Mr Kirby Man

Date Wed, July 13 2011

A few weeks ago, I received a call. Some friends of mine had a Kirby presentation and had purchased a unit. They’d given my name and number to their salesman and his company called me up, asking if I’d like to see a presentation. Though the quality of the call was down-right awful, I managed to hear that I could get a free carpet cleaning just for listening to the sales pitch. So I said “yes” and scheduled an appointment for what I thought was the following Tuesday. Except Tuesday came and went without a peep. I’d all but forgotten about the whole thing when I got a call, the next Monday night, reminding me of my appointment the next morning. Oh. Oops, I guess? I could have sworn that wasn’t the deal but whatever. I only had to be up, waiting for the plumber to come between the hours of 8 and 5. No biggie.

So the guy shows up, a little late but that’s okay because it gave me time to pick up a bit — and vacuum. Of course, they want you to do that before they come (and while you may think it’s so they have a clean floor to shampoo, this is not the case). I answered the door and your typical salesman-in-khakis-and-a-polo entered. Right away he jumped into how excited he was to be here to talk to me and how he was just two sales away from making his monthly quota and, if he could do that, he and his wife could go on a cruise because they’d never had a honeymoon in thirteen years. Sales tactic number one. I was onto him.

Kirby Sentria

Kirby Sentria

From there, it was a four-hour barrage of sales tactics, none of which failed to trigger my cynicism button. For demonstration purposes, the salesman uses an attachment and filters, rather than the Kirby bag, to show me just how much filth I’ve been living in — even after vacuuming. From there on out, he made a habit of just leaving the dirty filters lying around my house as a friendly reminder. When he finally did go to throw them away, carefully planned comments made their way into the conversation. “Wow, that’s just disgusting” or “You don’t want to keep this do you?” Sales tactic number two, which infiltrated the entire presentation, was to shame the consumer. How could we stand to live like that? How can you go back to your old vacuum after you see what it’s left behind and how much better the Kirby is?

Other tactics included appealing to the young adult in me. After all, all those elderly customers really wished they had had a Kirby when they’re my age and they might also be in better health if they’d had one to deal with the dust mites (tactic number five: raise red flags about your health). The salesman would go on to explain that if I were going to be replacing my vacuum every few years, I’d eventually wind up spending as much on multiple vacuums (and security deposits and renting shampooers, etc) in a lifetime as I would this one-time purchase. Mathematically, that just doesn’t add up, of course. I spent $40 on my last vacuum and will have five years sometime this fall or so. It would still be cheaper for me to replace that vacuum for the next fifty years.

But, wait! There’s discounts. You’re single? You’ll turn in your vacuum? Your microwave? You boat? You’ll be paying cash today? You can get the price knocked down from the original $2400. If you’re really persistent, you’ll get a bottom line price of $1200 — which I did. It was an impressive mark down from the $1900 he originally quoted me but that’s still twelve fucking hundred dollars, am I right?

Of course, most tactics were pretty subtle. Except not the, “Oh, I missed a call from boss. Let me call him back. Oh My god! I forgot that discount and can we give her this special deal? I’m sure she won’t tell.” That portion of the presentation came off as far too scripted for my tastes. I don’t know how anyone could fall for that. At that point, I just said “Hey, your sales tactics are just a little too obvious buddy.”

Then he started in with how this wasn’t a sales pitch anymore, yea okay.

The presentation itself, however, really showed that the Kirby is an effective vacuum as well as a versatile tool and shampooer on top of that. There’s no denying that its suction power is better than that of my vacuum or that it’s effective across the entire width of the machine. The transmission makes it quite easy to push and it has some unique tools. Nevertheless, I’m sure that most owners wind up not using them. That it converted to a handheld machine is also interesting and actually functional, when you consider the length of its cord. No, I couldn’t say that I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I uttered that very sentence quite a few times.

But I also couldn’t say that it was worth even $1200 and so I said “good bye” to Mr Kirby Man, finally, after he shampooed my carpet (the shampoo, by the way, had a horrible, sickly sweet scent). I immediately jumped online to look up reviews and prices and, sure enough, a lot of people weren’t blown away by their Kirby. And the lifetime guarantee may have been overstated. Lots of consumers had complaints about trying to get their machines fixed and Consumer Reports rates the lifetime of a Kirby as twenty-five years. Longer than my Dirt Devil? Sure. But his “you’re going to spend that much in your lifetime anyway” match becomes even more fallacious.

There are new and refurbed Kirbys available on both Ebay and Amazon starting at $300 – $400. That’s the range I’d consider. The salesman was probably spot on when he said that most people who don’t wind up buying the Kirby do wind up going and purchasing a better vacuum anyway; however, I think that points out that while the Kirby is good, it’s not the only option much as he’d like me to believe it.

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