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This thread was originally published at http://www.mafemaria.com/2006/05/the-ultra-secret-society-of-directbuy/ and is reproduced here without permission under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright act. © 2006 Maria Q. Stultz and MQStudio™.

May 27, 2006

First I thought I would write a post about our experience this morning. Then I decided it wasn't worth it. But the discomfort in my stomach is still there after a few hours, so I can only guess that our visit to DirectBuy has gotten me so upset, that maybe I should write an entry on it, at least to poop it out and wipe the bad taste off my mouth. (Pardon my French).

As the happy owners of a 1980something home that was rented for several years before it was sold to us, we find that there are plenty of things that we would love to update here. However, at least for the next two years Joey will be a Law student, and I will be a freelance web designer, and we may even have a baby, so as much as we would love to give the house a face-lift, the fact is that we don't feel it would be financially wise to do so at this moment.

Yet, shit happens sometimes. Shit that makes you think, "well, maybe we could re-carpet this one room", or "I had it with this piece of trash! Maybe we could buy a new dishwasher". So foreseeing a few potential purchases, we finally got online and explored DirectBuy's web site. Have you ever tried it?

I'll save my comments on the design of the site, because the really important thing here is that you won't find any useful information on that web site. Every tab you click gives you an annoying video of a woman explaining you yet again why it's cheaper to buy direct, like you don't have enough cells in your brain to get it. You quickly discover that the only way to get any real info is to sign up for a tour.

We missed our first appointment last weekend, but promptly got contacted by a DirectBuy rep to reschedule, and again, yesterday I received a call to make sure we were coming, and to give us directions to get to the place. The guy acted like he was going to do a trip to the place only to meet us, guiltying me into not missing the tour this time. Almost a little too aggressive for my taste, but ok, let's keep going.

We show up for our tour and get stuck in a room with another 20 couples, where they play a video once again explaining the concept that if you skip the retailer and buy direct you'll buy cheaper. Both Joey and I are getting a little impatient, and because Joey overdoes impatience gestures, and laughs too loud in crowded places, he gets scolded by another visitor: "Why did you bother coming here!?". Joey explains to the guy that the introduction is a little too long and that we already get the concept. Otherwise we wouldn't be there. But fine, we both shut up, take a deep breath, and sit quietly through what at this point we can recognize as a full-blown sales pitch, with comic relief and all.

After a while, we finally get to the important information: How much can you expect to save, and the rules of membership. We really want to know how much are the dues, and while I'm seated chewing the info, my mind is guessing that their dues must be $1,000 a year, and I'm trying to make a decision in my head because at that point the video warns you that if you don't become a member today, YOU WILL NEVER BE INVITED AGAIN. EVER. Ever again. Then the video explains to you how important it is for the survival of DirectBuy that you never do anything that could compromise the relationship of manufacturers with retailers, and other obvious warnings, of course targeted to those dirty minds always looking to game the system.

After two videos and plenty of jokes, they finally reveal us the numbers: You must make an upfront investment of $4,500 which buys you a 3-year membership (and if you pay it in full, it also covers an extra year), and then it's $190 to renew each year. With a nervous smile, strange female visitors and I exchange "Good Lord!" looks, but at the same time I'm thinking that the savings on what we could potentially buy in a 5-10 year period could pay the investment in full, so the dues don't really sound unreasonable to me. What is perfectly clear to both of us is that we can't join today. We probably will later - if they let us - but not today… Unfortunately we came too soon, and nobody warned us about it.

Later, in smaller groups, I explain our situation to our tour guide asking if we may be able to join at a future time. We understand that they can't let us come to their store to check on confidential manufacturer prices, but why not let us become members when we're actually ready to start buying? Both Joey and I interpret his answer as: We have seven years from today to become members, and after that period, the window closes. So relieved, we stay and keep asking more questions.

Then, after some further discussion, our guy goes to help somebody else, and sends another sales rep to help us. We had made a list of things we expected to possibly buy in the next three years, and wanted to get a few price points for future reference… So we could decide when to join. But for whatever reason, I restate the initial question to the new rep, and this time what we hear is that if we don't become members today, we won't be able to do so for the next seven years. What a bummer… All this wasted time, and why on earth couldn't they tell us ahead of time to only schedule a tour when we were completely ready to join? Of course, it's a little hard to decide to join anything before you get the info, but ok… At least, I could have held on blowing the chance forever!

I suggested they disclosed that info to prospective tour visitors. I don't mean for them to tell people how much their dues are ahead of time. DUH! I'm only saying they should tell you about the seven-year thing before they let you come in. The rep is all like "“I don't make the policy". I explain to her that maybe she can pass on the message… That most likely we would have joined, and that if my appliances break and my wooden floors need to be replaced in two months, I surely would want to join then, and she suggests that my thinking shows poor business sense…

The poor woman doesn't know that both Joey and I are fricking MBAs and have spent a ridiculous amount of our lives making a living out of understanding concepts like the present value of money and financial risk… Who can guarantee us that they'll still be around in 2-3 years?… That manufacturers won't get off that business model in 2-5 years, when we may be ready to buy, finally taking advantage of our extremely expensive upfront investment? Why would we put down $4,500 now, when we're not ready to redecorate yet, so the savings are uncertain, and most likely far ahead in the future?

The only time I would be willing to make such an investment would be one week before I'm ready to buy $10,000 worth of stuff… which WILL happen.. just not this year, while I'm still doing dishes by hand, and heating stuff in the microwave for 15 minutes because the darn thing doesn't work properly. So, DirectBuy has surely lost a customer they would have had otherwise, and while I'm thinking all this, the saleswoman is quickly escorting us out of the store, like I only imagine people who get laid off are escorted out of an office building.

I'm not sure I understand the policy here. Is seven years the time it will take for me to forget the TWO price examples they gave us to illustrate savings during the sales pitch? Is seven years the time it will take for those numbers to be meaningless so that I won't be able to use them as bargain weapons against retailers? What are they trying to prevent by shutting the door on our faces for seven years? And why the hell, can't they put that very important information on their web site instead of the useless blah-blah-blah they have? Is the "Now or never" ultimatum working for them? Would really love to know, but I suspect the secret and select society may have a rule against talking to disgraced outsiders, and pussies who couldn't open their wallets on the spot, on the one random day they chose to pay DirectBuy a casual and exploratory visit.

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