A Q&A With A Vacuum Cleaner Salesman

Darrell did not cry when the mortgage crisis killed new home construction, putting him out of work. Instead, he packed up his bags and joined his girlfriend in South Florida, where he found a new job as an in-home salesman, pushing expensive vacuum cleaners and air purifiers to snowbirds and other crazy Floridians. While Darrell is but one of hundreds of such salesman in the South Florida area, we have obscured the city in which he works and changed his name to protect his identity.

The Awl: Every day, you go into peoples’ homes and pitch them really expensive shit. How did you break into the in-home sales industry?

Darrell: I was doing manual labor on the [east coast of Florida], and that kind of dried up. I needed eventually to make my way down to be with my girlfriend. I wanted to get my own place. I got this extended-stay kind of place, got the Sunday paper to find a job. I needed to find one real quick to make some decent money and get back on my feet and to start renting a place. The job just kind of stood out. I forget what it said, the ad, but they totally sham you into doing what you do. They say you either make $1,800 a month, or better. If you don’t sell anything, you make at least $1,800. If you sell, you get more than that.

The Awl: Is that happening? Are you making at least $1,800?

Darrell: For the most part. You might not make that some months if you don’t sell well. They trick a lot of people.

The Awl: What is your base pay?

Darrell: None. We’re independent contractors. We get paid to sell.

The Awl: Tell me about your first sale.

Darrell: We did three days of training, and then they kind of just throw you into the fire. You do your family for your first sale. I thought it’d be no problem to sell my mom, but she ended up being tougher than I thought. She’s a saleswoman, so she was trying to give me pointers.

The Awl: So of the two products you sell, a vacuum and air purifier, which one did she buy?

Darrell: The vacuum. And the air purifier, actually. And then I sold my dad. I thought they’d be the easiest, but they were the hardest. You have to play by the book when you sell, but your parents will say shit to you that a normal person wouldn’t say to you.

The Awl: Tell me about your first real-world sale.

Darrell: They send you to these middle-of-nowhere towns full of old people. So I go into one house and it’s a retired marine and his wife, and I’m sitting on my kit. We have like these big box kits with all our demo stuff and these people had these nice hardwood floors, so I’m sitting on my box talking to them, and I was just so fucking nervous.

That’s another reason I got into this. In middle school and elementary school I was fine doing like groups projects and talking in front of my class, but in high school and college I was fucking scared to death; I hated it. I needed to get over that, so I got into this job in part because of that, to get over my fear of speaking in front of people. And for my communication skills. I could communicate fine, but I wanted to be able to not so much manipulate people, but get them to see things a certain way, or totally get them to know how I feel about something.

The Awl: So, you’re trying to get them to know how you feel about something while simultaneously—what?—scuffing their hardwood floors?

Darrell: I guess I was kind of rocking around on the kit, and the instructor guy was right next to me, but he didn’t notice. We got a call back a few days later, and they were trying to get out of the deal, so they complained about me messing up their floor.

The Awl: Tell me about “getting out of the deal.”

Darrell: Well, it’s not high pressure or anything. At least, I don’t work that way. But some people wake up the next day and think, “Damn, I spent $3,000 on a vacuum.” Under Florida law, you have three days to get out of the contract. In this case it was after three business days, and Saturday was one of the business days, but I guess they didn’t agree with that. But Saturday is a business day for us.

The Awl: What’s in the kit?

Darrell: Sand, some big metal balls, coffee filters for the sand, a golf ball that you can float during the show that keeps the kids entertained. That’s what it’s all about for me.

The Awl: You can float a golf ball?

Darrell: Yeah, I have a tennis ball, too. But the golf ball can catch air, and you can float it up and down or out to the side. It’s pretty sick.

And that’s my show. It’s all about having a good time. I want it to be funny, I want things to be hilarious, I want things to maybe get a little out of control. I don’t know. But people are in their homes, so they’ll say anything; more so than they would out in public. After they’re like that with you, and you laugh or you have a good time, then they’re like, “Oh, I trust you,” or “Oh, you’re a good person,” or “Oh, I believe in what you’re saying now. And that’s not too too-much money. I’ll buy it from you now.”

The Awl: Do you ever try and pitch the sale as them helping you out?

Darrell: It sometimes comes out that way. Sometimes we have these contests, so in the beginning of the demo I’ll say, “Hey, we’re doing this contest, and if we have so many”—I try not to say sales—“if we do so many shows, then I get to go to Vegas or Atlantic City for a weekend getaway.” I’ve been on every one of those trips so far.

The Awl: So they send you to Atlantic City if you sell a lot of vacuums?

Darrell: Yeah, we get to go party for a weekend. So, I’ll close with that. I’ll say, “If you go ahead with this today, I’ll be that much closer to going to a casino for free.” And people are like, “Oh, well, OK. Send me pictures from your trip.”

The Awl: Florida is full of pious old-timers. Do potential customers ever proselytize you?

Darrell: Most older people are, you know, super-religious. And not just a little bit, but Jesus-out-front, crosses-in-the-home religious.

The Awl: Jesus out front?

Darrell: Like, I don’t know, a Jesus statue or something like that.

The Awl: How old are these people?

Darrell: There’s a range.

The Awl: Retirees, mostly?

Darrell: I’d say 55-80, but most are in the middle, in their 70s.

The Awl: So they’ve got Jesus out front and crosses inside. What else?

Darrell: It depends. Some people are way more forward. You walk in the door, and the wife might be on the phone, and the husband will just be like, “Do you know Jesus?” And I’ll be like, “Yeahhhhh.” And he’ll be like, “How do you know Jesus?”

It’s fucking ridiculous. It caught me off guard in the beginning. It’s a deep subject to talk about.

The Awl: Do you ever pretend to have a conversion so that they’ll buy your vacuum?

Darrell: I don’t do stuff like that; I don’t act like they’ve saved this horrible person. I’m pretty honest with them. I tell them I live an ethical life; like, you know, I don’t kill people.

I also tell them that I did commit to Jesus, which I did. I’ve been confirmed and baptized; I went to summer camp and Christian-retreat type deals. I used to be really into it. So, I tell him that. I say, “I did commit to Jesus back then,” and he’s like, “Ah, well that’s great.” But then he says, “Let’s pray about it right now.” And I’m like, “I don’t know man, I’ve already committed before, I don’t think we need to go there again.” And he’s like, “OK. Fine. Blah blah blah.”

The Awl: So those people, when you say you’ve already committed to Jesus, do you do better sales with them? Do they buy the vacuum and air purifier?

Darrell: Most of the religious people don’t work out. At the end, they say they need to pray about it. That’s pretty much a “no.” Just a nice way of saying it.

You have to pretty much agree with whatever they say if you want to have a chance. You can politely disagree if it’s super, super ridiculous. But if they have a drink of alcohol, if they want you to smoke a cigarette, you do that.

The Awl: They ask you to smoke cigarettes?

Darrell: Yeah, sure. During the demo they’ll say, “I need to smoke a cigarette, do you want to come?” And I always say “sure.”

The Awl: So you become their buddy for a while. Do they offer you alcohol?

Darrell: I’ve gotten drunk with people before. One time I was with these two really southern people—this one was a great demo—and I get there a little bit late. She was from Louisiana or something; something super southern because I couldn’t understand her. She’d get going and be like, “Uh-huh.”

So I was talking to her in her living room, and I knew she was married, but the husband wasn’t around. The best chance of selling is when two people are there. Like, how would you feel if your girlfriend spent $3,000 on a vacuum without speaking to you? Everybody has to agree. So I was like, “What the fuck? I gotta get him out here.”

I forget why, but I went out back to look at their pond, and I saw a room with a sliding glass door, and the husband was lying down on the bed in there, so I just walked up and was like, “Oh, hey! What’s going on back here?” And he was like, “Uh, I was just taking a little nap.”

The Awl: So you just walked into this guy’s bedroom while he was napping?

Darrell: Well, they had this nice-ass pond out back.

The Awl: Do you call people before you arrive at their house?

Darrell: Yeah.

The Awl: So you have their permission to come sell them shit?

Darrell: Oh yeah. I don’t set up the appointment, they do.

Anyway, so I finally get the husband involved and start showing him the air purifier. I went from no chance of selling it, to them really liking the air purifier. They smoked a bunch in the home, and it took away that smell. It was awesome. I was like, “See how that benefits you?”

Then I was showing them the vacuum, and the husband was like, “No, man, I don’t want to see a vacuum.” And when people say that, I tell them I get paid to show off the products, even though I don’t, just so that I can show them and maybe sell them.

They ended up liking the [vacuum] a lot. In the beginning of the show, he said, “If it comes around to 5 o’clock, we’ll have a drink,” or something like that, and it was only 2 p.m. He was saying, like, “I’m not going to have to give you a drink,” and I was thinking, “Bitch, we’re going to get drunk today.”

The Awl: Do demos really take that long?

Darrell: With older people, yeah. Like, I got there at 2:30 p.m. or 2 p.m., and if it’s a sale, it’ll be three hours, probably.

The Awl: Did you sell to them?

Darrell: Mm hmm. And clearly they had this defense mechanism to not allow it to happen, and I broke that.

The Awl: And then you got drunk with them?

Darrell: So, it rolled around that time, and I was just about to leave, and I was like, “Hey man, can I get that drink we were talking about?” And he was like, “Oh, I forgot what time it is,” or something ridiculous like that.

He leaves and comes back with scotch and water and I was like, “You got anything else, man?” And he said, “This is what my wife drinks,” which was him saying that I’m a big fucking pussy.

He had Bloody Mary mix back there and he was acting like it was the pussiest drink ever. So I had a bunch of Bloody Marys. I can’t drink scotch.

The Awl: You got drunk on bloody mary’s in some stranger’s house? You’re sure about this?

Darrell: Yeah. I called my boss and was like, “I’m sealing the deal, I don’t want it to backfire, so I’m just bonding with them.” I had three or four drinks. Just got buzzed and talked about random shit even though they were like 85.

The Awl: Whoa. You sell to 85-year-olds?

Darrell: It probably sounds worse than it is, but I’ve sold to people who were 94 and 95. They have house cleaners. And I tell them—

The Awl: Are they wealthy?

Darrell: Yes. But I won’t take advantage of anybody. Especially those kind of people. Sometimes they’re so old that when I get there I just want to walk out of the home. But, uh, with those people I normally say, “I’m here to show you a cleaning machine and an air purifier; they are a little bit of money, but they’re really nice, the best out there. Would that be something you’re interested in?”

And they’re like, “Yeah, that’s definitely something we’re interested in!”

And I’m like, “Alright.”

The Awl: Do you think people are intimidated by you?

Darrell: Some people are. One lady wouldn’t let me in her house. She was—a lot of them are—smaller, you know. She was 5’5 or 5’6. Everything was fine with me walking up to the door, and then she opens it, looks up, and she’s like, “OH MY GOD,” and shuts the screen door.

Then she’s like “How do I know who you are? You could be anybody.”

And I’m like, “Well yes I could, you know. But I’m me. I’m a good person. You have nothing to worry about with me.”

And she says, “Well I watch the TV and the news,” and I’m just like, “Sometimes the news, you know, tries to make you a little bit scared.” And she was like, “Well, maybe you’re right, but…”

The Awl: So you didn’t get in that house?

Darrell: No.

Another time, there was a woman who said she needed me to come show her how to use the machine. She said it was too heavy for her after I sold it to her, but then I found out that she fell and hurt her shoulder or something like that. She couldn’t use the machine with her left hand or something.

She kind of made it into a big deal. My company called me up, and I thought I was just going over there to show her how to use the machine better, because I have a few tips that I can show people to make using the vacuum a little easier on yourself. And I get there, and her neighbors are there, and they’re trying to paint me as this horrible, horrible person.

They’re like, “You sold to an old woman.” And, I mean, she was 90. She was. But I definitely try and make sure that old people want it. “You want this right?” I say that. But the neighbors were like, “I would never sell to somebody that old.”

But I was like, “How can you say no to somebody if they really like something?” And I said that to the old lady, I asked her if she really liked it, and she was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So, fuck you guys, you know? They tried to make me sound like the worst person ever.

Then the old lady pulled up her shirt, and there was this huge bruise, and I was like, “That’s not from the vacuum, right?” And she was like, “Kind of, yeah.” And then she was like, “No, I just fell down over there.” No wonder she felt horrible!

Pages: 1 2