PROVO, Utah — As summertime draws to a close, so does the high season for door-to-door alarm system sales in the United States. Not soon to fade, however, is the indignation of many installing security contractors who say strongarmed, deceptive sales tactics promoted by a few companies are increasingly harming the reputation of the entire industry.
Left in the wake of droves of traveling salespeople who canvassed neighborhoods across the nation this summer are numerous mainstream media reports of consumers being pressured or outright hoodwinked into purchasing or upgrading alarm systems they didn’t need, or signing a monitoring contract even though they already had one.
“There is a lot of media coverage and it is not favorable when you look at it from an industry perspective,” says Dave Simon, senior manager of communications for Irving, Texas-based Broadview Security (formerly Brink’s Home Security). “If you take the general public and they see a bunch of stories on unethical door-to-door sales practices in the security industry that affects all of us.”
The summer model of sending sales representatives, many of them college students, into high-density neighborhoods provokes consumer complaints each year. In 2008 the Better Business Bureau (BBB) fielded more than 2,000 complaints against alarm companies, amounting to a 68-percent increase compared to the previous year.
However, the total number of complaints in 2009 could see another significant increase; BBB offices issued an unprecedented number of warnings to residents across the nation this summer to forewarn of scheming door-to-door alarm sales reps.
“The Better Business Bureau has done a fabulous job this year across the country in trying to educate the consumer,” says Tim Creenan, owner of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Amherst Alarm, who closely tracks media reports about unethical sales tactics. “The number of stories this summer has been huge.”
But who or what organization is looking out for the best interests of the alarm industry at large? As chairman of the Installation Quality (IQ) Certification Program, Creenan says more alarm companies should adopt the organization’s ethical standards outlined in its code of ethics.
Although there have been calls to adopt an industrywide code of ethics to rein in abuses common to the door-to-door sales model, ultimately the responsibility lies with individual state regulatory agencies, says Mike Miller, president of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA).
“Obviously the door-to-door model is not the issue; it is the sales tactics that take place,” Miller says. “A code of ethics [that encompasses door-to-door sales] is something the NBFAA is looking at and how we ultimately revamp that is going to take a while.”
Maybe the industry’s most familiar company for its aggressive use of the seasonal door-to-door model is APX Alarm Security Solutions Inc. of Provo, Utah. BBB has processed nearly 1,600 complaints, namely for dishonest sales practices and contract issues, against APX in the past three years. Nearly 700 of those complaints were received within the past 12 months, according to the nonprofit consumer advocacy group’s Web site.
Stuart Dean, director of media relations for APX, tells SSI the company takes seriously all reports of disreputable sales tactics lodged against its representatives, which he described as being “highly professional and well-trained.”
“Each of our sales representatives is expected to be respectful and courteous,” Dean says. “We investigate every claim and if we find there has been improper conduct it can lead to disciplinary action, even termination.”
Despite BBB giving the company a D- on its rating scale, which represents the degree of confidence the business is operating in a trustworthy manner and will make a good faith effort to resolve any customer concerns, Dean described as “rare” the times APX does confirm a claim of unethical behavior.
“Every time you see a news story from across the country, [APX] gives the same pat answer, which is ‘that was just an isolated incident,’” Creenan says. “It is the same response. You can just fill in the blank of the name of the city or town.”