Monday, September 19, 2011

Death by a Salesman

I have a simple rule at my house regarding salesmen.  If I want to buy something, I will do some research, decide on the product, then get it for the best deal available via internet or brick-and-mortar store.  I always initiate the sale.  I will not buy something that I don't want because a salesman comes to my home to convince me that I really need or should want product x.  While I may miss out on a great opportunity or product by refusing others-initiated sales, it saves me a great deal of time and money to simply tell all door-to-door salesman, "thanks but no thanks".

Unfortunately Heather, not I, opened the door to just such a saleswoman on Saturday.  She identified herself as a GE employee here to test our water, and Heather thought that since we have been having issues with our GE dishwasher, and she had called the company a couple of times for tech assistance, they had sent a rep to look at the dishwasher.  If you haven't had the pleasure in a while of watching precious time evaporate before your eyes while someone tries to get you to buy something you really don't want, you may be unaware that salesmen have caught on to the fact that asking people to let them in their home so they can sell them a $1500 vacuum, or a $7000 water purification system, doesn't go too well.  So they disguise  their intentions with some kind of cover story.  They aren't here to sell you a product, they are here because they are in training, and they have to practice their pitch so many times, or in the case of the GE saleslady trying to sell us a household water purifyer (and yes, the price really was $7000), they want to offer you a "free water quality test".

When it comes to these presentations, which always last at least an hour, I always have a hard time with accepting the fact that only one of us is getting paid for this, and it's not me.  I think they are purposely as long and drawn out as possible so that you feel like you have to somehow redeem the time by buying their product at the end.  Whatever the case, I found myself watching some girl I never met mixing my perfectly fine tasting water with chemicals so she could prove to me how much cleaner the water would be after it ran through the GE filter.  I have no doubt the filter removes all particulate matter, but  I really don't have an issue with minerals being in my water, since they are both safe and actually can make the water taste better, in my opinion. 

Of course, if the taste factor was not enough, the sales pitch had other tricks up its sleeve.  The clean water would make my hot water bill lower because it wouldn't have to heat up the minerals in the water.  Somehow taking 30% off my $14 gas bill from last month wasn't impressive enough, so the girl insisted on claiming it would take 30% off my entire utility bill, even though she was unable to explain how having cleaner water would lower my electric bill, which goes mainly towards paying to run my A/C.  Perhaps cleaner water would make me feel cooler and I could turn up the thermostat?

When the woman was finally done using my water with her chemistry set, and trying to convince me that I could save on my detergents, (actually claiming that I would use less shampoo because it would suds easier - a shampoo bottle lasts me 2 months as it is, how much would softer water really save there?) she finally called her co-salesman to come in and try to seal the deal.  He presented the actual cost, which almost caused me to laugh out loud, and let me know that since I am military they would cover the $500 in taxes and $1000 installation fee.  Wow, you really charge $1000 to install an appliance to the water line?  Can I get that job, because even if it took me 4 hours that's $250 an hour.  And you still want me to pay you more than 3 times what I paid for all my kitchen appliances combined for something that holds charcoal and sand and hooks up to my water line, so my water won't have the particulate matter in it that is measured in parts per million and which is tested annually by a third party and found to be perfectly safe for human consumption?

Needless to say, I wasn't going to buy this product, and regretted not stopping the lady at the beginning of her presentation to save us both precious time, but the coup de gras came when the sales team employed two of my least favorite pressure tactics.  The first was the loaded question to give the illusion of a choice between a winning and losing option.  The winning option is of course to buy their product, the loser to do otherwise.  The loaded question is making an untrue assumption, such as, "If you don't buy this product, you don't care about your family's health" or "you really want to drink dirty water".  This ignores other options, such as "my water's perfectly healthy, and I don't want to spend thousands of dollar to prevent hard water accumulation on my shower doors." 

The second tactic was the immediate decision.  Salesmen know that the longer you deliberate a decision, the more likely you are to make a good decision, which means you are less likely to buy their overpriced product.  If the product can sell itself this is not needed.  Ever go into an Apple store and get told "If you buy this ipod now we'll take 10% off, but this offer is only good today!"  Probably not, but I bet you've seen infomercials put out the imperative "buy now, while supplies last!" or "first x customers receive the following free, a $100 value!"  They need you to pull the trigger now and live with the remorse later. 

So when the salesman said "I need you to make a decision before I leave - I can't have you say 'I'll think it over and call you if I'm interested' or something along those lines," I knew this would be an easy kill.  Once he finished his spiel on how I could save installation and taxes, but only if I bought it now, I said "so when do I tell you I'm not interested in your product".  As he tried to backpedal and repackage I reminded him that he said needed a yes or no, and my answer was a simple no.  I also let him know that the presentation was well done, but I'm perfectly satisfied with my water quality as is, and escorted him and the saleslady out the door.  On the way out he let Heather know that her husband had "made the choice to drink dirty water".  I'm not making that up.  The funny thing is that the water here actually tastes good enough that I drink it straight from the fridge, which I wouldn't do in many of the places I have lived before.  I'll just have to hope the calcium and iron in the water don't kill me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Open in Case of Emergency

When I was growing up my mom used to have a wooden plaque on her dresser that said “Open in case of Emergency” on the outside.  When you opened it, a cartoon drawing of a man with an enormous mouth said “Not now, stupid, in case of emergency!”  I always forgot what the inside said, although I knew it was somehow insulting, and every time I opened it I was again chastised for doing so when it wasn’t really an emergency.  Thankfully our house never caught fire, because I would have had nothing to tell me what to do.

I was reminded of my need to be prepared for disaster yesterday, when the news reported a wildfire near the intersection of hwy 211 and Potranco Rd.  This intersection is about 3 miles from my house.  I called Heather, who was grocery shopping, and told her to take an alternate road home, as 211 likely would be un-navigable.  Of course, on the way home I missed the turn at the alternate road that goes north to Potranco, so I had to try the 211, only to be turned around by police officers who were blocking the road.  As I approached my home I could see the billows of smoke from the fire that was moving its way north across the highway.  As I drove I was working through my game plan if the road to my house was also blocked off and my neighborhood evacuated, who to call, where to stay.  I had just finished working out, so a shower was in order, although I would have to buy some clothes to change into first, if I couldn’t get home.  I quickly realized that even though we have only been here a little over a month, I would have no problem finding a place for Heather and us to stay, either with a family from our church or fellow Air Force co-workers.  The fire may cause some disruption in our lives, but wouldn’t be a serious detriment to our well being.

Fortunately, the road wasn’t blocked, and I was able to get home without any issues.  Heather and I discussed what we would pack if we were evacuated - pictures, medicine, some clothes, and our laptops being the main items.  Again, we were fortunate in that the evacuation order never came for us, although the news said some people were evacuated from the residential area where we live, presumably a couple of miles to the south.  The fire is now 100% contained and life is back to mundane.  As we mark the 10th anniversary of 9-11, I am reminded how quickly our lives can turn upside down, and that the most important things are not those which can be purchased at a store, but the people in our lives.  In case of emergency, or in everyday living, they are the ones we turn to for assistance, and I thank God for placing them in my life.