I Was the Victim of a Door to Door Salesman

The US GDP isn’t sinking, but this is pretty funny.

I was the victim of a multi-level marketing scheme. Yesterday, I got a call from a kid, who claimed to be the friend of a good friend of mine. He claimed that he was working on a project for school. He claimed he would receive credit if he made some kind of a presentation before volunteers. I, being sympathetic to students, offered to participate. He said he could come over at about 2. I agreed.

When he arrived, it took about 30 seconds to figure out that he wasn’t a student working on a class project. He was a commissioned salesman going door to door selling kitchen knives. I was kind of annoyed. If he had been a little older (he was probably 18), I would have just closed the door and sent him on his way. Obviously, this in itself is a way to get salespeople in the door.

He went through his presentation which consisted of some info-mercial style demos of the fantastic ability of their cutlery to cut rope, apples, tomatoes and leather (during cooking, how common is cutting rope?). At some point I just had to be blunt and told him that we wouldn’t be buying anything at all. Rather than pack up and go, he steadfastly kept going. I felt like I was trapped in a 70’s Ginsu Knife commercial. There were even free gifts and added discounts. Eventually, he left.

I had several impressions:

I realized why I don’t care about buying American anymore. The products are clearly shoddy. The presentation had this absurdly arrogant air, implying that “Made in USA” relieves manufacturers of having to be competitive in the market. When I was buying a new car, I went to three American manufacturers. GM had nothing but junk, Ford had nothing at all and Chrysler ignored me. All three expected me to get down on my knees and beg them to sell me a car simply because they were American.

American manufacturers suffer from a diversification problem: there are too many products and options. While this may appeal to most, I really can’t keep track of 50 different types of knives that do things I don’t need (or want) in 500 different colors with 5000 different “free” gifts. A single, good quality knife (or vehicle) is sufficient.

American companies hate competition. In America, we pay all kinds of lip service to “free markets” but create as many barriers as possible to their actual realization. This knife company’s success depends on consumers being completely ignorant of other companies and prices. Their knives are much more expensive than other company’s products, but consumers have no way of knowing this given complicated packages, the “free gifts” and the inability to see these products next to others.

Lastly, I’m a poor consumer. I spend money on media (news, books, music), but don’t really care about buying knives, barbecue grills or expensive gifts for weddings. Who needs this crap? It all ends up in thrift stores anyway. The whole exchange made me extremely depressed. Being a poor consumer is really being a poor American. Which is ok, but it still was a depressing realization.

Older Americans were of an age when buying crap was a virtue. For a lot of Americans, it still is. I’m trying to get rid of crap and consume less, having borne the brunt of 4 familial generations of material accumulation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t participate in the economy at all, but my purchasing priorities don’t include difficult to dispose heavy material goods.

I was happy to see this poor kid go. He is obviously too young to really realize how absurd his job is, and probably makes pennies. In fact, his customers probably just buy things from him because they feel sorry for him. It’s an awful business model. Never again.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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