Willy Loman, from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is a well-known (fictional) door-to-door salesperson. There was a time when it was a common profession.
Nowadays, door-to-door sales still happen, but with less frequency. Sometimes, legitimately; other times, not.
Legitimate door-to-door sales
Sometimes, as in the case of Square One Paving, it’s legitimate. Square One, who laid the stamped asphalt in front of the Evergreen Plaza in Sooke, are an example of legitimate contractors who utilize door-to-door sales. Owners Gord and Jan Stewart get a lot of business by knocking on doors.
“I go around and bang on doors when there’s a reno going, or a new house being built,” details Gord. “I give them my brochure, I talk, and I get jobs.”
Consumer Protection BC says that legitimate door-to-door sales people are regulated by the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. To be in compliance with any contract established in a door-to-door sale, the contract needs to include (among other things) the suppliers name, address and contact information, detailed description of the the goods and services, payment terms, and the consumer’s cancellation rights. Which, by the way, include a 10-day cancellation right.
Gord adds to this. As a professional contractor, Gord’s business is listed with the Better Business Bureau, he has brochures, a website, and references.
“I have a portfolio, I bring my iPad with me, I show them all the local jobs around where they are, I use every tool I can possibly use.”
He also advised to check for credentials, and ask for a business card.
Sketchy door-to-door sales
Other times, there are the more shady snake-oil salespeople. Take, for instance the rumours swirling around town of a fly-by-night paving company in the greater Sooke region. According to some posts on the Sooke News Mirror Facebook page, there’s been a paving truck offering incredible driveway paving deals in Otter Point, East Sooke, Mt. Matheson, Kemp Lake, and elsewhere.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has, over the years, repeatedly posted warnings about general fraudulent door-to-door sales, and specifically about scamming paving offers.
Top techniques to guard yourself
• First, don’t give in to pressure sales. A common pitch is they were working on a local job, and that job either got cancelled, or, they over estimated their materials. If you take up their offer now, they can give you a really great deal.
To which the BBB advises, “Don’t give in to high pressure sales tactics” (Top 10 Scams for 2012).
Guy Rimmer, a Sooke resident and former backhoe operator with over 30 years experience with contract work including paving, reinforces that advice. “The lowest quote isn’t always the best,” Rimmer forewarns, adding that a good operator knows how many hours it would take to complete a job, and how much the supplies would cost.
When asked if he engages in pressure sales — like saying this offer is only good if you say yes, now — Gord Stewart of Square One Paving doesn’t hesitate. “No, no. I’ve never done that. I’ve never done a pressure sale. It’s not worth my time and effort.”
• Second, don’t fall for the old “I have extra supplies leftover from a job just up the road” scam.
The BBB, in a 2010 alert (“Beware of Summer Paving Scams”), addresses the accidental extra-supplies tactic: “Professional asphalt contractors will know, with great accuracy, how much paving material is needed to complete a project. Rarely will they have leftover material.”
• Third, if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably isn’t a good deal.
Jan Stewart from Square One Paving suggests consumers “get a couple of quotes, so that you know that whoever you’re using is not incredibly cheap.” There can be a difference in price, she notes, but it shouldn’t be a massive difference.
To which Guy Rimmer adds, do your research. “Find out what other jobs they have done, and go look at them.”
Other suggestions from various publications from the Better Business Bureau include checking out the contractor to see if the are registered with the BBB, check references and ask to see examples of previous work, make payment out to the company (never an individual), and don’t pay cash.
These scams are not new. Jan (Square One Paving) said she was also once approached with a quick paving offer, noting her gravel driveway, and not knowing she was in the business herself. “It was this time, two years ago,” she recalls. The story the “contractor” told her was that he was doing well in Edmonton, but wanted to set up here.
“By getting a few people out to your door, you start to pick up terms, you start to educate yourself. So then you can make a little bit more of an intellectual decision on who you’re going to use, because you’re starting to get the lingo, you’re starting to talk the talk a bit. And that really helps.”