A few weeks ago I got a call from an angry neighbor who wanted to know if our neighborhood bylaws include any restrictions on door-to-door salesman.
She called me because I'm the president of our neighborhood civic association and one of my main jobs is fielding tons of phone calls from irate neighbors who want me to make their lives easier.
I thought it was an odd question for her to ask. So many people who have been laid off or have seen their hours cut have chosen to start direct sales businesses, including door-to-door sales, so I figured let's help out those in our community that need a hand.
I've had many visits lately from people trying to sell me stuff at home, everything from neighbors selling cosmetics to clothing. And also strangers selling magazines or promoting a new business in town by giving out coupons.
Andrew Shure, CEO of Shure Pets, a direct-selling distributor of pet products that also has independent sales reps selling its wares door to door, has seen an increase in interest from people wanting to work for them.
"In the current economic environment I've found that people are seeking new and innovative ways to supplement their income, and direct selling provides people with a platform to make great money while networking and keeping busy," he said. "People are turning to direct selling because it can be an immediate solution to earn supplemental income in a world where the job market is not secure or consistent."
Direct sales, especially knocking on people's doors, could be one of the toughest jobs around. I know some people, not just in my neighborhood, are reluctant to open their doors to people they do know let alone ones they don't know.
Growing up in New York, I developed a strong sense of suspicion, and even though I usually do open the door to strangers I always wonder if they're casing the joint.
Well, imagine my surprise when I got an email from the Better Business Bureau cautioning people to beware of door-to-door sales people.
Here's an excerpt from an e-mail from BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick:
With summer nearly upon us, door-to-door salesmen are hitting the pavement and Better Business Bureau is warning the public about a scam that is knocking on doors across the country.
In the last 12 months alone, BBB has received complaints from consumers in nearly every state who bought magazine subscriptions from crews of young adults selling door-to-door. According to complaints, the young sales reps might claim to be a neighborhood youth trying to raise money for charity, a school trip, or even for troops in Iraq. The victim pays with a check on the spot, but the magazines never arrive.
When you hear things like this, should you start rethinking your neighborly ways?
Another neighbor called me recently to complain that the family next door to her had a sign on the lawn offering lawn services. Supposedly the guy who lived there was struggling to make ends meet so he as looking to make extra cash.
The neighbor sounded like she wanted us all to get our shovels and pitchforks and go over there to burn down the sign because it was lowering the standards in our middle-class neighborhood.
I told her I wasn't going to do anything about the sign and she hung up on me. But it got me wondering about past economic downturns and how people were able to survive as a community, especially during the Great Depression.
A historian told me a while back that it was, in part, the generosity of family members and the kindness of strangers that helped our society pull through.
So, should we keep opening up our front door or pretend we're not home?
Send me your thoughts.