True marketing professionals know that prospective customers need to hear about a business dozens of times and then they have to encounter a situation that puts them in a position where they have to buy something. Large publicly traded companies such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s have a very large marketing and advertising budget and their goal is to have a firmly established brand in the minds of consumers and to predict what they will need and at what time.
However, there are a lot of businesses that can’t afford to do that, and some of them can’t even afford to hire salespeople and pay them minimum wage and so they create “External Sales” contract positions that pay straight commission with no base salary. It’s legal but it’s unconscionable because they may have ten different contractors contact prospective customers dozens of times before they begin to buy products, and the commissions on those sales will go to the eleventh contractor.
I still have unpaid commissions at every kitchen design showroom where I’ve worked, except for The Home Depot which paid an hourly wage instead of commission. My former bosses owe me a lot of money. It’s almost impossible to collect, and most of them went out of business during The Great Recession anyway.
When I accepted those jobs I knew that I was taking a risk and that I had to trust the company’s owners to do the right thing. However, it turned out that stealing prevailed. They also allowed my coworkers to steal my established clients and established projects. Everyone who has ever worked on straight commission has horror stories because it’s extremely common.
In 2005, when I went to work for a cabinet showroom called The Roberts Company in Truckee, CA (the north Lake Tahoe area), I discovered that I had been hired to replace a designer who quit because the company’s owners decided to garnish his wages to reimburse themselves for reordering products that he had designed wrong. He was lucky that they hadn’t done it sooner. To everyone’s horror, he took their entire customer list and offered them incentives to follow him. They didn’t go with him, but they also didn’t return to the showroom. I worked tirelessly for six months to get them to come back. Finally, during the spring when the industry was in full swing they finally began to come in but somehow they ended up with my coworker JD whose office was near our front door. What had JD done to deserve their business? Nothing.
There were two specific incidents that made me really angry. I had been working with an interior designer named Sheri Brendlin on a very large project. It was a new house in Northstar for a customer named Goldstein or Goldberg. While we waited for the customer to review the CAD plans that I had created, Sheri asked me to design cabinets for her own home. Guess who ended up with both projects? JD. The guy was a mercenary. I called Shari to confirm what was happening and she asked me, “What should I do?” I told her to continue with JD and then I spoke with the managing partner of the company to split my commission with J.D. The partners promised that they would and then they didn’t do it. They let him keep it.
There was a second interior designer who I had mentored to help her with her client’s kitchen. I never charged her anything. Eventually she had a different client who was building a new house that would need cabinets, and a few weeks later both of them were in JD’s office. I complained to the owners and they agreed that he was wrong but they didn’t do anything about it.
That’s what you can expect; they ignore it and hope that the crisis will blow over, and they continue to pay straight commission with no base salary to the designer who does 80% of the work to get customers into their showroom. It should be illegal. After one gets burned enough times it eventually becomes clear that those jobs never last and they’re actually a pathway to the labor commissioner and to the county small claims court, and they also create a gap on one’s resume.