Sometimes, having a blog seems like a lot of work. Sometimes it’s wicked fun. And every once in awhile something jumps up and bites you in the ass (er, I mean, surprises the heck out of you).
This was the case this fall when out of the blue, I got an email at my school address from Sara Shragal, Sr. Communications Coordinator for DirectBuy, Inc.
Almost a year ago I wrote a post about my experience at a Direct Buy showroom. Over time that post made its way to Google’s front page for the keywords “Direct Buy” as well as “Directbuy.” So now, depending on Direct Buy’s advertising schedule I consistently get between 150 and 200 visits a day to that post.
But that’s not to cool part. The cool part is that so far, 59 people have also shared their own Directbuy stories–both positive and negative–in the comments section. So I think, if you want a fairly even handed comprehensive report on the Direct Buy experience–from presentation, to sign up, to customer service–you can get a pretty good idea right at that post. One stop shopping.
And now–Direct Buy itself would like to weigh in.
Instead of telling you the whole story, I think I’ll just share with you the correspondence that Ms. Shragal initiated early this fall, which culminated in the interview at the bottom of this post.
Act 1: An Email From Direct Buy Corporate
I work at DirectBuy’s corporate headquarters in Merrillville, Indiana and wanted to introduce myself. Based on the discussion taking place on your website, I would love to schedule a time to talk so I can provide you with additional information about DirectBuy and answer any questions that you or your readers might have.
Given that you have already taken the time to visit one of our showrooms, I thought it might be useful to provide you with some additional information on our company, and allow you to ask questions of me. With some of the recent posts to your site, we also would like a chance to directly respond and provide clarification on our business and our policies.
In the meantime, I encourage you to visit www.directbuycares.com to see for yourself how some of our members have used DirectBuy to build, remodel or furnish their homes, and also how our franchise owners are giving back to the community.
Let me know what day/time works best for you. I look forward to speaking with you.
Sr. Communications Coordinator
act II: I reply. or–What the hell?
Your email intrigues me on a number of different levels.
So first I have to ask: How did you find my blog? I’m always interested to learn how people have come to find me. And since I don’t remember leaving this email address on my blog–how did you find that? And finally, why bother with little ol’ me and my blog? I mean, c’mon–it’s not like I’m Barbara Walters.
Mine is not a consumer awareness blog. I don’t really have a niche. So when I wrote that particular post, I never expected it to get the traffic and spark the discussion that it has. And I certainly never imagined it would catch the attention of DirectBuy corporate. Yet despite the traffic the post attracts, I really haven’t given DirectBuy much thought since writing it. I read the comments, but I don’t encourage (or discourage) the discussion. Heck I rarely even take part in it, other than to say something like, “Interesting. Thanks for stopping by.”
But, after getting your email last night, and thinking about it a little more today, a sort of follow up article might be interesting. From what I understand from your email, it sounds like you’d like to directly address some of the ideas, conceptions, or misconceptions about Directbuy that are floating around.
(I then basically brought up the idea of me interviewing her)
Act III: Direct Buy lets down its guard, takes a chance with an independent blogger, and agrees to an interview it has absolutely no control in publishing
Thanks for your note! I hope you weren’t too frightened when you got my initial email – we actually found your blog and your email address on Google. Here at DirectBuy’s headquarters, we are always on the lookout for outlets – online, media or otherwise – that are interested in our company. Since you have quite a bit of space devoted to DirectBuy, I thought I could offer some helpful insight into our business.
(She then went on to accept my offer for an interview and explained a few of the things you’ll find below)
The final act: Chris Wondra goes head to head with Direct buy in a no holds barred knock down drag out interview that may, in the end, bring the corporate giant to its knees and award the first ever pulitzer to a blogger.
Not really, of course, but a guy can dream can’t he?
CW: Tell us a little bit about your position with Directbuy. What are your responsibilities and how long have you been with the company.
SS: As senior communications coordinator at DirectBuy, I spend a good portion of my time educating consumers about DirectBuy’s business model, because it’s different than what many people are accustomed to. As such, my focus is primarily public relations, branding, and internal communications. I started working with DirectBuy in May of 2001, and since that time, I’ve seen our company evolve and most importantly, grow! From the day that I’ve started, we’ve more than doubled the number of franchised locations we operate, and our members have increased their purchasing by over 500%!
CW:What are some things that you enjoy about your job?
SS: I’m naturally an outgoing person, so I love that I get to speak with so many people from so many different areas in a given day. Throughout the day, I’ll speak with many of our franchise owners, media representatives from newspapers, television, radio, and the Internet, and prospective and existing members from all over the U.S. and Canada. By far, the best part of my job is hearing from our members! Their experiences are so important to what we do. Just recently, I spoke with a family from Chattanooga that built a home, and purchased most everything they needed, from flooring, lighting, plumbing and cabinetry, to furnishings, appliances, and outdoor furniture, at DirectBuy. They were absolutely thrilled with their savings – in fact, they saved so much on their purchases that they were able to buy a brand new truck with the savings they incurred through DirectBuy!
CW: What are some of your biggest challenges?
SS: As a communications coordinator and spokesperson for DirectBuy, one of my biggest challenges is managing communications issues across our growing network. I’m finding myself traveling more and more to attend new showroom opening events, franchise owners meetings, video shoots. Just last week I was in Palm Springs for one event and then Columbus for another, to highlight some of our new showrooms. It has been difficult to keep up, but a lot of fun as well.
CW What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about Direct Buy?
SS: Some of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen and heard about DirectBuy are that:
1.) DirectBuy’s sales process is high-pressure; and
2.) DirectBuy members don’t save on their purchases.
First, to address claims that our sales process is high pressure, it’s important to fully understand our business. Briefly, DirectBuy has a unique business model that requires prospective members to attend an open house and learn about the company, savings and product selection. The information shared during this session is confidential, and therefore we require consumers to make a decision to join during the open house. While this format is non-traditional (and somewhat “foreign” to most consumers), it is required to protect our manufacturer relations and ensure incredible savings.
Next, is the misconception that DirectBuy offers no savings on merchandise. Again, the answer to this question requires a little insight into our business model. DirectBuy requires a membership fee that is paid upon joining. In return, members are able to purchase merchandise at manufacturer’s prices. Since we derive no income from the sale of merchandise, this means that members will receive substantial savings on the majority of products offered through DirectBuy, including furniture, cabinetry, lighting, flooring, plumbing fixtures, etc. One point of clarification is that some products, such as appliances and electronics, tend to be very competitive amongst retailers. In such instances when we are advised by a manufacturer that their products may be similarly priced at retail stores, we notify our members via a label on that catalog that explains that the pricing on the products in the catalog, such as electronics and appliances, may offer only marginal savings.
Chris, I continually receive testimonials from our members all across North America, and I know we have tens of thousands of satisfied members who are saving significantly on a wide array of items for their homes. I’d like to find a way for your readers to understand that. I’d also like them to keep in mind that DirectBuy is not for a person who just wants a good price on a faucet or a television. We’re ideal for homeowners who are planning to make multiple home-related purchases in the near future.
CW: That’s interesting. It sounds like you’re saying that, in some cases, a DirectBuy membership may not be able to save you much if anything.
SS: Our business model enables us to offer savings in every product category we sell. The key is that savings on certain types of merchandise is more significant than others, because retailers tend to mark up certain products more than others. That said, our members still find savings on products with smaller margins because they buy them at manufacturers’ prices. In some cases, savings on merchandise with smaller margins is not as much as the savings they would find on other products. I mentioned how we communicate this to our members by labeling our catalogs. When prospective members visit DirectBuy at an Open House, we also make sure to tell them where they will find the most significant savings.
CW: What sort of person would get the most benefit from a DirectBuy membership? In other words, what sort of items would a person want to buy through DirectBuy to save the most money?
SS: Well, any homeowner planning to make major purchases for his or her home over the next ten years would benefit from a membership. However, the families who benefit the most and in the shortest time frame are homeowners who are redoing a room, building a home, or moving into a new home. For example, members often save tens of thousands of dollars on remodeling their kitchens by purchasing items through DirectBuy. The savings on kitchen cabinets alone is typically thousands of dollars. We do not pretend that we are for every consumer, and our marketing efforts are designed to reach out to people who will benefit from our savings.
CW: Let’s talk a little about that so-called “high pressure” sales tactic of requiring a member to sign up on the spot or be banned from the showroom for 4 years. In my original post, I made a pretty big deal about being able to get and print out an invitation for another showroom appointment even after I’d visited once. What would happen if I had actually shown up for the appointment?
SS: That’s a good question. When you sign up for an Open House appointment online, your information is added to a database and then sent to the appropriate showroom so that they may follow up with you to confirm your appointment. If you had signed up and attended an Open House previously, the database would recognize the duplication, and you would be contacted by a representative from the showroom.
CW: You say,
“The information shared during this session is confidential, and therefore we require consumers to make a decision to join during the open house. While this format is non-traditional (and somewhat “foreign” to most consumers), it is required to protect our manufacturer relations and ensure incredible savings. “
Explain how this arrangement “protects” your relationship with manufacturers.
SS: The relationships we have developed with top manufacturers is one of the elements that provides our members with outstanding value and makes DirectBuy a success. Out of respect for the retail community and our manufacturers, the information shared during the Open House session is confidential to prevent individuals from using our prices as leverage at traditional retail outlets. Without this policy, our pricing could adversely impact our manufacturers’ relationships with their other retailers. For example, if a store has a price match policy, and consumers continually visit the store with lower DirectBuy prices that the store is obligated to match, it would hurt their business. That store could and probably would complain to the manufacturer about DirectBuy advertising and delivering on much lower prices, and that could ultimately hurt our relationship with our manufacturers.
CW: You also say,
“ . . .we derive no income from the sale of merchandise.”
Yet I’ve also read (in comments on my post and elsewhere) that in addition to the manufacture’s cost, you charge an 8% “service fee” above and beyond shipping and sales tax. Can you explain this?
SS: To ensure that our members receive the items they requested in ideal condition, our product service staff receives and inspects each piece of merchandise ordered through DirectBuy. Some items include a 6-8% charge to cover this. As I mentioned, this is not an aspect of our business that we profit from, but a service that we provide for our members.
CW: What would you say to those who call Direct Buy a scam?
SS:We have a 35-year track record of serving tens of thousands of satisfied members, and we are continuing to grow across North America with new showrooms opening each month. DirectBuy continues to have success because we offer our members a unique opportunity to save money on items for their home. With any company, there are going to be isolated incidents where customers or members have issues or difficulties. That said many of the individuals who criticize us are not members and some have not even taken the time to visit a showroom. At the end of the day, I am proud to work for a company that helps so many families enjoy and improve their homes.