Working for Vector Marketing is costly and frustrating, they say
POLYANA DA COSTA
August 21, 2004
The help-wanted advertisements are widespread, posted on college campuses throughout the nation.
The ads, for Vector Marketing and Cutco cutlery products, offer great pay and flexible hours — with no experience necessary for college-age youths.
“It sounds like a great job,” Marcus Emry of Multnomah County said minutes after he accepted an offer from Vector to sell Cutco knives.
For some young people, the sales jobs are an opportunity to make money and to succeed. Some report making good money and developing leadership and communication skills.
But for others, working for Vector has become a frustrating — and costly — experience.
Vector, which has more than 300 offices in the United States and Canada, including Salem, Eugene, Portland and Medford, has outraged students nationwide with its recruiting and employment-related practices:
The Complaint Station, a Web site where consumers can post messages with concerns regarding a product or company, has logged more than 2,000 complaints against Vector Marketing and Cutco.
An online group called Students Against Vector Exploitation, or SAVE, has an online petition against the companies with almost 3,000 signatures since it began last year.
Vector has settled several wage claims that were filed at the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries last year, although it did not acknowledge any law violation.
A Marion County court ordered Vector to stop deceptive recruiting practices as a result of a 1994 investigation.
Most of the complaints refer to recruiting ads, long hours of unpaid training, work pressures and ethical concerns within the firm.
Sarah Andrus, a spokeswoman for Vector, said that it is hard to verify the truth of complaints not tested in court and that many of these are “historical records.”
Andrus said Vector operates under “high ethical standards” and that its representatives, which are considered independent contractors, are told all about the job and the work conditions during the interview process.
But some Oregon students who have worked for the company disagree.
“They make the job sound really good,” said Justin Stover from Eugene, who worked for Vector for about two months last year.
“But the truth is that it is hard pressure, time consuming and you don’t get nearly what they say you’ll make when you first start the job,” he said.
It was a tough learning experience for Stover.
That often is the case for young people looking for their first jobs, said Jane Guajardo, a job specialist at Chemeketa Community College.
“Some of the students that come in here to look for a job don’t have any work experience besides, maybe, some volunteer work,” she said.
“So any of these ads highlighting flexible hours and good pay become more appealing to those who are young, naive and inexperienced because they are not used to do the research and ask questions that adults would,” she said.
The job and its critics
People who accept positions with Vector Marketing attend three half-days of unpaid training, during which they are taught how to make sales presentations.
They are instructed to make a list of friends and relatives who are 25 or older and have full-time jobs so that they can set up their initial appointments and start a reference list.
Time spent to make telephone calls and travel expenses are not reimbursed, according to Vector.
Former representatives also said they were required to buy sets of cutlery products for $145 to use in their sales presentations.
After going through this process, Stover said he learned that selling sets of knives costing from $200 to $2,000 wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be.
He worked about five to six hours per day, and his weekly paycheck was about $100, he said.
Stover said the money wasn’t worth the pressure he felt.
“I had to call them every day at 8 o’clock in the morning to tell them how many appointments I had scheduled for that day,” he said. “If I said, ‘None,’ my manager would say, ‘All right, get two appointments and call me back.’”
Stover also said he attended mandatory meetings and training, although he was classified as an independent contractor.
When he decided to quit, Stover said he was told to wait for his final paycheck to be sent in the mail.
“My paycheck never came,” Stover said. “I even called their headquarters in New York, and they said it would be taken care of, but it wasn’t.”
After filing a wage claim at the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Stover said he received the check about two weeks later.
The Oregon Attorney General’s Office has handled several other complaints and wage claims against Vector Marketing filed within the past two years.
Sarah Andrus of Vector Marketing said that she was not aware of the wage claims and said that “matters brought to the attention of the company are solved immediately.”
Andrus also said that independent contractors are not required to do things.
“They are asked to call to keep the office informed, and their managers probably let them know when it’s the best time to call,” Andrus said. “But we have people who don’t even call at all.”
Vector says that the $145 fee for the display knives is charged as a deposit — although sales taxes are included in states where such taxes apply — in case representatives don’t return the knives when they leave the job.
Some Vector offices also are in the process of eliminating the deposit charges, said Jeremy Bell, district manager for Vector Marketing in Salem.
As of last month, his office stopped charging the fees, and Bell said he expects all other Vector offices to do the same by next month.
An insider’s view
Emily Puterbaugh of Salem, who worked for Vector in Tacoma, Wash., during two summers — as a representative and later as an assistant manager — said she has mixed feelings about her experiences with the company.
She said she enjoyed working for Vector and learned skills that she uses in her sales job today. During her first summer as a representative, she said she earned about $10,000 — more than what she earned as a manager the next summer.
However, Puterbaugh said she decided to quit when she found herself working more than 90 hours per week in her management position and when she started to see “a lot of wrong things” at Vector.
Puterbaugh, 21, said that when she answered inquiry calls about the job, she was given a script to read, which provided little information about the job, emphasizing that it didn’t involve door-to-door sales or telemarketing.
If people insisted on more details, she said she was instructed to reply that she didn’t know any further information and urge callers to schedule an interview.
“It is a high-pressure job like any other sales job, but the thing with Vector is that they make it sound more flexible and easy than it actually is.”
Puterbaugh, a recent Willamette University graduate, said she maintained a 4.0 grade-point average while working for Vector because of the time-management skills she gained at the company.
Still, Puterbaugh said Vector should change its practices.
“It all comes back to the way they present things,” she said. “If they made it sound as good as it is, people wouldn’t get upset, but they make it sound better than it is, so people get upset.”
About the law
Vector Marketing and Cutco have been sued several times — by the Arizona attorney general in 1990 and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 1999. In 1994, a court in Wisconsin ordered Vector to not deceive recruits.
Andrus said that past lawsuits “are historical records, and they don’t represent the Vector of today.”
Nevertheless, Vector still is operating under a 1994 Marion County court order in which the company agreed to be “truthful in representations made to induce persons to sell Vector’s products.”
That includes telling people “exactly what the job is about before they get there,” said Jan Margosian, who has been a spokeswoman for the Oregon Attorney General’s Office for more than 20 years and is familiar with the complaints against Vector.
Vector officials insist that they are obeying the law despite complaints from former employees.
Margosian said the state stands ready to act if such complaints are substantiated.
“If they are breaking that agreement, not only they are violating the law, but they’re violating an agreement with the court,” Margosian said. “So people need to speak up and let us know about it.”
Andrus said Vector is changing its recruiting practices to reveal more information about the job.
“We are very proud of our progress with those changes, and we feel confident that we’ve been moving in the right direction,” she said.