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The Cult of Cutco: How Vector Marketing Mass-Hires Students into Dubious Contract Labor

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There’s a 2013 follow-up post here: The Cult of Cutco Tries Desperately to Knock Me Off Google)

Are you an eager but inexperienced college kid, desperate for money, preferably fast cash?  Then you are the target demographic for the eager recruiting centers of Vector Marketing!

Vector Marketing is the sister company of Cutco Cutlery, a high-end knife and kitchenware retailer.  Their job is to promote and sell Cutco’s products.  To maximize profits, Vector recruits young men and women in bulk and then depends on their ability to do in-home demonstrations of the knives.

Vector employs a variety to tactics to draw in as many workers as possible. You may have seen them at the CCM Job Fair.  After each fair they usually set up a table outside the B cafeteria in Cohen Hall for a few days. High school graduates report receiving letters advertising summer work with “flexible schedules” and “opportunity to advance.”

Ever get a little card in your car window advertising That’s them!

But just how has this seemingly professional company earned a reputation for dubious practices?

For one thing, they fail explain to their trainees that they are not actually employees of the company.  Instead you are what is termed an “independent contractor.”  By designating you as such, they “escape a world of culpability” say a member of Students Against Vector Exploitation (SAVE), an online organization aimed at workers’ rights.

As you are not legally considered an employee, Vector is not required to pay your training nor do they take out money from your paycheck for income taxes and social security, things that are federally required for employers.

They have also been accused of deviating from what the IRS states as the guidelines for an independent contractor, and have previously been involved in a class-action lawsuit.

In addition, new hires are required to buy his or her own knife set, about a $150 investment.  Vector does not compensate for travel expenses to the clients.  Vector does not find potential clients for their workers and instead ask the hires to depend on selling to their own social networks of friends and family.

They then gloss over these deficiencies with fancy rhetoric and flip charts, stories of success, and a youth-oriented, psuedopositive atmosphere.

Vector never once uses the phrases “door-to-door” (except to try and explain that it’s not) nor “independent contractor.” It does use clever wording to make $18.00 per hour appointment seem as simple as $18.00 per hour, and above all, promotes an obnoxious enthusiasm about the products.

With Cutco knives you can effortlessly slice through rope!  Shear a penny into a corkscrew!  They’ll teach you how sell your heart out in their three days of unpaid training sessions, topped with lots of smiles and upbeat music.  The more you earn, the more superficial titles you can earn.  Who doesn’t want to go from “sales rep” to “advanced sales rep”?  Oh, by the way, your paycheck is base pay or commissions, not both.

Despite this, it is possible to profit. Matt Markoff, Farleigh Dickinson 06’, said, “I made about $3000 in 3 weeks and worked a total of 10 hrs.“ Still, he quit after a month. “I liked the product but hated how we had to sell them.”

Tiffany Tsui, Rutger’s 11’, worked for Vector’s Morris County division based in Denville for about three weeks, during the summer before her freshman year.

She commented, “I left because the pressure our ‘manager’ put on us was just too much. He wasn’t reasonable and to be frank, was really annoying… I went to [a required meeting] and it was the biggest waste of time ever. It was basically a time to make the sellers with the lowest product sold feel crappy about themselves and to make the people with higher amount of product sold to feel better about pushing the knives onto people.”

After reading the guidelines of what constitutes an independent contractor, Tiffany says she “definitely would not label [herself] as an independent contractor.”

Although many find Vector a waste of time, effort, and money, many students learn from their experience.  If you want to overcome your fear of playing with sharp objects in front of strangers, go for it!   But remember the caveat: If a place sounds too good to be true and is more interested in you than you are in it, it’s probably not worth pursuing.

Additional Reading Regarding the “Vector Scam” :

Employee or Independent Contractor

Students Against Vector Exploitation