Get Off My Porch, Chum

Friday night, 7:45 p.m. There’s an unexpected knock at the door, who could it be? Is it my mom coming to visit her grandson? My sister coming to visit her nephew? A neighbour coming to borrow a cup of sugar that is needed for some mid-evening meringues?

I open the door. It’s some dude I don’t recognize, wearing a plastic ID badge and holding a clipboard. I reluctantly crack the screen door. He launches into a rapid-fire speech that’s reminiscent of an old Micro Machines commercial.

“Hi good evening I’m here with National and we’re working on the street this week putting in all the new high-efficiency water heaters that everyone is getting installed and we’re just checking the water heaters in the area and you rent your water heater right? well I just need to come down to your basement just for a minute to see if it has the energy star symbol on it and if it doesn’t you could be eligible for an upgrade and it will only take a second so should I leave my boots on or take them off?”

The guy has practically wedged himself inside the screen door at this point. No buddy, you aren’t coming in; you aren’t taking your boots off. The only thing you’re gonna be doing with those boots of yours is marching yourself back down to the street with them.

The guy was still yapping as I closed and locked the door, like a pull-string kids’ toy, the kind that won’t stop its pre-recorded spiel until the plastic loop comes to rest in Big Bird’s butt again. He was with National Home Services, the company that launched a thousand complaints to the Better Business Bureau and even helped inspired the province to change its laws around door-to-door selling.

This is (at least) the third time since October that I’ve had pushy hot water tank salespeople darken my doorstep. The first was in October when I was out of town. That particular character insinuated to my wife that he was with the company we rent from (Reliance Home Comfort) and was there to check on the unit. It wasn’t until he was in our basement and taking out paperwork for our prospective new tank (complete with a 10 or 15-year contract with usurious terms) that he revealed he was with another company.

The second time was on a frigid night in December. The young woman got snippy in a hurry when I told her I wasn’t interested. Well sorry lady, but let’s try to remember that you came here to bother me. I don’t know what combination of poor life choices and bad luck leads a person to selling water tank rentals door-to-door in -20 Celsius weather, but you have my sympathy for whatever that’s worth.

I don’t get all the interest around hot water tanks. We pay $49 quarterly to rent ours. I think about it as much as I do questions such as, “which modern actor would make the best Marshal Dillon in a Gunsmoke reboot?” But we’ve had more than unwelcome in-person solicitors to worry about vis-a-vis our hot water situation.

I’m talking to you Reliance Home Comfort. I realize we have a customer-service provider relationship, and you are within your rights to call us, even if it is for a dubious product such as a “hot water heater protection plan.” However, I tend to think that it is a step too far for you to call my wife on a weekday, during business hours at her work phone number that we have never before provided to you, in order to discuss said plan. Yes, I know it is the information age and all, and I’m heartened that someone at your company knows how to use Google. But isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

After all Reliance Home Comfort, how would you like it if I started cold calling your call centre reps trying to pitch them some value-added services while they are on duty? My three-day training course, How Not to be a Jackass: Master Class, is an especially good value at just $3,995.99 and would be extremely beneficial for your employees. Participants get a signed certificate of completion at the end, and a miniature cat o’ nine tails that they can use to swat themselves with if they catch themselves engaging in any jackassery in the future. Not ready to make a four-thousand dollar commitment? Well I also have an audio-book version available, and I believe your company will qualify for a bulk order discount!

Its not just hot water causing us grief, water of all temperatures has been a problem. In spring 2013, our house got a phone call about a “water quality survey.” Municipal water services has been a big issue locally the past few years, and the previous fall I had answered a public opinion survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid, if memory serves. Maybe this was a follow-up. “Alright, I’ll take the questionnaire,” I say to the caller on the phone. Oh, no, no, no—he has a man in the area who will come over to do the survey in person.

Seemed a little odd to me, but I knew that field researchers did in-person stuff sometimes. The guy asks if my wife well be there, because they don’t send their employees out if only males are on the premises because “one of our female reps was attacked last year.” He says this to me suspiciously, as though he thinks the odds are pretty good that I might be a violent psychopath or have a sex dungeon in my basement. I should’ve told him to stuff his head up his ass right then.

A few minutes later a kid shows up with a little suitcase full of gear and I know what kind of dog and pony show I am in for right away, but there seems no way out except to let things run their course. His company is working “with” the city and he’s not there to sell us anything. Yeah right. He goes through his interminable demo with his strips of acetate paper and his water tester, and eventually we get to the pitch.

Sorry mate, but I woke up this morning with certain expectations for the day: I’m going to go to work; I’m going to walk the dog; I might change a diaper or two; I’ll probably cook dinner; maybe I’ll write for a bit once my son goes to bed. You know what wasn’t on that list? Buying a $7,500 water filtration system. I don’t care that I (and my heirs) have the option of paying it off in $34.95 installments from now until the heat-death of the universe.

Say what you will about the wisdom Government of Ontario, but ever since the Walkerton tragedy it has adopted some of the most stringent water quality standards of anywhere in the world. As such, I’m pretty confident that the water flowing from my tap is safe to drink and wash with, occasional chlorine overtones notwithstanding. So my friend, I’m not going to react as if I have been drinking deuterium all this time on account of it having one or two parts per million more copper than you suggest it should.

I wish now that I could remember the name of the company the kid (who in fairness was a pleasant enough person himself) was with. I think they were based in Ottawa. Their approach was predicated on the same sort of disingenuousness and hard sell tactics made famous by Green Life Water Filtration, though I think it was a different outfit this time.

Anyways, to direct salespeople of the world visiting or calling this neighbourhood, here is what I have to say. I realize that you are just trying to eke out a living in a still-lagging economy. I realize that not all of you are deceitful or unethical. I understand that a small fraction of the houses you call on may be a good fit for what you have to offer. Maybe there are a few people who don’t mind paying $4,500 over a 15-year rental agreement period for a hot water heater that would cost $1,000 to buy outright; perhaps there are a couple of affluent households who want a Cadillac filtration system for their drinking water.

But this is an area with mixed-demographics. There are young first-time owners who might be baffled into thinking they are getting a good deal by all the fast-talking. There are seniors who grew up in a more trusting and credulous time. There are widows and widowers, some of whom likely relied on their late spouses to worry about hot water tanks and dealing with the utility company. These are people vulnerable to being scammed. I’m sure that most don’t need and that many can ill-afford the things you are hawking. That’s why there will be one more letter of complaint reaching the BBB about National Home Services soon, this one with my signature affixed, and there will be similar missives issued for any other high-pressure companies that come to this door henceforth.

Still with all that said, I’m not 100 per cent opposed to door-to-door sales. I don’t have a “No Soliciting” sign or my “Labrador Retriever On Duty” notice posted in the window. If you are a Boy Scout selling apples, or a Girl Guide peddling cookies then knock away. If you are a volunteer canvassing the neighbourhood to raise funds for some worthy cause, then let me get my chequebook.

But, if the paragraph above doesn’t describe what you have to sell, then when your feet bring you within sight of my porch, you’d best just keep on walking pal.