By Paige Bodine
Is there a limit to the lengths that some go to make a fast buck? Vector Marketing is a company that recruits high school and college-age students to sell Cutco knives to friends and family. On their social media, they urge young people to work for them with promises of making an easy $17 an hour and experience that will look good on a resume. Through the company employing independent contractors, the company is legal, but should we be supporting a business that lacks transparency and uses manipulative marketing to sell its products? There are a total of six physical branches in West Michigan alone.
Katherine Gray, was an employee for Vector marketing when she was 17 years old in the midst of the global pandemic. She first heard about the company through a very appealing letter that randomly showed up in her mailbox, addressed with her name and information. It detailed how she was a perfect candidate to work for Vector marketing and could work virtually from home. She was excited to see that she could make $17 dollars an hour. Gray ended up working for the company for about 2 months. The price of the knives that she was trying to sell was on average $1,000-$3,000. She soon discovered that she had a knack for selling knives. She was winning monthly competitions with her sales. But she felt that something just wasn’t right.
“My biggest sale actually ended up being my mom,” said Gray reflecting on her experience. “The branch that I worked at treated the people who get the best results like a queen. They pushed aside people who were struggling. They target young people because they can easily persuade them to work for them. I was doing really well but it was not enjoyable and seeing how they treated others.”
“My supervisor would never stop texting me and asking me to do more,” Gray said. “After every sales competition, we would have to attend national skill training events. We would have to pay to go. They said it wasn’t mandatory but it was encouraged and frowned upon if you didn’t.”
Gray went on to describe how the cost of the conferences was different for each sales representative based on the sales that they had made. “The cost changed each time. The first one I went to was $60 and the next one was $100,” Gray said.
How about the promise of $17 an hour that captivates young people to consider working for Vector Marketing? The number high above the minimum wage sounds almost too good to be true. Turns out it is as Vector Marketing finds the biggest loopholes to avoid paying their employees the “hourly wage”.
“There were all these loopholes that they would go through to not give us the $17,” Gray said. “And it was not for an hour it was per zoom appointment. There were guidelines for who had to be at that appointment to get the $17. To make the money you had to have a couple who were homeowners from the age of 25 to mid-30s on the call.”
Even though it was seemingly impossible for a 17-year-old to get the target demographic on the Zoom presentations, Gray worked hard to do her best for the company. She realized that a huge barrier to getting the right people for the zoom presentations was that in Kalamazoo, household owners were so diverse in age and gender that getting a couple in their mid-30s was going to be a difficult task for her and time-consuming. She opted for the second option of getting paid through Vector Marketing through sales of the actual knives.
“I was making a good amount of money even though I did not enjoy it,” Gray said. “They gave us a phone script and I would pretend to not even read it and act natural and like I really cared. I was getting my sales but other people were struggling that worked for them. One of my friends once got a check for $25 after a week of working,” Gray said.
When reflecting on her time at the company Gray said that she realized “I learned what kind of business I did not want to go into.” She went on to describe how working for the company never gave her a steady paycheck among many other things.
Abby Sarver, 20, who is about to start a branch in Holland addressed the confusion about the $17 wage and has more of a positive opinion of Vector marketing. She has been working for Vector Marketing for about 20 months. She was an assistant manager before she was promoted to branch manager of a Holland Branch.
“It is $17 per appointment,” Sarver said. “Even if someone doesn’t make a sale they can still get paid for those appointments as long as the people in the appointment fit our target demographic. The second way that they could get paid is through commission. At the end of the week, whatever number is higher is the pay that they get.”
Managing a branch is an opportunity that seems unreal for someone so young and Sarver said she is excited about the opportunity and is starting slowly but surely to recruit and build her Holland branch to start selling knives.
“To get to the branch manager you have to have a good work ethic, be able to coach a team, be a great leader, and be driven to hit goals,” Sarver explained. “It was not based on sales to get promotions, sales do help though. My hope is to end up building my team to over 150 students by the end of the summer.”
Sarver went on to describe how a huge part of being a branch manager is hiring independent contractors. When she is recruiting and hiring students she has a broad list of criteria that she looks for.
“The sales reps are independent contractors. It is up to them what they want to get out of the job,” Sarver said. “They can work around their schedule and they are not tied to any quotas. The three main things that I look for is someone with a strong work ethic, is coachable, and a positive attitude,” said Sarver.
Although Sarver described how the sales representatives can work at their own speed there is an emphasis on getting the job done. Even Sarver has had to pay to go to the end-of-challenge conferences.
“If someone is continuously making no sales and not reaching the target demographic in their presentations that would result in a tough conversation,” Sarver said. “I would of course try to help them figure out what is keeping them from making the sales and help coach them to get to the next step of reaching customers.”
Sarver said she has invested several hundred dollars to stay with the company.
“Through working through Vector Marketing I have probably invested it anywhere within the $700-$800 range and that’s all going to attending conferences,” Saver said.
Sarver thinks that with the right mindset working for Vector marketing can have positive effects on a student’s wallet and resume.
“It is good money and can be a good experience. We have a great starting pay. You learn how to sell and manage and it ends up being a great thing to put on your resume.”Sarver said.
While Sarver said she is thriving in her job with Vector Marketing, it’s not for everyone.
The appointments are what pushed Diana Candela, 20, from Rockford, Michigan to leave the company. During the middle of the pandemic, she received a DM from someone that she didn’t know. After having a conversation and interview she decided to give Vector Marketing a try because it seemed like an interesting opportunity especially because she was applying and received a customer service job.
“The interview didn’t involve any specific questions,” Candela said. “They didn’t ask me anything about selling or marketing. One of the questions was if I had heard about the company before,” Candela said. “Once I told her I really couldn’t find anything online about what Vector Marketing was she explained how it was a job for making friends, not customers. Even though before that she was talking about how my pay was based on how much product I sold.”
After the brief interview, Candela was alerted that she was hired. The next morning she had to sit through five hours of Zoom training on how to sell the product. It was confusing for Candela because she was told that she would be a customer service representative but she was being trained in sales. The training involved learning how to have a phone conversation with people from your contact list. The idea was you would call someone, have a normal conversation, and then in the midst of the conversation drop that you recently started selling knives. The training entailed that even if the person had no interest in buying knives you must use every tactic to get them to go to the one-hour Zoom presentation.
“By the end of the day, I had to give the company 50 contacts of potential customers from my phone,” Candela said. “They were very specific about what we were supposed to do in the Zoom presentation meeting for potential customers. For instance, we were not supposed to talk to the wife unless the husband was present because he would be more willing to buy it for her,“
Vector Marketing advertised the job as a customer service job and that led to Candela applying for the position. Once she realized that she was not doing customer service, she decided it was time to leave the company. After only a week, she texted her boss that it was time for her to leave the company. His response, instead of understanding, seemed like a plea that it was a mistake for her to leave the company.
“I felt guilty about meeting up with people that I knew, to sell them knives and then giving their information to the company,” Candela said, reflecting on her short time at Vector Marketing “It went against my morals. I hadn’t talked to some people in years and it felt wrong to ask them to suddenly buy knives.”
Many students interviewed by The Collegiate allege that Vector Marketing uses manipulation, loopholes, and unkept promises to take advantage of young people’s drive and vulnerability. However, the company is legal and gives students opportunities to learn how to sell and make money.