Friday, January 13, 2017

The Cutco Cult

I could do a dozen posts about the shitty jobs I've had. Literally a dozen. My resume weighs a ton. Word to Chuck D.


I don't know if anyone is really interested in my former jobs, I hardly am myself, but I like to have my life story written down for posterity before I forget it all and the haze of nostalgia sets in and makes me yearn for a time that never really existed.

I never "journaled" but part of me wishes I did/do. This blog somewhat serves the same purpose, I suppose. I enjoy looking back at what I've read. It gives me insight into my state of mind at the time. I've read things from my past and marveled at how much I've grown. Or not grown, in some cases.

Anyways, back to today's discussion of a former shitty job! When I graduated college, I worked the same summer job as I did for 2 years prior. I continued working there through the fall. There was no more work for me to do in the winter so they let me go. I scrambled for a job, any job, and found one with Vector Marketing. I had been looking for jobs in marketing because I figured my writing and creativity could be useful. I'd love to write a commercial! If Charlie Sheen could become rich making jingles, so could I!

I soon realized that most jobs described as "marketing" were really "sales." I interviewed at a few places that tried to market (ha) themselves as anything but "sales" jobs, yet the pay was based on commission...


How that work?

It came to a point where my desperation for a job overcame my hate for anything sales related. I also realized I wasn't just going to fall into Don Draper's position right out of college with no experience, so I followed up with Vector and started on my journey down the path to Cutco Sales Specialist.

This was a time before the omnipresence of the internet, so I didn't know how to properly investigate the company. Not like the internet would have cleared anything up.

I knew something was off the first time I went to a meeting.

About 15 people my age met in a large room. The guy running the meeting was a little older than me. And he was excited. I mean, EX.CI.TED. I had no idea what his job was, but he loved it more than I loved anything.

He was talking about the job like it would make us all millionaires and get us free BJs every day. I am not a complete moron, so I was appropriately suspicious, but the job seemed simple enough: try to sell knives to your family and friends, and then their families and friends, and so on and so on. I figured I could at least sell a few knives to my parents.

And I did!

Besides pity purchases, the reason for the vast majority of my sales had nothing to do with my sales skills and everything to do with the fact that they were really good knives. I made a few sales to people outside of my inner circle, but ultimately I was unable to get the contacts needed to keep selling. Apparently, my friends and family were willing to put up with me, but they weren't willing to force me upon their friends and families. I can't say I blame them. In fact, I was never really comfortable asking.

This is the Cutco business model...actually, let me explain something first. Cutco is the company that makes the knives. Vector Marketing is the company that exclusively sells the knives. Ok, so Vector (on behalf of Cutco) hires college students and graduates to sell knives. These "sales reps" have to purchase a full set of knives ("kit") before they can sell. Those sales reps, if they want, eventually move up the ladder and run their own branch where they hire more sales reps. So these veteran sales reps tell newbies to sell knives to family and friends first. New reps call their family members and friends and set up appointments. At these appointments, new reps are encouraged to go through a very specific sales script. They constantly reiterate that you should follow the script for the first month or so. They do not trust you to improvise (probably for good reason). At first, reps technically get money for each appointment made, and they also get a small percentage of any sales. However, if reps make a certain amount of money in sales in a given time, they no longer get paid per appointment, they only get the percentage of the sale. So if you suck and don't make sales, you at least get paid for the appointments. But if you make a lot of sales, you don't get paid for the appointments. It's a little sketchy, but it does ensure even the worst sales people get paid. Then, once reps reach a certain amount of total sales, they don't get any money for the appointments, but their commission goes up; the top level is 50%. If you make early sales, you can reach the 50% rather quickly and make some decent money.

That's about it. A lot of people call Cutco and/or Vector a scam but I wouldn't go that far. It does use multilevel marketing, but there's nothing technically illegal about that. It's a thin line between multilevel marketing and a pyramid scheme, though. What keeps Vector from the pyramid category is the fact that sales reps get paid well for selling knives, not just for bringing in new recruits.

People also take issue with the idea of "using" your family and friends for initial sales. But a lot of sales people start off with selling to family and friends. Their company may not openly encourage it or make it their official marketing plan, but it happens all the time. It comes down to this: the knives were excellent, and salespeople were paid decently. So in my mind, Cutco/Vector isn't a scam.

It's just weird as hell.

The biggest clue that it was some bullshit was the full "kit" I had to buy first. "It takes money to make money!" may be true, but it doesn't make it any easier on a jobless, penniless college grad. Vector is not alone in this practice, of course, but that doesn't really justify it. That was my biggest gripe. Other than that, it was simply the strangest work environment I've ever been a part of.

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There are two moments that stand out from my time there. There was a week long training period where we learned about the company and their sales techniques, then there were weekly meetings with all the sales reps. Every meeting was absurd, with the Head Sales Rep Frat Bro Cult Leaders yelling about how awesome their jobs are and how excited they are about some new product and how excited we should be to sell it. They were all Billy Mays without the charm. They were trying to sell us the product (literally: they encouraged us to buy each product available) and hype us up about selling it.

Early on, I was required to go to a large regional seminar at the Marriott in East Hartford. Sales reps from all over the state were in attendance. There were at least a dozen speakers, and they were all crazier than the next. It was like one of the regular meeting on steroids. And meth. Everyone was shouting, doing calls and responses, bragging about how much money they were making, and throwing out company swag. It was way too similar to the videos I've seen of Scientolgy seminars. I was a little scared, quite honestly.

When it was over, I gave another guy from my office a ride home. He was my age and had started working there a couple weeks after me. We didn't say much at first, but one of us finally said, "What the hell was that?" Let me tell you, a sense of relief exploded in the car. We bust out laughing, finally breaking the weirdness spell. Then we talked about all the other meetings and sales reps at our office. He said, "I thought the whole thing was weird but everyone else is so into it. I thought I was going crazy!" I felt the same. We continued laughing and mocking everyone until I dropped him off.

We both agreed that the actual job itself, selling knives, was fine, we just didn't want to deal with the bullshit meetings and the bullshit people in the meetings.

After that, I decided I didn't have to. I could make my appointments from home and simply drop off my sales receipts at the office. No interaction with other employees at all.

That worked out well, until I had no more contacts. I needed to figure out how to set up more appointments, so I went to the office on a "call day," where employees made continuous calls to friends and family for appointments and more contacts. We weren't allowed to do cold calls, and I probably wouldn't have anyways, so we really had to stretch our circle of friends. I had a few names to work with, but I was looking for some advice on how to assure an appointment. I put on my best fake smile and went to the office.

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"Hello, fellow Cutco sales people."

While there, Head Sales Rep Frat Bro Cult Leader Number 1 was "helping" people make calls, mostly just giving them bullshit advice like, "keep calling and make that ask at least 3 times!" I requested more specific advice and he simply said, "Here, let me show you." He took one of the names and numbers I had (for a high school friend I hadn't talked to in 4 years) and called it. When my friend's mom answered, he introduced himself as me.

I was stunned. I wouldn't have given him the phone if I knew he was going to do that. Not a fan of identity fraud.

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Don't steal my identity, bro.

Then he proceeded to give her the sales script. He was smiling and looking smug as usual. He asked to set up an appointment with her, she denied him. He kept the smile and gave me a "now watch this" look. He continued on, pressing her a little bit more. She denied him again. Now, still smiling, but visibly annoyed, he pushed harder. She refused again. At this point I wanted to grab the phone and smack him over the head with it. Or at least grab it and apologize to her. He continued on, desperate now. She finally hung up. He looked at me and said, "Well sometimes it doesn't work out, but that's what you have to do."

No, Mr. Head Cult Bro. That is not what I have to do.

I had always thought the people working there were crazy, but it was an innocent crazy. This pissed me off. I was disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen, and I was disgusted with him for doing it. It was the death knell for my Cutco career. Soon after, I went to live in New Orleans for three months, and I said goodbye to Vector for good.

I don't regret my time at Vector at all, but the employees made the job unbearable. If they acted like normal human beings, maybe I would have gone further with the company, but I can't stand fake enthusiasm. Even more than that, it was like they couldn't carry on a human conversation. Talk to me like a person, stop yelling at me about how the full tang of the blade made the knives sturdier.

Recently I saw a story that brought me back to my time as Knife Slinger. One of my favorite football players, Drew Brees, was (is) involved in a shady business named AdvoCare. The business itself is different than Cutco, they sell energy drinks and supplements, but the marketing scheme is similar. They force new sales reps to buy the product, then encourage reps to recruit other reps. The company promises a life changing experience that will make employees financially secure, if not outright rich. Of course, the only real way to make money with AdvoCare is from recruiting new people, not really from selling the product. Unfortunately, very few people do so successfully, and most are left with quickly expiring product stacking up in storage. I believe Cutco is honest and realistic about the money that can be made, and the starter "kit," although sketchy, pays for itself rather early on. AdvoCare definitely seems much shadier.

Plus, the description of Drew at one of their sales symposiums sounds exactly like the crazy Cutco bastards at the Marriott seminar: he is overly excited, making grandiose claims about the product, and encouraging people to not only buy the product, but to become sales people themselves.

I was appalled. Not Drew Brees. You're better than that, man. You won a Super Bowl. You were MVP!

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Green 80! Green 80! Buy Advocare! Hut hut!

It's all good though, Drew. We all have shitty jobs in our lives. It actually makes me feel personally connected to you. Usually, we don't have those shitty jobs WHILE starting as quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, but I dig how you're relating to the common man.

The worst part about it is that the product itself seems to be fraudulent. At least Cutco made good products. The knives can cut through rope and leather with ease, and the scissors can turn a penny into a corkscrew! Not to mention, they are MADE IN AMERICA and the company sharpens them for free! Matter of fact, I still have my set.

Anybody need some knives?


I Love You All (The knives also come with a lifetime guarantee. What a deal!)...Class Dismissed. 

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