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Some of you may have gotten a visit from someone selling Kirby vacuum cleaners.  Kirby cleaners have been sold exclusively through door-to-door sales for over 90 years.  While they get rave reviews from Consumer Reports and are insanely durable, the company is one of the most disreputable businesses in the nation.  Ripoff Report and Complaints Board contain horror stories about the deceptive, high-pressure tactics used by Kirby's distributors.  Among other things, they are taught to target the elderly and other people who normally can't stand up to grueling sales pitches.  Complaints about these guys date back as far as the 1960s.  The vacuums are also insanely overpriced compared to other high-end vacuums sold in stores.

Now how in the world can this be going on, you ask?  Well, it turns out that Kirby is owned by Warren Buffett.  Kirby's longtime parent, the Scott Fetzer Company (the publishers of World Book, for those who don't know), has been a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway since 1986.  That's right--one of the most disreputable companies in America is a subsidiary of a New York Stock Exchange company.  Sounds like a little bit of sunshine is in order.

It's hard to believe that Buffett doesn't know some of the things Kirby's distributors are doing.  Among some of the tactics they employ:

  • Whenever you say the price is too high, salesmen have been known to make long-distance calls to their "managers" on your phone.
  • Prospective salesmen are told that their visits are all set up in advance--only to find out they're not.
  • Employees aren't told in advance that they're independent contractors.
  • There are several instances where salesmen don't leave when asked, and only threats to call the police get rid of them.

Kirby maintains it has no responsibility for its distributors, but at least two courts have ruled that they in fact are.  In 1992, the North Dakota Supreme Court held Kirby liable after a distributor there raped a customer.  It turned out the guy had been hired despite having an assault conviction on his record and charges of sexual misconduct pending in court.  In 2008, the Texas Supreme Court issued a similar ruling involving a guy who'd been hired despite a history of inappropriate sexual behavior.  Both courts--two of the most conservative in the country, I might add--ruled that since Kirby requires its contractors to only do business door-to-door, it retains control of them.

One really has to wonder how anyone can think doing business strictly door-to-door is a viable idea, especially given the changed times.  Add the disreputable behavior in, and there's no doubt about it--Kirby needs to be driven out of business.  Somehow I think we need to put the heat on Buffett to unload this company, as it wouldn't even exist without Berkshire Hathaway propping it up.

Originally posted to Christian Dem in NC on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 10:46 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Alternate title: Kirby Vacuums Suck! ;-) n/t (8+ / 0-)

    This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around!

    by Snud on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 10:51:47 AM PST

    •  Haven't been redesigned for decades (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Snud, gooderservice, AnnieR

      Once, when I went to work to find the doors locked and the owners fled, on my terrifying walk back home, I passed an Electrolux store, dropped in, was hired, and sold vacuums door to door for about 3 months in the winter in Boston.

      Selling vacs door to door sucked, no pun.

      What a racket.

      But I consider myself a bit knowledgeable in the vac area.

      My recommendation:

      Once a year or every two years, whatever, buy a decent model for under  $120.  I call it the disposable vac.

      Even the expensive ones won't last that long as the newer ones are mostly crap.

      It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

      by War on Error on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:08:07 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have an Electrolux bought (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Snud, War on Error

        from a man who was sent to my door because I knew his wife, for nearly 15 years now.  Love it!  My Mom had a Kirby for over 40 years before she replaced it with another Kirby, which was sadly not of the same quality as her original.  

        The GOP will destroy anything they can't own.

        by AnnieR on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:25:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That Electrolux cost about $600 then. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Snud, GrumpyOldGeek, AnnieR

          Well, they did in the 1970s.  Crazy cost.

          It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

          by War on Error on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:30:11 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  My grandparents spent almost $40 for one (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Snud, JeffW, 207wickedgood, AnnieR

            probably in the late 40's.

            I still have the old "torpedo" beastie. And it substantially outperforms our central vac.

            Another friend kept a newer model (60's) at their uninsulated summer camp for many years. One spring they discovered a break-in. The thieves stole a TV, stereo system, tools, and the old Electrolux.

            There must be some value to the old beasts after all.

            "All people are born alike - except Republicans and Democrats" - Groucho Marx

            by GrumpyOldGeek on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:42:09 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  crazy cost? (5+ / 0-)

            Compared to your "disposable vac" method, it looks downright frugal.  $600/15 yrs = $40/yr vs. $60+/yr with your method.

            I have an ancient Electrolux I inherited from my mom.  Still runs like a champ and it's at minimum 30 years old.  Don't know about the quality of today's models, but back then they were made like tanks.

            There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.

            by puzzled on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:46:40 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Bought my Miele the same year I bought a house (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        That was 1997. It's still working just fine, 14 years later. It was expensive but it came out to much less than $60/year over 13 years.

  •  I recall that Taxi episode... (12+ / 0-)

    ...where Rev. Jim told about his sales job where he poured grease, oil, chemicals on a woman's carpet.  Then he opened his case and forgot he was selling encyclopedias.

  •  Christian, a Community Organizer is not a Kirby (0+ / 0-)

    salesman. A candidate for office needs to connect with citizens.  Does the name Gabrielle Giffords ring any bells?

  •  I had no idea (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

     I thought it was against the law for adults to solicit products door to door, without a invite?
     If a Kirby salesman dares to show  at my doorstep I will act interested for hours, in hope of saving my neighbors.

  •  I'm sorry you've had a bad experience (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Shaviv, AnnieR

    with Kirby vacuums. My current one is 15 years old, and boy does it suck!!! But in a good way... The Kirby before that was about 30 years old when we finally traded up.

    I didn't find the sales rep to be high pressure at all, but that's not to say some reps aren't.

    Now, if you want to hear a stories about car salespeople, I can sure bend your ear. :-)

    No one ever died from laughing too often

    by googie on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:12:41 AM PST

  •  Your list of complaints is isolated (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There have always been a few cases where someone who wants to work as a door-to-door salesman is clearly unqualified or uses the job as a way to gain information for nefarious purposes.

    Selling door-to-door has always been a fairly well-understood strategy. It works because of the personal attention. Sadly, some of these organizations have not enforced their strict ethics rules as well as they should. Some no longer offer rigorous training. It's just too expensive.

    Just because you bought a lousy product after a high-pressure sales call (door-to-door is high-pressure by definition), it doesn't mean that the company or the business is totally corrupt and regularly practices illegal or unethical behavior.

    And ot sure the hell doesn't implicate Warren Buffet personally.

    "All people are born alike - except Republicans and Democrats" - Groucho Marx

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:37:24 AM PST

  •  I applied for a job with them... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Their prerequisite for a job isn't any kind of background check - it's your willingness to give them information on all of your friends/relatives so they can sell to them. The whole "independent contractor" idea is there so they don't need to worry about normal laws regarding employment anyways.

    And yes, they train their "independent contractors" to make those phone calls from your phone. If they don't get a phone call, they don't believe the "independent contractor" is really giving their sales pitch.

    Oh, and BTW, those independent contractors get one vaccuum at a time - they're liable for it if it gets stolen, and they're using it for all their demonstrations - and usually also cleaning their own house. You may as well just assume because of that, you're not exactly buying a new one.

  •  I confess. I fell victim to their ploys...I was (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, 207wickedgood, IreGyre, googie

    alone in our new, rural home with the kids, and tired from the move, distracted, and feeling an excess of Pride of First Home Ownership.

     They suckered me and they're the ONLY sales pitch that's every worked like that, on me, in my 55 years, so they must have been good at being bad.

     I've owned this heavy metal monster for almost 8 years, now, and although we hate it with a passion for its weight, its complicated parts and the expensive bags (although Ebay has 'em cheaper) I must admit that our 7 cats, 2 dogs, rabbit and three long-haired females have NOT made it cry "Uncle" yet.  Our previous Kenmores always died within a few years.

     But, I still hate it. :-D

  •  My mother had an Electrolux... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...when I was very young, and it was replaced by a Kirby. Great suction, but the thing was as noisy as an A-10 Warthog. When that died, she bought another Kirby, which outlasted her until my sister's younger beagle Rocky took a piss on it (he never liked the thing!).

    When my fratenity was looking to replace their old Royal (the commercial version of the Kirby), it was a toss-up between a new Kirby or a Shop-Vac. I prevailed for the Kirby, and leave it to a bunch of engineering majors to actually destroy one!

    I'm not surprised about the sales tactics. Having seen an old Joe McDoakes short about being a salesman that dates back to after WW2, the pitch has just gotten worse!

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:07:01 PM PST

  •  Wanna see the face behind the mask? (0+ / 0-)

    I learned French because I like the language. I'm learning Spanish because I like the people who speak it.

    by Vengeur on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:35:28 PM PST

  •  One Word: Dyson (0+ / 0-)

    One generation got old, One generation got soul...

    by BlueBrooklyn on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:56:53 PM PST

  •  Shucks I was a rep for a week!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in the 70s, so I lasted longer than being a garbageman back in the same year, which was for only 2 and half days... and even though the Kirby "job" lasted longer it too was a total washout; at least I got paid for the 2.5 days of Refuse collecting... I found I was not cut out for lugging a burlap full of mixed garbage out of garden apartment basements in the middle of winter or doing door to door sales either. No future for me taking trash away from houses or the bringing trash sales talk to houses - neither were my cup of tea. The garbage business kept on going without me but the new little Kirby sales office in Bethesda Maryland was a total failure and closed not long after I abandoned that career... but I did like the vacuum cleaner itself and a decade later bought a used one in California...

    I never made a single sale... actually did not make a pitch to an actual customer even... we all "attended" the sales classes on selling this but the woebegone and dispirited group who answered the ad for this job got more and more discouraged before we even really hit the road... None of us were high pressure go for the throat closers by nature, I think you have to be born that way... we heard lots of vacuum cleaner salesman stories and tips from the two supposedly experienced reps who were setting up and attempting to run the sales office... entertaining - but the thing I learned best was I wanted nothing to do with selling vacuum cleaners.

    And a few years after that I was bamboozled into buying a set of World Book encyclopedias! The one thing I should have learned with the brush with Kirby was how to close the door... even if I never learned how to Close a Deal... I should have been inoculated after my peek behind the door to "salesmanship".

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:58:45 PM PST

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