle-aged black man with very short hair and a striking demeanor, he could be your bodyguard, if only he looked threatening and dangerous. He sweat constantly. “Don’t mind me,” he said sheepishly early on, “I sweat when it’s two degrees below zero. I used to work in an ice-cream freezer; it was twenty-five below every day. My whole uniform would come out soaking wet.” With his suit, sunglasses, binder full of forms, and a small towel always drying off his forehead, Carl could’ve been a 1960′s aluminum siding salesman.

“I pay so much money,” said the landlord, “I pay seven thousand dollars a year…” Carl interjected, “That’s why I’m here. To save you money.” The landlord continued, “They say to me when I call, I have to pay. [Otherwise,] call Bush. I’m not kidding.” In the last two months’, at one house, he was billed nearly $1,100. “I don’t cry about it, I don’t cry about the bills. I’ve had twelve surgeries in my body…”Most of the rest of the day’s sales were was less eventful:

• A woman who said, “My roommate pays the bill and we haven’t opened the new one yet.”
“Do you have an older copy of the bill? We can use that.”
“No, she keeps all the records.”
“Are you sure? Can you call her?”
“I can call her.” Then, a few moments later, “Yeah, she’s not— uh, I can’t reach her, so…” No sale.

• “Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh. Interesting.”
“Do you live here?”
“No. I’m just the painter.” No sale.

• “Hello, good afternoon—”
“She not here.”
“She? Who’s she? You don’t even know who we’re here to see.” No sale.

• “Hi, good afternoon, sir. My name is Carl and this is James and Brian, and we’re from IDT-Energy. (Pause) Is there anyone in the house that speaks English? (Pause) All right, you have a good day, sir. (Pause) “We get a lot of cancellations from Chinese people,” Carl mused, “They’re the biggest cancellation rate.”

Most of the day’s sales were with non-English speakers. Since Carl spoke Spanish and I had forgotten most of mine, their conversations were lost on me. “Does anyone in the house speak English?” was our constant calling card. Often, a child acted as translator for immigrant parents. The kids came to the door, homework and pencil in hand, and explained the savings program back to the adult. The parent usually signed, giving the papers hesitantly back to Carl, and, by the end of the day, James, who started to take more initiative at the door.

At one point, James called up to a child in a second-story window who wanted to know why we were looking for his parents. James looked at Carl for help. “Should I say the same pitch? Should I say IDT or Con Ed?”

“Do the same as you would if they were at the door. Make sure you say ConEd. They hear ConEd, they’ll come down,” said Carl. That house is where James made his first sale.

At another house, James commanded, “Just get your bill, we’ll be right here.” “Oh, oh, okay,” said the Chinese woman, flustered by James’s unvarnished attempts at a hard sale.. Returning to the door, the woman seemed more relaxed. “We use very little, but we pay a lot. You IDT? Not Con Edison?”

“Con Edison got deregulated in 1997, so they can’t make energy,” Carl explained, sweetly. “Now, we’re the suppliers, we supply energy. See here, on your bill? Where it says when you ‘go to a new supplier to reduce your charges and lower your taxes?’ Okay?” The Chinese woman nodded.

As Carol was about to get into discussing Keyspan, everyone but the woman watched as the front door swung toward us with a gust. It closed, and locked.

She didn’t have her keys. Of course, just then, it started to rain. Carl and I cast a chagrined look at each other.

James offered the woman his umbrella to keep while she stood in the doorway, waiting for her son to come home from work. It could be an hour or more, she speculated. Her next-door neighbors came out of their house to bring in their kids.

Carl said, “Why not go inside with them? You want me to see if they can help you?”

The woman nodded vaguely, not looking at us.

“You can’t ask your neighbor?” asked Carl again.

She hemmed and hawed. James and Carl asked her neighbors’ permission to let the woman in. Warily, they said yes. Suddenly, the Chinese woman began sneezing non-stop for at least five minutes straight. “It’s allergies,” I told her neighbors.

When we left her, the woman stood under the doorway, almost walking in place, and not looking in our direction. Her neighbors shrugged, went into their house, and closed the door.idtform.jpghttp://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/idtenergytermsandconditions-thumb.jpg?w=200&h=259Right: IDT-Energy’s Terms and Conditions. Click to enlarge.

We hardly rested all day long. Lunch lasted 10 minutes, including pizza, on me, and a bathroom break. I spotted James, though he never got me back, even after cashing his paycheck at a check-cashing place later that week.

Back on the streets, James took the lead while I hung back to chat with Carl. It was apparent James had done the math after moving up from “clearance,” a sales job that involved wheeling junky toys and gadgets around in boxes to local businesses. This caught my attention, as online reports mentioned how DS-MAX-type businesses often focused on selling small items n the street, in parking lots, and to small businesses.

Indeed, according to DS-MAX’s trademark application, their goods and/or services include:

Mops; bakeware; bath sets, namely sets containing two or more of garbage cans, tissue covers, toothbrush holders and soap dishes; bottle openers; bowls; bowl sets, chopper boards, namely kitchen boards for chopping vegetables and the like; canteens; car seat coolers namely food coolers used inside a vehicle; car dusters, namely dusters to remove dust from vehicles; comb sets; cups; cutting boards; freezer boxes, namely plastic containers for food; frying pans; hair brushes; graters, namely cheese graters; garbage baskets; household dusters; kitchen graters, namely cheese graters; kitchen scrubbers, namely pot scrubbing pads; ovenware; plates; plastic bowls; poultry cooking sets, namely turkey basters and turkey sewing needles; rubber brooms; scouring pads; shower caddies; serving spoons; soup ladles; spoon sets; tea sets; vacuum bottles; travel mugs; utensils for barbecues, namely, forks, tongs, turners; insect traps; portable beverage cooler; non-precious metal candle holders and candle holder sets; non-electric cooking pans; household containers for food; hand-operated kitchen tools, namely egg beaters, whisks, rolling pins, spatulas, turners; fitted picnic baskets; plastic food, coffee and teas canisters; portable blenders, namely hand-operated blenders for mixing beverages and liquid food; salad tongs; scrubbing brushes; empty soap bottles; tea strainers, wine strainers, cooking strainers; household spatulas, household spatula sets; teapots made of non-precious metal; brushes for cleaning vegetables art boards, namely boards used for drawing, painting or creating art; art sets, namely sets containing two or more of crayons, paint, coloured pen sets, pens and paper; atlases; photo albums; bibles; boxed stationery; calendars; crayons; crayon and paint sets; diaries; dictionaries; encyclopedias; erasers; flash cards; eraser sets; greeting cards; markers; juice books, namely cookbooks containing recipes relating to juices; memo pads; lunch bags; pens; pen sets; pencil cases; pencil sharpeners; note cards; office diaries; paper boxes, namely gift boxes; personal organizers; phone indexes; puzzle books; recipe books; stacking boxes, namely storage boxes for storing paper; stationery boxes; staplers; calligraphy kits comprised of calligraphy pens and paper; compasses for drawing or drafting; desk stands and holders for pens, pencils, and ink; empty designer gift bags made of fabric or paper; paperclips and letter clips; desktop organizers, organizers for personal use, organizers for stationery use; document portfolios, stationery-type portfolios; paper mail pouches, paper pouches for packaging; stationery sets comprised of stationery paper and pens and envelopes; answering machines; batteries; battery chargers; battery converters; binoculars; boom boxes, namely mini, portable stereo sets; calculators; camcorders; cameras; CD-Rom cases; CD players; cordless phones; electronic organizers; emergency lights; fire extinguishers; fridge magnets; headphones; magnifying glasses; mouse pads; pre-recorded CD-ROM’s containing music and games; FM radios with scanning tuners; radios; radio speakers; telephones; televisions; emergency auto kits comprised of a hand held spotlight and battery charger; dog alarms, namely alarms for ensuring canine pets do not leave their containment area; electronic game programs; cassette recorders, car cassette players; personal cassette player with a radio, personal CD player with a radio; computer game cassettes, computer game software, computer game discs; magnifying lenses; pre-recorded CD-ROM’s not containing software; pre-recorded videos, namely movies and instructional materials; video game software; thermal forks, namely barbeque forks with a temperature indicator IC 008; US 023 028 044; G and S— beard trimmers; cutlery; cutlery sets; flatware; hair clippers; cutters, namely box cutters; eyelash curlers; driver tools, namely hand-held screw drivers; hair removers, namely razors; hand tools, namely non-motorized tools, namely screw drivers, pliers, wrenches, files and rasps; knife sets; knives; kitchen knives; pliers; pocket knives; pizza slicers; razors; slicers for slicing fruits and vegetables; scissors; scissors sets; socket sets; travel kits, namely manicure sets; can openers; manicure sets; nasal clippers, namely clippers to trim nose hairs; pedicure sets; non-electric peelers, namely tools to peel the skins from fruits and vegetables; hand-operated food processors; hand-operated ratchet sets; hand-operated screwdrivers and screwdriver sets; non-electric shavers, air hockey games; backgammon sets; baseballs; bean bags; black jack games; board games; card games; chess sets; dart games; dolls; doll houses; catchers, namely fishing lures; handheld unit for playing electronic games; magic sets; jigsaw puzzles; paper and model playing kits, namely toys of all types made of paper and paper model toys such as trucks and airplanes; pinball games; plush toys; poker games; puppets; toy racing cars; stamp sets, namely sets of toy rubber stamps for making impressions; soccer balls; rolling hoops, namely toys comprising hoops that can be rolled; three-dimensional puzzles; squirters, namely toy water pistols; toys, namely, water guns, wind-up toys, plush toys, dolls, cars and trucks; walky talkies, namely toy communication devices; toy building blocks; card games, board games, battery-powered computer game with LCD screen which features animation and sounds effects, travel card games, travel board games, travel hand-held computer games; inflatable beach balls; and handheld units for playing video games.

Anyway, James made a lot of money in clearance and, after a few signatures for IDT-Energy, could see there weren’t enough hours in the week to make the same in his new position. James didn’t complain, but he kept asking Carl about how often Carl works and if Saturday is a bigger day than, say, Wednesday.

As the rain and vicious wind continued, we ducked into a large apartment building. We hit a series of doors where the maid or the kids were the only people around, then later made one or two sales in James’s name. About midway through, a very tall man in his late fifties swung open his door and bellowed, “What do you want? Hurry, hurry, what do you want?”

Carl gave his entire pitch in one incredible run-on sentence, but the old man just yelled at him to go away. Later, the old man interrupted us as we were selling to someone down the hall from him. “I despise ConEd and Entergy,” he yelled, mistaking us for a rival ESCO.

Back at HQ, I had to fill out a quiz on the five steps of sales. I had no idea how I would memorize those five steps and all their multiple subheadings and very precise, vague language. Nonetheless, I gave Carl a nice write-up on the questionnaire that asked things like, “Based on what you observed, what did you enjoy the most?” Then I moved on to the actual quiz, which thankfully was more or less “open book.”

The questions, none of which I had trouble finding the crowd-pleasing answer to, included: What did I enjoy the least? What good working habits would make you more successful? Why is it important not to let the “no’s” bother you? etc.

After that, I was ushered into Eric’s office for my “second interview.” His blond hair was neatly combed and goatee perfectly trimmed. Despite working 70+ hours a week, he always looked like it was ten am, had had eight hours of sleep, and his coffee had just kicked in.

7:20pm: Eric’s office

Eric: Hey! How are you, sir? Welcome. Have a seat!

Brian: Sure.

Eric (referring to the piles of neatly stacked IDT-Energy apps): Don’t mind the mess in the office. So, you were out there today. Questions, sir, any questions?
Brian: Uh… nothing that I… Carl was pretty helpful, I probably bombarded him in the first hour, but after that it was learn-by-doing.
Eric: Very good. Right, and as you understand as far as what you’ve seen today… Carl… it’s part of his responsibility that he’s normally doing “twenties.”
[e.d. As in, number of applications per day.]
Eric went on to describe for me “just how much can be made” by multiplying Carl’s totals with the number of other hard workers, 5-6 days a week, times three offices, times 52. I couldn’t keep track of the numbers made it sounded like a lot of money.

Eric: Now, are we currently looking [for] long-term career people for sales? No. Don’t get me wrong, some people like it, enjoy it, make good money with it. Um, but the aspiration side of it, we are looking to expand it. Currently, the owner has six locations on the Eastern seaboard. We’re looking to grow it further, but the only way to grow it further is internally… we are looking to promote from within. So, we are looking for people who want to learn the system. I know some people come in for just summer schooling… so we’re fine with that. Is that something that’s of interest to you, Brian?

Was he already beginning to tenderize me for “The Opportunity,” where the office encourages the low-level worker to worker up to a leadership position and eventually open your own office that takes part in fulfilling the contracts the “spawning” office gets?

Brian (reflecting back Eric’s excitement): Yeah! Yeah!
Eric: And if I were to accept you, would you be able to start immediately?
Brian: Yep.
Eric: And no other questions before I wrap up? I know it’s been a long day for you, I know it has been for me…

The only I could think of was, yeah, where are you hiding the ConEd uniforms? Instead, I just shook my head and got the hell out of there.

I had hit the pavement for ten hours, with no fake Con Ed outfits to show for it.

But what about James asking Carl whether he should say IDT-Energy or ConEd? That sat uneasily in my stomach, along with how we were successfully targeting non-English speakers, frequently through their children.

My body ached. I could hardly stand up. My shoes stunk, my feet stunk. My hair was a mess. I had unnatural cravings for boxes of sugar-drenched energy bars. I couldn’t get any sleep. I didn’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I will not do it. I have to do it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Day One
2. The Job Interview
3. The Day Of O
4. Let’s Get Juiced
5. The Meeting
6. The Meltdown
7. The Confession

Note: No definitive ties have been established between Midtown Promotions and DS-MAX/Innovage.

Comments

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  1. rmz says:

    “An” Utility Employee?

    Nice.

  2. etinterrapax says:

    I object to that particular usage of the word “grow.” “We’re looking to grow it further…” Is “expand” too many syllables or something? If they try to grow anything in my direction, I’m getting out my bottle of RoundUp.

  3. brianfairbanks says:

    One anonymous poster on FACTNet:

    “I worked for a company called DSMax. They call themselves an advertising and marketing firm. They are lying. I could probably write a book about what was horrible about this job, but here’s a handy list instead.

    1. 4:45 a.m. Wake up, shower, put on mandatory shirt and tie.

    2. 5:45 a.m.-7 a.m. Commute 1.25 hours to DSMax branch office in Norristown, PA.

    3. 7 a.m.-9 a.m. Engage in motivational cheering sessions and spirit-building exercises with fellow “representatives.” (“Where we going?” “To the top!” “WHERE WE GOING?” “TO THE TOP!” “When?” “Now!” “When?” “Now!” “WHEN WHEN WHEN?” “NOW NOW NOW!!!” And other humiliations too numerous and depraved to list. Let me just say there was “hand jive” involved.) Listen in quiet horror as co-workers enthusiastically discuss pro wrestling/soap operas/fanatical, cultish commitment to DSMax/plans for all the money they’ll make once they get promoted to branch manager. Take note of surprising number of co-workers who’ve quit since you started. Envy them.

    4. 9 a.m. Commute back to Philadelphia in order to walk door-to-door in the run-down ghetto business districts of West Philly. In December. Peddling long-distance phone service to local small business owners (i.e. hair salons, corner stores, dive bars (people drinking straight vodka at 10 a.m.), garages, endless parade of delis and other shithole restaurants, etc.) Do this until 5 p.m. Return to “office” (really just one large rumpus room) during rush hour.

    4a. Locate potential client (e.g., sucker). Check soul at door. “Pitch.” Trudge, defeated, out door OR (rarely) attempt have customer sign multiple contracts and make multiple phone calls to complete sale. Trudge forlornly out door when customer informs you that he/she “don’t have time for this ••••.”

    5. 6 p.m. Return to office. Ring small bell, large bell, or gong, according to your sales performance for the day. Calculate commission. Choke back tears at realization that commission will not pay rent and there is NO BASE PAY. Gather round for another session of cheering and practice pitching (just follow your five steps and your eight steps!–DSMax’s keys to success, in addition to trite little coffee mug aphorisms and the sort of pithy acronyms that Judge Judy would find clever: KISS–”Keep It Simple Stupid”). Fend off barrage of entreaties by over-zealous co-workers to attend post-work DSMax get-togethers at nearby Applebee’s.

    6. 8 p.m. Return home. Microwave taste-free/nutrition-free food because you are too tired, beaten to cook. Complain to sig. other.
    7. 9 p.m. Pass out on couch in front of mindless television.

    8. 1 a.m. Wake up on couch. Get up and go to actual bed. Cry self back to sleep.

    9. Repeat steps 1-8.

    I lasted five weeks. I probably made a total of $1,500.
    A part of me died that I will never get back”

    -from FACTNet Message Board on DS-Max/Innovage

  4. B says:

    I notice the sales material makes it clear they’re supposed to identify as being from IDT, but the actual sales calls, they say Con Ed.

  5. DashTheHand says:

    Waiting for the next installment of this series is far too painful.

    Its like forcing yourself to limit your reading of a really great book to one chapter per night.

  6. zolielo says:

    What would be evil is if they also claimed that the energy they supplied also came from green energy sources.

  7. Hschwarzkopf says:

    An excellent article again; this Intern guy you’ve got seems to be the best writer at Consumerist. I say promote him.

    Reading through his reports gives me an uncomfortable deja vu, as I actually have experienced nearly everything he’s written about so far. In Columbus, OH there’s a shady company called DK Promotions (alternatively know as CAP Marketing and Consulting)that follows the exact same practices (right down to having morning “applause” routines to keep people “motivated.” I have a feeling they may be staged for interview days.

    After my day of observation I felt the same way as Brian: “My body ached. I could hardly stand up. My shoes stunk, my feet stunk. My hair was a mess.” The only difference? I told them to go to hell and then went home for a long shower, swearing to warn everyone I knew about the shady company.

  8. wezelboy says:

    You might want to redacate that guys online access code on his bill.

  9. dwarf74 says:

    Am I nuts? So far I don’t see anything even as bad as used car salesmen. Yeah, I know I’m setting the bar pretty low, but this is about what I expected from any kind of door-to-door sales gig. I’m really hoping this investigation turns up some real dirt…

    I’m still getting a bad taste in my mouth from the general high-pressure and aggressive sales tactics, but those always piss me off. Especially when they’re taking advantage of foreign-language speakers.

  10. Artie says:

    Excellent story, looks like they don’t even tell you you are hired, they just said so you can start tomorrow and then I’m gonna wrap up. Assuming the sale that’s

  11. RST1123 says:

    An hero.

  12. brianfairbanks says:

    @Hschwarzkopf:

    Thanks, but the intern and I are two different people. The intern was unable to secure a position, for reasons we shall not disclose. I am somebody else.

  13. hubris says:

    @dwarf74:

    The dude just started. They’re not gonna break out their hardcore shady tactics before they even officially hire the guy. I’m assuming something shady happened, or they wouldn’t be writing this series. They would have sent the dude undercover, had him say “well, it sucked but it wasn’t illegal or anything” and they would have moved on to another story.

    Oh, and it’s redact, not redacate. :)

  14. wezelboy says:

    @omerhi:

    my bad.

  15. Wally East says:

    @brianfairbanks: Did the intern actually die during the interview? Or, did s/he list, Intern for Consumerist.com on his/her resume? Those are probably the only two things that would do it.

  16. Moosehawk says:

    @RST1123: For some reason I kept trying to say to myself “an utility, an utility, an utility …” and the whole time I’m thinking to myself “Yea, this doesn’t make sense.”

    Good read though, I’m really looking forward to hearing about your next adventure.

  17. satmandu says:

    This sounds like the same sort of Multi Level Marketing as at Cutco, or the US PIRGs.

    I just read Activism, Inc. Seems like pretty much exactly the same business model, almost line for line.

  18. DashTheHand says:

    I’ve also been to one of these strange, “cultish” businesses.

    I remember the whole experience quite vividly because it was one of the lowest points in my life, even worse than having to live out of my tiny Nissan pickup truck for a week once (no cap on the back and it was in February).


    This was in Bakersfield, CA. Those of you unfortunate enough to know of this city know that it is HOT, dusty, and toxic from spring to early winter. This was a place that humanity was not meant to live.

    The office was in a business park, where all the small crap companies are with the dark tinted windows and numbers on the door with no company logos. The interior of the office lobby was painted in what can only be called an “ultramarine” blue. The carpet was stained, the office reeked of perspiration, and the only decoration in the lobby was a large fish tank.

    I went through the general steps of being hired, including being falsely led there by a promise of a salaried managerial position. I went through the initial interview, given by an over exuberant “manager” in suspenders, a blue shirt that matched the wall color, and suspenders. The hardest part of the interview that I can remember was that he had a massive dent in his face where his left cheekbone should have been. It was purple and sunken and was very eerie. I didn’t really want to think about or know what happened.

    For some reason, after or during the end of this interview, I was introduced to the two people I would be possibly working with – “IF I was interested.” At this time the suggestion was made by the manager that we should all hit a 7-eleven for a slurpee or some such nonsense. It was surreal and I couldn’t say no to stay in the good graces. I was led outside to the manager guy’s brand new Lexus IS200. I got stuffed into the back seat along with one of the other random guys that I was supposed to be working with. Manager guy and the senior random guy rode up front. In the end I realized that this was part of the pitch to show what I could be working towards – during the ride I was told that he had made enough money to buy this car outright with cash in only 4 months.

    I made it through the interview and was asked to come back the next day, to dress professionally in a long sleeved shirt and tie. I had no problem with this thinking I would be working inside for some reason. Wrong. Turns out that the big way to work to the top was to sell crap to people. Now when I say crap, I don’t need actual fecal matter, but the quality of the products was damn close. For that first (and final) day of my training, I was following around those two guys I met in the managers office trying to push the following onto the hapless poor, rednecks, and insane people:

    1. A stuffed Spider-Man pillow in the shape of Spider-Man crouching.
    2. A Knife set of questionable value. Probably very poor since they were only being unloaded for 10 bucks.
    3. A children’s book with attached puzzle toy. A VERY odd combination as it was a Winnie the Pooh book with a random puzzle of blocks attached.
    4. A wrench set that was metric. Again very poor quality.
    5. The hardest thing to remember since it was mostly left in the car – some sort of crappy little jewelry box that included some cheap junk jewelry.

    Before departing the office, the two guys I was training under stuffed a couple of duffel bags with said junk, and we went into the back room. What followed was what Brian heard behind the door. Lots of cheers, clapping, psych up routines. It made me feel like I was at a high school pep-rally. God, I hated those. After 10 minutes of this we did the all-put-your-hands-in cheer and split.

    We went to the dirtiest part of Bakersfield, which is actually called Oildale, and spent the day trying to get people to buy this horrible bargin bin junk. Every minute was agony. The heat was oppressive, the clothing I was wearing was not making it better, my feet hurt from walking all day in dress shoes, and I felt horrible trying to sell this garbage to people that looked like they should be feeding their children instead of buying junk. I remember clearly that during lunch we had Subway, and that even though I was ready to pay, the senior sales guy almost demanded that he pay for my sandwich. “Whatever” I thought, and let him. They quizzed me as I ate, asking how I liked the job and if I was going to be back tomorrow. “Of course!” I lied with a big smile across my mug.

    The rest of the day was more of the same, but I rebelled and stuffed my tie into a pocket and rolled up my shirt sleeves. It was way too hot to deal with the pleasantries of tricking myself into it being all in my mind. Around 6 pm we headed back to the office and the two trainee guys slipped off into a back room while I was whisked back into too-much-energy managers office. The follow-up interview was just as bad as the inital one. The brainwashing continued as he attempted to get me psyched up about coming in the next day and to be there 8am sharp and how he was sure I’d be managing my own office in less than two months. Still with the huge deceptive smile plastered to my face I agreed and shook his hand firmly before being able to leave. The two guys I worked with that day were in the lobby and stopped me before I could bolt. They both wanted me to go hang out at Ruby Tuesdays for a couple drinks, and said that some of the other people were going too. Already tired of having to deal with these people I made up some excuse and finally got out of there.

    I never went back. I felt dirty. This was 4 years ago and I can remember it like it was last week.

  19. Kung Fu Cantona says:

    I used to work in a building and on the floor below us was NOVO 1 or another name that they used was Protocall. Basically what they do is cold call people and small businesses all day long trying to get them to switch phone carriers. I think they have had several instances of slamming as well. Every morning I could hear their get motivated activities from my office. It consisted of loud clapping and hooting for 20 minutes. I would sometimes see some of their employees outside smoking complaining that they didn’t get enough points that day or they still needed to make the final 200 of their 400 expected daily calls. While not a MLM scheme, its shady none the less and I cant imagine anyone who would be happy doing a job like that.

  20. jeffj-nj says:

    I’ve been on interviews similar to the ones described in this article and in these responses. I’ve never expressed any interest in the jobs. Looking back, I don’t even remember what led me to go to the interview at all.

  21. traezer says:

    A friend of mine did this. She sold vacuum cleaners. She worked two 40 hour weeks and only made $150. I felt really bad for her, but luckily she was smart enough to quit.

  22. babette says:

    My husband, in an act of desperation after losing his job, worked for DS-Max several years ago. I still have nightmares about him coming home after a 12 hour day with $10.00 in pay. Expose these people for what they are. Predators who employee desperate people. They still owe us $500.00 in bounced paychecks.
    I await the next installment with baited breath, fortunately enough time has passed to dull the pain DS-Max caused my family. My husband and I almost died when we read the phrase “grow it further” again.

  23. swalve says:

    “growing” a business seems more organic than “expanding” a business.

    These stories make me feel even better about my years spent toiling for fast food. It was hard work, but I ALWAYS got paid and our customers ALWAYS got what they paid for, and my experience led to bigger and better things.

    They also remind me that sales is never the free lunch it seems to be.

  24. @satmandu:

    oh man, the PIRG… I worked one summer for one, my numbers were shit but I quit before they fired me.

    we were canvassing for the Sierra Club, had this whole line about how much of the money went directly into conservation and stuff.

    The only problem? Even though we told people that “over 80%” of all money collected went to conservation programs, if you hit your numbers, you got paid more than 20% right off the top.

  25. Firstborn Dragon says:

    I made the mistake of working for Cutsco one summer. For MAYBE two weeks.

    Three days of training in this tiny office. Then when I started going out, it went downhill, FAST.

    When I went out for my first display ( I just didn’t know a hell of a lot of people) and called in, I got compalined at cause I only sold a small set of knifes. Not the 2K set they wanted us to push.

    Did a few other demos (My father wasn’t intrested so I lied and said he was there with my mom), got yelled at by my aunt.

    My parents were fighting about my job.

    THEN when I ran outa people to talk to, I was told to go BACK to my HS (3 years after I graduated) and try to get teachers to do demos with me.

    I went in one day, said I couldn’t do this, they pushed me into doing it part time. So thenext day, I went in, said I had to quit. Told them it wasn’t working out. When they tried to get on my case about it, I said it wasn’t worth it, that my parents were CONSTATNLY fighting vover me having this job.

    That’s what it took to convince them to acept me quitting.

  26. Trai_Dep says:

    Would it be possible to seed applicants with semi-automatics? Seems only a matter of time before something happens, and it’d feel pretty good having been there to give the initial push.

    Aim for the managers, kids – anyone promising a Lexus in three weeks gets “it” by week five if you’re still taking the bus!!

  27. glenji2k4 says:

    It is funny to see all of the similarities between your experience and mine. Even though I was selling off of tables rather than door-to-door, the nuances were the same. For example, when James asked Carl what pitch to use. I’m sure that the reps are not legally allowed to represent themselves asz Con-Ed. When I was selling products for the “D.A.R.E.campaign,” there were alot of things we were not supposed to say, but had to say if we wanted to make any money. I was also selling a product called “Fastwax” at local gas-stations. We were told to use in the pitch “this is a NASCAR product,” insinuating that NASCAR developed the product and/or endorses the product, both of which they do not. Upon suspicion, this could be contorted to mean “it was developed for and is used for racecars,” also a statement of questionable accuracy, but can save a sale if a customer wonders why it doesn’t say ‘NASCAR’ anywhere on the can.