Ok, the reason I’m writing this is because I have seen and read a lot of negative things about an industry and company I used to be a part of; the direct marketing company APPCO. Now I’m going to be very honest about what I write except for one thing, I will not reveal the names of my two previous contractors.
Firstly, a background on the company. APPCO was formed in 1986 by the self-made billionaire Chris Niarchos. It also goes by the name ‘Cobra Group’. The company runs a ‘business development programme’ which is as follows:
-Field Representative (F.R)
-Assistant Owner (A.O)
-Organisational Head (Org Head)
-Vice President (V.P)
The idea behind this company is that when you start as an F.R you are expected to be able to do two sales by yourself after a week and a half of training. Once you successfully do twelve sales in a week you are ‘promoted’ to a leader, which involves no pay increase. This is the point where you are able to begin building your business. You are now in a position where you are expected to train people who are a part of your team, and at the same time do three sales for yourself during a day. With enough people on your team making enough profit for the office you then are promoted to Crew Leadership, where you are expected to run a bigger team and hit bigger sales targets. This promotion does involve a pay rise of 50%, don’t let this big percentage fool you as 50% of one pound is fifty pence. As you continue you are promoted to A.O where you earn 20% of the office profits, all of which is saved to go into your personal hedge fund to help you open your office, at which point you become an owner. You may have guessed by now that your promotions rely almost entirely on the number of sales done over your time in the company, along with the number of people you train. Sounds easy right? Wrong. You are only given people to train if your prepared to have a particularly brown nasal cavity and are prepared to suck up to your owner, if not, you will be called ‘negative’ or ‘negged’ and become a non-entity in the company’s view.
Now that the promotion opportunity has been explained to you, I can now explain a little more about the ethics of the company.
I was in the APPCO Group Support division of the company, or to put it in a less dressed up manner, I was a door-to-door fundraiser for charities like the British Red Cross (BRC for short), the RSPCA and World Vision (W.V). My job description was as follows: knock on 120 doors a day, speak to 100 people, do three sales; unless I was with a new start, in which case it was all of the above except I must do five sales, two of which I’m expected to give to my new guy regardless of their work ethic or attitude towards the day. If I came back with sales and my new guy did not, then I would expect a very stern word at best, at worst it would be a case of being screamed at and told that the new guy would be put on another persons’ team (therefore restricting my teams development, and aiding somebody else’s). However, this was not the part of this company that wound me up the most, it was the fact that the people who did things properly and professionally, were not rewarded, whereas people who admitted to signing up donors who were vulnerable or elderly were given high praise because due to dodgy sales they had shown ‘a great attitude’, ‘great sales ability’, ‘been a brilliant example’, or if you were lucky enough, you even reminded the owner of himself. What a role model!!! Now, to be fair, these people who did these kinds of sales were, to my knowledge, not overly common. I can recall two such Leaders who were like this, a guy called George Parker, and a guy whose nickname was Ronnie. Ronnie did not last long, but Mr Parker is still within the company and is sure to be promoted to Ownership by the midway point of 2014.
My day within the company:
7-8:30 am: Wake up, dress in a suit and tie. Go to the office
9.30-10.30 am: Expected to spend time with guys to plan and prepare (This is not as easy as it seems for reasons that will become obvious when you see the time I get home, let alone go to bed.)
10.30-11 am: Leaders meeting (education on how to build a crew/run an office/bragging time for the owner and how great he/she is)
11am-12:30 pm: Pitch practise/morning meeting. (A time to educate your crew on how to sell/ more education/bragging time for the owner and how great he/she is)
12:30- 2:30 pm: Leave the office to go to a postcode (the field) to start knocking.
2:30-8.30 pm: Knock on doors and get sales.
8:30-10:30 pm: Leave the field and go back to the office
10:30-11 pm: Get paperwork done and break your teams’ day down
11-11.30 pm: Plan for the next day on what to educate your team on.
11.30 pm-12:30/1 am: Get home, cook, and go to bed. Prepare for the same the next day
As you can see, you’re working long hours and investing a lot of time into getting promoted. What’s more, is that you were expected to do this 6 days a week. On a Saturday, you could finish at 5:30 pm, but if you did, you were not considered ambitious enough to succeed and would not be an owner favourite, and therefore would not be allowed to progress.
Now the pay structure is as follows: COMMISSION ONLY! If you are told that this changes at any point during your time with APPCO you’re being lied too. The commission is approximately twenty pounds a sale, depending on the campaign it could be a few pounds over or under, but that is the generally accepted price point that your owner will compare your sale too. A lot of people don’t like commission. I will be honest, I never had any real problems with this, because my sales volume was high enough that it never became an issue for me, however, a lot of people have to ask to borrow money from their owner to even get into the office or to get to the field because they simply weren’t earning enough, and then they would be expected to pay this back to the owner at some point, even though from each sale they did during the day, the owner made eighteen pounds from each piece that the F.R did.
Commission isn’t necessarily a negative thing because the truth is that it does allow you to make more money than other people who didn’t work as hard, but it does mean that if you are ill or unable to get to work for whatever reason, you will NOT be paid, because you are not employed by APPCO, you are registered self-employed, and therefore responsible for paying for everything. A lot of people who work for a part of the APPCO Group will say that this is fair because you are building your own business, and they certainly have a point, but at the same time, your owner will be earning 6% of your office earnings should you get promoted ( which does add up to be quite a lot, because if you do hit ownership, you will make a very good income, and surely if they’re going to be making money off of your office even when they are retired, they could afford to put the petrol in the company car, which is actually a hire car that you pay to rent even though it’s under the owners name and he/she chose which car it should be, despite it not costing them a penny, AND they use it when they want because of course they are more important than you are.
So far I have only highlighted the negative sides of the business, there are however a lot of positives as well.
If you do apply yourself completely and are able to ignore the everyday rejections and negatives surrounding both the field and the office, then you can learn some invaluable sales skills that are very useful in any sales career and in day-to-day life.
This in turn means that you can make some decent money. Anywhere between 250-500 pounds a week is achievable, which works out to be between 12,000-24,000 pounds a year, with your bond (quality control) on top of that, it could get up to 25,000 pounds a year, which is okay money, but other sales positions will offer you this as a basic, with uncapped commission on top.
The other positive thing is that if you are successful in your quest to get promoted to ownership then you will make excellent money, anywhere between 800 pounds a week when you first set up, to a thousand pounds a day when you’ve been trading for a couple of years, now the latter of these figures is enough to make anybody feel a bit fuzzy inside, and probably makes the sceptics stroke their beards and um and ah a lot, and they would be right too. It would be idiotic to suggest that the opportunity doesn’t exist, because I have seen people within my office get promoted, but they were the people who had their heads so far up my owners arse that if they spat it would come out of my owners lips. I may be stupid or too full of pride, but I’d rather achieve that level of financial success without having to rely on someone else and would want to do it on my terms and nobody else’s.
My personal opinion is that the direct sales industry is both fun and productive on a personal level, and that door to door sales is not the negative dark under belly of the sales world that it’s made out to be. People don’t want to have a salesman at their door, but they are happy to have countless salesman in their magic colourful flashing box that sits in the front room, with an Xbox or Playstation attached to it, that constantly sells them fast food, cleaning products and charities.
The problem is not the industry, the problem is the company that dominates it. By all means, if you feel that you could make a career within APPCO then go for it, they offer positions to anybody (ANYBODY) regardless of their sales experience, and they will build confidence, and if you stick it out for long enough then it can help you launch a successful sales career, like it has for me. However, you have to bare in mind that it’s a means to an end. You will have to budget yourself very strictly and work very hard, but that will enable you to offer future employers a good frame of reference as to exactly what you’re like in business. For me though, the negatives did outweigh the positives, that’s why after eighteen months of dedication I decided to leave a position that enabled me to have a lot of growth, and I do miss a lot of the formerly familiar faces, but deep down, I hope they see the business for what it really is. A company that promises a lot, but ultimately fails to deliver on those promises. Their adverts are all over job websites. They say 250-500 pounds a week, which is not necessarily untrue, and they use enticing words like fun, lively, career, prospects and future, but if you want the advice of someone with eighteen months of experience within the business, find something else, if you invest your time and energy into a company that offers you proper incentives rather than the promise of a dream that they can, but probably won’t enable you to fulfil. Whatever decision you make about the APPCO/Cobra group, I hope it works out for you, and good luck.