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November 17, 2003

Expensive Vacuums: What You Need To Know

It sounds like an urban legend; a little old lady gets fast-talked into buying a $2000 vacuum cleaner. Surely there aren't people out there that would ever buy something as ludicrous as a vacuum cleaner for such an astonishingly outrageous price like $2000. Do such vacuums even exist? Are they sold by fly-by-night operations that simply decorate and mark-up regular vacuums and sprint off with their buckets of cash? I can tell you quite authoritatively that these hyper-expensive vacuums do exist, are produced by well-established companies, sold through conventional but now uncommon methods, and people do in fact buy them. I know because my wife and I are two such people.

Yes, I admit it: we bought a $2000 vacuum cleaner. This wasn't a recent event, however. In fact, it happened about five years ago, and I'm only now admitting to it. I've had a lot of time to think about it since then, and have now pondered enough that I believe I should tell my story. I think that it could be useful to others that have not yet had this experience. Hopefully you'll never be in the position we were in, but if you ever are I'll hope that this will better equip you to deal with the situation than I was at the time.

First off, the vacuum in question is the Filter Queen, produced by Health-Mor out of Ohio. Despite the cautionary tale that will follow, it is actually a very good vacuum. It's a pull-behind vacuum (as opposed to an upright) and has performed extremely well in my household. It has a phenomenal capacity for dirt and cat hair, and even when full will keep on sucking mightily. One aspect I really like is that it's a bagless system, meaning I'm not forever purchasing vacuum bags. Of course, this also means that I had to deal with the stuff I've vacuumed up directly at some point, which can be a rather dusty encounter. Other than that, it's a product I could recommend (and have).

It all started when my wife (then fiancée) got a call asking if we would be available for an in-home demonstration of an "air filter". With the added incentive of a free gift (a $5 serrated knife, it turned out) she agreed and made an appointment. I was a lot less open to the idea than she was, and didn't really care for the upcoming demonstration. When we realized that it was, in fact, a vacuum cleaner demonstration, I was even less impressed, and very persistently ignored the demonstration.

Now, you may ask how they can tell you "air filter" and instead show up with a vacuum cleaner. As it turns out, this particular vacuum has a two-part filter. One part is a simple paper filter that does the lion's share of the particle filtering. The second part is a carbon filter, which they call the "medical filter". Due to the great filtering capabilities of this second filter, the Filter Queen can actually be certified as an air filter. In fact, part of the sales pitch was telling us how we can simply take the hose off and let the unit run on low speed for a while to filter the air. Regardless, if you ever are asked to see an air filter demonstration in your home, be aware that it could be a vacuum cleaner instead.

Despite my best attempt at ignoring the demonstration in progress, I eventually got sucked in. (Ha ha.) One part of the demonstration used our current vacuum, our carpet, and baking soda. The demonstrator (a nice enough guy named Todd, I believe) sprinkled baking soda on our carpet and asked us to use our vacuum (an upright Hoover we had just purchased a few weeks previously) to clean it up. We vacuumed over it many times, until we were satisfied that it had done its best to get all the baking soda out of our carpet. Todd then installed a small black fabric filter inline with the Filter Queen's hose and ran over the exact same spot once. Sure enough, he got baking soda out of the carpet. Obviously the Filter Queen has superior suction and cleans much better. Or does it?

Many years later I finally realized that the demonstration wasn't fair, as he didn't have a handy inline filter for our vacuum. In an ideal world, after he used his inline filter on the Filter Queen, we would have used it on our Hoover and gone over the same spot again. I'd be willing to bet a very nice dinner that our $140 Hoover would have still sucked some baking soda out of the carpet. Of course, you don't think like than when you're being shown proof positive that the Filter Queen is vastly superior at cleaning than your existing vacuum. Don't be fooled by gimmicks like that: ask them if they're willing to level the playing field and do the same for your vacuum.

Now, let's make sure that if you ever do get one you'll never pay anywhere close to the obscene price the friendly salesperson will be asking you to pay. Eventually the demonstration ended and he asked if we would be interested in such a vacuum. Of course, he played the Health-Of-Your-Family card, citing the demonstrated fact that the Filter Queen can get more dirt out of your carpet (and keep it from being blown out the other end thanks to the medical filter) and thereby give you a healthier household. (Of course, you could always just avoid carpet and get hardwood, but that's another story.) Eventually Todd told us that the price for a Filter Queen was $1900. Yes, you read that correctly. Just $100 shy of the $2000 mark. $1900.00.

Obviously, we did not embrace this dollar figure. The first thing Todd did to bring that price down was to agree to take our old (brand-new) vacuum off our hands and credit us the full price towards our purchase. That's fine and dandy, but it only took $140 off the price. Luckily (by sheer coincidence, I'm sure) Todd told us that he could ask his boss about allowing us to buy the demonstration model that he has used that very evening, for a discount of $400. Thinking about it now, I'm sure that they always have that tactic in reserve in case an interested customer balks at $1900. The details at this part get fuzzy for me, but somehow we agreed to the reduced price of $1350, or thereabouts. Don't ask my why or how, that's just the way it went.

The next day, however, we were experiencing a huge amount of buyer's remorse. We didn't actually have the vacuum (nor had we paid for it) yet. I called Todd and told him that we weren't going to go through with the purchase, as it was simply way too much money for people in our position to justify spending on such a device. Well, instead of just giving this lucrative sale up he brought in his sales manager, and they came out to see us later that day. After more haggling and pestering and trying to tell us how good the vacuum was, the sales manager finally decided to make it easier for us. He said that he would normally get $400 from this sale. However, as Todd was a new salesperson and he really wanted to see Todd have his first sale, he would cut his $400 out of the cost of our vacuum, and allow us to buy the demo, thereby bringing our price for the Filter Queen down to around $900. Well, we had just managed to get $1000 off the price, so we agreed again, and took possession of our new vacuum.

Many years later I discovered how we could have done much, much better. The sales company that Todd worked for eventually disappeared, so I had to go looking for a local distributor to get more filters. One vacuum repair shop carried them, so I set out to buy a set. While I was there, I noticed that they had some older Filter Queens in their display area for sale. All were used, but I would rather buy a reconditioned used model for $250 than ever pay $900 (let alone over twice that) for a new one. Let someone else (like myself) give the salespeople the big commission. Eventually someone will simply get rid of it (perhaps it's too embarrassing to have around) and you'll pick it up for a reasonable price.

So, now you know the whole gory story. Hopefully this will prove enlightening, and will help you avoid an unwanted vacuum demonstration and/or purchase. If you can't avoid it, there are some things you need to learn from my mistake:

  1. An "air filter" demonstration may be a vacuum demonstration.
  2. Don't be fooled by demonstrations that cannot also be performed with your existing vacuum.
  3. Pester for discounts: buy the demo, cut their commission, sell them your vacuum, take a scratch-and-dent, ask what invoice price is, just keep asking for discounts.
  4. Buy used and reconditioned for a fraction of the price at a local service shop.
There you have it. Although I still feel rather taken by this transaction, I still believe that we ended up with a quality product. Should I have paid what I did? Certainly not... I have no doubt in my mind that what we paid was much more profit than cost, despite the huge discounts that we managed to extract from them. Buying a vacuum at a demonstration only does two things: disallows you the chance to compare and research, and very thickly lines the pockets of the person giving you the demonstration.

mr.ska
nft@myrealbox.com  


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