Kirby door-to-door salesmen allegedly harass Elkhart neighborhood

How far is too far to go to make a sale?

Residents living on Gordon Rd. in Elkhart said overly aggressive Kirby vacuum salesmen showed up on their doorsteps Thursday night.

It's not the first time these door-to-door vacuum sellers have been the subject of criticism. Last May, NewsCenter 16 spoke with St. Joseph County residents after Kirby salesmen used questionable and aggressive tactics to make the sale.

The Kirby Company issued a statement explaining that it is up to individual vacuum distributors to control and manage individual sales representatives. Reports of pushing salesmen traced back to Kissella Distributing, an Elkhart-based company.

Rick, who asked that his full name not be used or associated with Kissella, worked for the vacuum distributor for a few months in 2010. His role was to hire and send out new vacuum salesmen in a somewhat dubious method he referred to as a "bait and switch."

Prospective employees were lured in under the pretense of a customer relations job that promised a base pay of $500 per week. According to Rick, the $500 was not guaranteed, and turnover averaged a few week for their salesmen.

"They're told they're going to be going door-to-door displaying an American made product," Rick explained. Several salesmen would be sent to different neighborhoods in a van, if any of them felt uncomfortable with the tactics, Rick said they would be left at a gas station.

"They'll do anything they have to to save the deal, I've seen quite a few unprofessional tactics used," added Rick.

Some of the tactics Rick laid out matched with what homeowners described. Including an aggressive push to gain entry, staying inside homes for hours and walking throughout the various rooms of the home.

"It's very uncomfortable for anybody purchasing a product," said Rick.

According to one Gordon Rd. homeowner, his doorbell rang several times after dark. He answered and told the man he wasn't interested in whatever he was peddling and he was upset that he was disturbing his home so late. The homeowner said the man became angry, called him un-American and told him to return to the country he came from.

The salesman was one of many in the neighborhood at the time, going from house to house trying to sell expensive Kirby sweepers. Neighbors began exchanging phone calls, warning one another of the outside presence.

"There was a gentleman--he was well dressed--and he said 'can I come in?' I said 'no, what do you want?'" explained Sandra Downing. Downing told the man she had no problem hearing him and told him she wasn't interested in the cleaning product in his hand.

"It was clear he wanted to come inside," Downing added.

Pushiness and an aggressive attempt to enter people's homes is a common complaint for this branch of Kirby sales representatives.

When the van and salesmen were spotted further down Gordon Rd., the same homeowner who was told to "return to the country (he) came from," got in his car, drove down the street and blocked them in the driveway.

Jane Slabaugh was fetching her newspaper and heard yelling.

"He said something (like) 'I felt you were entrapping me' and a lot more yelling, very loud," said Slabaugh.

According to the homeowner involved in the heated argument, several salesmen hopped out of the van and circled him. They got in his face and threatened to harm him and his family, adding that they knew where he lived.

The homeowner wasn't alone at that point, another neighbor joined him after expressing concern for the elderly neighbors living on the street.

They were able to write down the license plate number and call police, but homeowners said the van drove off after threatening to crash through the car blocking the driveway.

Kissella Distributing disagrees with the homeowner's account of the story. The owner declined to go on camera, however, described a very similar situation from Thursday night. The only difference in the two tales was that the Kirby salesmen claimed the homeowner told them he was "packing heat" and showed them his gun.

When asked, the homeowner denied bringing a gun and it was his life he felt was threatened in the encounter.

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