Mercyhurst College commuter students living off-campus in southeast Erie may need to be on the watch for pushy, permit-less door-to-door salespeople hawking Kirby Company vacuums.
On Friday, Nov. 12, a man and a woman pulled up at an apartment occupied by Mercyhurst students in the 500 block of East 36th Street. Two of these students, who declined to publish their names, were home when Kirby’s tan, 15-passenger van pulled up at about 6 p.m.
The salespeople asked the students if they would be interested in a free in-home demonstration of a Kirby shampoo and vacuum system.
Naive to the company’s aggressive sales techniques, the students accepted the sales offer. The two salespeople then left in their van, but the woman and a different man—who would perform the demonstration—returned a short time later.
The woman then dropped the man off and drove away in the van.
Since the 1920s, the Kirby Company has relied on door-to-door demonstrations and a direct sales approach, according to the Kirby website. The business model has proven successful for the company’s longevity, but it can confuse some customers.
This was the case for these students last month.
“The rep who was going to do the cleaning seemed very new to the job,” one of the students said. “He was constantly referring to his notes and pretty much made a mess of what he was trying to get across.”
The salesman continued to demonstrate the Kirby and insisted on staying for more than two hours in an attempt to convince the residents to make a purchase immediately.
The students became nervous about the man’s prolonged stay in their apartment and eventually called the City of Erie Police.
At about 9 p.m., the students finally expressed their lack of interest in the shampoo and vacuum system and asked the sales rep to end his demonstration and leave. The man seemed to accept, but said he could not call his manager to pick him up because his cell phone plan had run out of minutes.
The students let the employee borrow one of their cell phones, but the original pair did not return in the van for another 10 minutes—during which time a police officer arrived. The officer questioned the product demonstrator for 10 minutes, asking for the permit required for door-to-door selling in Erie.
The salesman said his manager had applied for one, but it had not yet been granted.
After the salespeople left, the officer told the students that others in Erie have called the police with similar complaints, but the salespeople often leave before police arrive.
The commuters say they have not seen the tan van in their neighborhood since last month’s incident but are now more cautious about visitors to their house.
“Don’t be oblivious to who comes to your door,” the student said. “We got caught up in the sound of a free carpet cleaning and figured ‘Why not? Who the heck cares?’”
The student offered simple and preventative advice.
“Say no thank you to the offer and close the door.”