March 26, 2011 in City

Jim Kershner: Door-to-door sales are a blast from the past

By The Spokesman-Review

The knock on the door came around 8 p.m., right in the middle of Monday’s Gonzaga women’s basketball game.

“Hi!” said the perky young woman at the door, stooping to pet my hyperactive dog. “Oh, what a nice dog! I love your dog!”

So, right off the bat, she knew how to endear herself to this particular sucker, I mean, customer.

Then she went into a long and rapid spiel about how she represented a new Kirby vacuum store in my neighborhood and she would just love, LOVE, to come in and clean my carpet – any carpet in my house – completely free of charge.

Not being born yesterday, I said no thanks and began to close the door.

“Really? Are you sure? We’ve done it for your neighbors (gesturing vaguely down the block). We’ll just do that little rug right there. It hardly takes any time at all.”

“No, really, I’m not in the market for a vacuum cleaner.”

“(Stricken) Are you sure? I just need one more tonight and I can go home,” she implored.

“Well, it is pretty late to be out doing …”

“It’ll only take a few minutes. Please? I just need one more.”

My resolve was cracking. “Are you sure? If I say yes, you’ll be able to go home?”

“Yes. Please?”

I said, “OK, but you have to make it quick.”

So maybe I was born yesterday.

She scampered off to fetch her “boss,” which was my first clue that she was part of a larger crew and that nothing about this was going to be quick. I sat there for 15 minutes, wondering whether I should pull all the drapes, lock all the doors and pretend I had vamoosed.

My reverie was broken when a bossy sort of boss-lady arrived at the door with a young, cheerful guy in a Western shirt who looked like he had just graduated from high school. She left the guy – let’s call him Ricky – to do my “demo.” Suddenly, this had changed from a simple free carpet cleaning to a “full” demo.

So for the next hour, while the Gonzaga women were winning without me, Ricky showed me the wonders of the Kirby Sentria system.

This was not, to my astonishment, as excruciating as it sounds. Ricky was a nice young man, without a trace of hucksterism, who was sincere about doing a good job and quite charmingly nervous. I tried gently to move the “demo” along, but I could tell that he would get in trouble if he skipped, for instance, the part about the “turbo accessories.”

Finally, he started cleaning the carpet with both the vacuum and the shampooer attachment.

These Kirby doodads really work. You wouldn’t believe how much dog fur and various other unsavory substances Ricky’s Kirby sucked up out of what we thought was an already clean carpet.

As he packed everything away, he told me about his real passion, music. Finally, the boss-lady showed up at the door again. I told her that I was impressed with the Kirby and that our carpet was cleaner than the day we bought it. She might have briefly thought she was about to close a sale, but then she told me the price and I actually laughed – a real, hearty laugh – because the cost was $2,549. Or, with all the options, $2,947.

I sent them out the door, explaining that I have purchased used cars for less. The basketball game, by the way, was long over.

I should have come away from this intrusion irritated and steaming. But, you know what? I found the whole thing refreshing, in a way.

We live in a world today where we purchase our appliances in giant, echoing warehouses. We receive minimum customer service and zero human contact. Nobody bothers to show us how to use all the stuff we buy. Even the owner’s manual is worse than useless, if it exists at all.

So, I enjoyed, or at least semi-enjoyed, the experience. I like the idea that someone would walk right into my home, show me a well-made product and show me how to use it. It’s an old-fashioned sales job in the most positive sense.

And who knows? Someday, when I inherit from a rich uncle, maybe I’ll remember this demo and pick me up a Kirby Sentria.

Because, this vacuum, like me, is one Grade A sucker.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email