A rogue who needs to clean up his act...
Rogue Traders have been investigating a sales ploy called bait and switch. It's a classic rogue tactic for selling goods and services of all kinds.
First off, you get an attractive offer. Like a new motorcycle for just £500! Wow, you think, that sounds great! But the 500 quid bike is not all it might have been. Too late! You have taken the bait, are hooked in and a salesman is intent on focusing your attention on something at a much higher price. It works because you can feel duty bound to buy something - especially if it's a persuasive salesperson. The scam works so well the government made it illegal. The company we have investigated don't sell vehicles. They sell carpet and furniture cleaning services...
We've heard that Enterprise Cleaning Services UK Ltd located in Wimborne, Dorset operates a bait and switch technique...
Enterprise cold-calls its customers and offers to clean two carpets for £8.99, an offer that seems too good to turn down. However, when the Enterprise technician arrives they are interested in selling you a more expensive service, as a number of our viewers found out.
Alison Hughes wanted her living room sofa and chairs cleaned - so when she got a leaflet from Enterprise dropped through her door offering to clean furniture for a low, low price of £29.95, she decided to give them a call. Mrs Hughes had taken the bait and when the Enterprise cleaner arrived, it was time for the switch.
The Enterprise technician immediately began to rubbish the maintenance clean offer of £29.95 in an attempt to sell a better and more expensive deep clean. Mrs Hughes was told that the offer was,
"Just a very second rate cleaning system,"
but on the other hand Enterprises' deep clean and special chemicals were, "Amazing."
Mrs Hughes was intrigued. She wanted to have her suite cleaned so she decided to ask how much it would cost. She was shocked to hear that the price for one sofa and chair would be £350, if she wanted both chairs that would cost £400! And the price kept climbing; Mrs Hughes was also persuaded to pay an extra £100 to protect her suite from new stains using a stain repellent. Mrs Hughes feels cheated and embarrassed by the fact that,
"When he came I was thinking £30-35, by the time an hour and hour and a half had gone, I'd parted with literally £500 and I just thought - how did that happen?"
Unfortunately, Mrs Hughes isn't the only person asking herself that question. Enterprise Cleaning Services UK Ltd is a booming business. They have five branches in England and Wales and say they have 90 employees. They also say they've made more 26,000 house calls - more than three quarters of the people they visit end up buying MORE than the £8.99 clean they were interested in signing up for. So, it isn't just the gullible that fall for this technique. Bait and switch works - big time. As a matter of fact, it's considered such an unfair business method that it's a banned practice in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Breaking this law can result in a criminal prosecution, an unlimited fine and two years in jail...
This is clearly a very serious matter, so we decided to needed to find out for ourselves exactly what was going on. We got a house, filled it with secret cameras and the most important ingredient, some carpets. We took the bait and accepted Enterprise's offer to clean two of our carpets for £8.99 - would they try and give us the switch? An Enterprise Cleaning Services technician arrived and gave us a master-class in three simple steps to sales success. Instead of getting on with the clean he had been asked to do, he immediately began Bait and Switch Step One: Get the more expensive product that you really want to sell in front of the client. In this case, it is done by showing the customer test patches. By demonstrating the difference in quality between the two levels of clean, they hope to entice you into upgrading your cleaning service.
But why would we possibly want to upgrade our service when we can have a much cheaper maintenance clean? Simple. Bait and Switch Step Two: Rubbishing the service that the customer wants to buy. The technician explained to us that if we did go for the £8.99 service it would 'make your carpet look worse'. Amazingly, it's true! If your carpet is dirty the service that Enterprise Cleaning Services UK Ltd advertises for £8.99 could make your carpet appear worse because it brings deep down dirt to the surface. Enterprise's man told us that for the £8.99 clean, they don't even spray any shampoo on your carpet first.
Now, Bait and Switch step three: Close that sale! It's time to raise the question of what the more effective - but more expensive - clean will actually cost. A crystal clear comparison is what's needed here, especially seeing as it's be given to an elderly lady on her own. But this is Enterprise Cleaning Services, so instead we were offered a deep clean for 49p a square foot.
For maths fans, 49p a square foot in our house comes to £113.68. But the price hike didn't stop there. The technician also offered a 12 month warranty which works out in total to £167.90. That's nearly 18 times that amount we were expecting to pay!
Our actress kindly thanked him for his demonstration but asked him just to do the £8.99 clean he was initially invited into our house to do. At this point the technician showed us another tactic at the company's disposal to help make that sale - the discount. He made a call to his office to see if he could get the price down. After his telephone conversation he came back, this time offering to do,
"A beautiful deep clean with all the products and a stain shield warranty", all for "£126".
For a second time our elderly actress had to say no. But the salesman was more stubborn than a red wine stain and hoped it'd be third time lucky. He informed our actress that because it was his last job of the day, he was going to offer her,
"A cracking deal. £75 and that includes all the chemicals as well."
Our actress still wasn't interested and managed to resist the Bait and Switch. The carpet cleaner spent 56 minutes trying to sell a more expensive product before he gave up and reluctantly cleaned our two carpets for just £8.99. How much time did he spend cleaning them? Just 17 minutes.
Enterprise Cleaning Services were starting to give the impression that their whole business was based on an illegal - a Bait and Switch - system. A scheme designed to push a carpet cleaning service that's much more expensive than the one customers think they're going to get. But then we really got under the skin of their sales force....
We sent undercover reporter Frank to Enterprise's Dorset office to get a job in order to ascertain what this company was really up to. In his interview, he met branch manager Dean Grant. Mr Grant informed our reporter that his company got its sales leads by advertising a carpet clean for £8.99, but he made it very clear that this service won't clean a dirty carpet. Mr Grant went on to explain that if he,
"... Started doing a maintenance offer, it may resurface deep dirt and you're going to be left with a real ***** carpet."
A stark confession indeed, the branch manager of Enterprise's Dorset office clearly telling our undercover reporter that the £8.99 service will make a carpet that needs to be cleaned look worse. What's more Dean Grant explained that the deal is just to provide the bait in the company's Bait and Switch scheme.
"It's a £8.99 deal and again, it would usually retail at about £40 but what we're doing as a new business, we're pumping into people to get our foot through the door."
And once they've got their foot through that door, they have to sell because they're only paid on commission. Mr Grant explained to our undercover reporter that all new trainees take home only 40% of ever sale they make,
"Because obviously we make your appointments and we supply you with the van and the machine."
Enterprise's more experienced salesmen eventually move up to 50%. Frank got the job at Enterprise and was told he would shadow a carpet cleaning salesman for a few days. Mr Grant explained that,
"Once you've got Saturday out of the way, you can have a new van Monday. And a licence to print money."
Perhaps it's the prospect of a licence to print money, or the payment by commission. But some Enterprise employees will clearly go a very long way to close a sale. Manager Dean Grant told our reporter a story about when he was working as a salesman for the company.
"I had a chap once, I walked in there. He just ******* burst into tears. He was hysterical. He lost his wife. I'm thinking this is weird, this is horrible situation. So I said, "You sit down and relax, just relax, don't worry." I said, "if it's too much I'll be on my way." He was like, "My wife booked the appointment when she was alive." Being a salesman I went, "Was it one of her wishes to get your carpets cleaned?" I took £220 off him. That stopped him from crying mate."
Enterprise chose another salesman called Duncan Fraser to provide the initial training. Our reporter shadowed Mr Fraser for three days, before he was expected to go out on the road alone.
On the first day Duncan explained to our mole what to do if a customer insists on the £8.99 clean they ordered.
"In and out, mate. You don't hang around. Hoover the carpet, get it a bit wet and **** off, you know what I mean?"
During Frank's three days of training, Duncan Frazer called on eight householders who'd asked for the £8.99 clean. He sold more expensive services to six of them. He performed just one basic £8.99 clean and bad mouthed another customer who refused to pay for the more expensive service.
We showed our footage to a consumer lawyer, Mark Weston. Mr Weston believes much of what he saw is strong evidence that the company is involved in bait and switch.
"The fact he's said the rare time you do it [an £8.99 clean] is one of the ingredients you need to prove a bait and switch. In other words most of the time you're expecting not to give the service that you've advertised."
Mr Weston had also had other comments about Enterprises other sales practices such as pressure selling.
"Putting salesman on commission in that way is a classic ingredient to pressure selling it incentivise anybody selling to push the price up and up and make a sale at a higher price."
Mr Weston nicely summed up their operation,
"The £8.99 service was offered then rubbished and dissed. That's classic Bait and Switch, where a more expensive service is then offered - now that's clearly company practice as we saw from the undercover video. They expect the service to be taken 'rarely'. Potentially, this kind of thing carries up to two years in jail and an unlimited fine - if it's prosecuted to the full extent it can be. I'd be interested to see if that actually happens."
The Rogue Traders team tracked down branch manger Dean Grant at his local golf club. We approached Dean and informed him that the Bait and Switch sales tactic his company employs is illegal. Dean said he wasn't a director, but defended his company operating procedure by insisting they had many satisfied customers. Satisfied or not, it's the way they mislead their customers that we, and the law, take issue with.
As to the way he relished in taking money off a bereaved customer, Dean excuses his comments as, 'Playground talk'. We doubt his customers would find it funny that their loss was the source of work banter. Dean informed us that he had an appointment he had to attend to and left.
Enterprise are still boldly going after your money, it's cleaning Jim. but not as we know it...
We should stress that the company we're featuring is Enterprise Cleaning Services UK Limited in Wimborne, Dorset, not to be confused with anyone else.
They say they do not accept inappropriate behaviour or pressure selling to customers. They take customer satisfaction very seriously and continue to strive for improvements in their procedures and service levels. They've written to the customer WE featured to address her complaint.
Watchdog viewers' responses:
I had my carpets cleaned by enterprise. They did the test patches and said he had to if we wanted him to or not. He was very pushy with his products even after we had paid him. Cost over £100 after phoning up for 8.99 offer. Was still trying to sell out of his window as he started to drive away.