Consumerist Undercover At IDT Energy: The Meeting

Before the morning meeting started, I left my man-purse on a set of boxes right by the blackboard, with the microphone discreetly poking out of the pocket.

It ended up being three feet from the mouth of Johnny, a trainer with a big round head and a thick accent. He was a young Asian guy, maybe in his early thirties, with spiky hair and the manner of both a computer geek who became a Wall Street broker. He was driven but goofy.

“Today, I’m going to talk to you about a place you all know. Some of you may have worked there. It’s called My-Donald’s,” he said. On the board, he wrote, “McDonald’s.” Snickering here and there came from the circle.

But before he got into whatever the hell McDonald’s had to do with anything, he moved into a discussion of the day before, obviously having gotten ahead of himself. “Honorable Mention. Honorable Mentions are for people that did seventy-two dollars to ninety-nine dollars. And we mention your name, give you round of applause, say good job.”

Seventy bucks before taxes is barely survival dollars in New York City…

This is part 5 of our undercover report into IDT Energy, an energy reseller in the New York area…

“Now… High Rollers is for hundred dollars ‘n above. And we asked you what worked for you. So you get to give a little speech,” said Johnny.

Online reports about DS-MAX had mentioned meetings being conducted in much the same fashion as what I’m describing to you here. They also used the same specific terminology.

The Honorable Mentions were called out. The dollar amounts were 84, 72, 78, 97, 75. Then the High Rollers: Vladimir, 118. “Vladimir, what worked for you yesterday?” asked the trainer.

In a strong Eastern European accent, Vladimir answered: “What worked for me—yesterday—”

“YESTERDAY,” answered the chorus.

Vladimir continued, referencing a subheading of the first of the five steps: “What work for me was Keep it Simple.” “Keep it Short and Simple,” the trainer corrected. Then, as all the High Rollers would, he recited a piece of the Midtown sales mantra, “Today, we are going to, uh, work-a hard. And-a have-a fun.”

For this, he received enthusiastic applause from the trainer, and tepid but polite applause from the others. “Have fun!” the trainer emphasized, though it seemed to bounce off people’s heads, which were hanging further than normal.

The trainer moved on to the big guns. Jose brought in $130. “Jose, what worked for you yesterday?” asked the trainer.

He started, “Yesterday—”

“Yesterday,” said the group, not as loudly as before.

Jose continued, “I used a lot of Short Story, that worked for me. And my goals…”

“GOALS,” said the circle.

“Twenty-one,” said Jose.

Then there was Remmington, one of the top sellers, a quiet but large teddy bear of a man from, I think, the Caribbean who was obviously very pleased to be there, but kept cool. He pulled in $140. “Ah, what I learned yesterday—” (“YESTERDAY”) “—was keep a good attitude, having fun. What I had to do.”

“Do what you have to do, very good,” said Johnny.

Then there was Alexi, a friend of Remmington’s, who had done $150. “Juice by you,” said Johnny to that.

“Have good attitude and having fun. And my goals… keep building my team,” said Alexi. Lots of applause came from the group. You could tell everyone wanted to be around the big shot, adapt his ideas, pick up on his mannerisms, and mimic his charm.

Johnny went back to the board. He said, “For those of you who are new, you hear ‘juice by you,’ you know, ‘juice’ that action or ‘juice’ that person, you’re wondering what the heck is ‘juice?’ Join Us In Creating Excitement.”

I stared as he began writing the words, thunderstruck by their banality. Reports had mentioned “Juice” as a phrase among DS-MAX type offices, but it was still stupefying to see it played out in real life before my eyes, and being taken so seriously.

When I came to, Johnny was back to our favorite fast food joint “What kind of business is McDonald’s in?” he asked. “What’s their main business?”
“Franchise?” someone offered.
“Franchise? No,” said Johnny.
“French fries?” came another response, to general chuckles.
Johnny continued, “When we think of McDonald’s, we think of burgers, right? Cheeseburgers. Big Mac. But anyway, it’s burgers. But I think a huge part of McDonald’s business is actually… realty. Why? They own a lot [of real estate], what else? They’re everywhere… but every location, you look around, every [intersection], you look around, you know there must be a McDonald’s around here.”

He turned back to the group. “Now… for those of you who worked there… how long did it take you to learn the stations there? They have a fry station, a register… drink station. How long was the training for you guys? Twenty minutes?”

Three or four people nodded their heads.

His point was that, no matter what aspect of the McDonald’s restaurant operation you wanted to learn, you could get it down in about fifteen, twenty minutes.

“Simplicity. Simplicity, that’s a key here.” Eventually, he got down to explain what was taking a week to get across, in the most indirect fashion imaginable: McDonald’s is successful because it’s simple. “Simplicity is the word I’m trying to get to you guys. Sim… pli… ci— am I doing this right?”

I told him he was spelling it correctly.

“Now, our company is really simple when it comes to getting to the point. All you have to do… stick to the system. Look at it as a tunnel.” He described a tunnel as having no side entrance, no way to maneuver except to keep going toward the end to get out. “You enter this side, you get out this side.” To illustrate, he drew a tunnel.

“All it takes: determination, persistence. Simple as that. All you have to do is stick with the system, beginning to the end. Take the thing, put the fries in, and wait for the beep. And take it out. Right? And let’s go out today and make it happen, guys!”

Juice to that! I set out for the field, not knowing that it was to be my last day pumping doorbells for Midtown Promotions. — BRIAN FAIRBANKS


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.