Lipstick stabbings, drive-by catalogue beatings, and even urinating on doorsteps to mark sales territory – an investigation by Southend News Network has uncovered the dark side of catalogue selling and similar business opportunities around Southend. For legal reasons and confidentiality / authenticity concerns, we will not be naming the individuals involved, and everything that you see here has been based on eyewitness accounts from concerned residents, customers and people who have decided that this way of life just wasn’t for them.
It is 6.30pm on a cold Wednesday night in November, and in Thorpe Bay homeowner Sally Shapiro is glancing out of her lounge window with a look of absolute horror on her face. She has been purchasing cosmetics from a catalogue rep (company name removed) for a year now, and most of the time she doesn’t actually need anything – the sales tactics used make it incredibly dangerous to say ‘no.’ As she shows our reporter her collection of 175 unopened shampoo bottles, she hears a noise from outside, and under the street light her sales rep is urinating on the doorstep of her home. We run outside to confront the lady who is committing a criminal offence, and without a shred of guilt in her voice she tells us that another rep from the same company was spotted in the area a few hours earlier. She said, ‘I saw lions doing this on some Attenborough programme the other day, and I will not allow other reps to poach my customers, even if they are related to them!’
As other accounts reached our reporter at Southend News Network, we learned that this isn’t an isolated incident. In 2014, police were alerted to more than 100 cases of doorstep urination in the borough, and more than half of these offenders were catalogue sales reps. However, it soon became clear that this was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Chloe B, which isn’t her real name, contacted us to show off the wounds that she received after trying to sell lipstick to her own mother in Chalkwell in 2014. She was entirely unaware that another representative of the company was already in charge of the street where her mother lives, and two days after taking the order she was jumped outside her mother’s home by the local rep who had the territorial rights to the area. Her ‘customer’ never received the four lipsticks that she had ordered, and instead these were brutally jabbed into her arms and legs. Soon afterwards, she stopped selling these products, and her mother is still buying four lipsticks per week for fear of a repeat attack.
Similar problems have been reported with people selling kitchen items, slimming products, chocolate gifts, greetings cards and home services, and one of the most worrying cases happened just a few weeks ago. During the October half term, Amanda M (not her real name) woke up to find herself in the middle of Chalkwell Park at 3am, and she was unable to move under a pile of more than 25,000 catalogues. She had been outselling all of the other reps in the local area, and she was earning even more than her so-called Sales Leader. To this day, she is convinced that her superior rep had taken the decision to have her ‘dealt with’ in this manner, and she then found herself served with an invoice for these catalogues – the bill ended her career with the company.
With Christmas 2015 approaching fast, it is clear that these terrible tactics will only become more and more common – we found a cul-de-sac in South Benfleet of five houses with more than 28 registered cosmetics sales reps alone. We have even seen some order forms with a special clause entered about the sales rep owning the customer’s soul after a repeat order.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story, please head over to our Facebook page and let us know – everything that you post on there will be handled with the strictest levels of confidence.
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