Minnesotans tortured by the vacuum salesmen who just won’t leave

When the salesmen of RG Enterprises arrived in St. Paul, the police department's phone line lit up.

When the salesmen of RG Enterprises arrived in St. Paul, the police department's phone line lit up. Wikimedia

The first public airing of complaints against RG Enterprises arose in 2016. Homeowners in Isanti, north of the Twin Cities, began calling police with word of rude and pushy salesmen.

Judging by the grievances to follow, their beefs went something like this:

An RG salesman would arrive at the door, asking if the homeowner would answer a few unspecified questions in exchange for a small gift, like a can of air freshener. Oddly enough, free scented chemicals in spray form would compel some to say yes.

The salesman would disappear, soon to return with a Kirby vacuum cleaner. So began the test of wills.

The demonstration was advertised as brief. Some people would buy, of course. But many felt duped. No, they didn’t want a Kirby, for which RG was charging up to $2,600. But yes, they really, really would like it if the salesman left.

He wouldn’t. Often not after increasingly frequent – and forceful – demands to depart. He would act as if he hadn’t heard a word, and simply continue to demonstrate the wonders of the Kirby and the fabulous payment plans available. At times a supervisor would show to double-down on the hard sell. Customers say the onslaught could last for hours.

Fed up, one homeowner finally retrieved his gun. A St. Paul woman gave them $20 just to shut up and go. Others called police.

Back in Isanti, the city revoked RG Enterprises solicitor’s permit. Owner Mike Gerber asked the City Council to give it back. He noted several happy customers in town. But Mayor George Wimmer just happened to be among the solicited, and he was not pleased. The discussion became heated, according to the County Star.

The council refused to renew Gerber’s permit. He informed them that there were plenty of other towns in which to sell his Kirbys.

One would be North St. Paul. Last Nov. 26, police received eight calls in one day from residents complaining of rude and suspicious vacuum cleaner salesmen. RG’s permit was revoked again.

The salesmen would eventually migrate to St. Paul. In January, calls from the North End, Como, and Mac-Groveland began arriving at police HQ. One woman with a “no soliciting” sign said salesmen continued to ring the doorbell, and even attempted to unchain her porch door, after she asked them to leave. She slammed the door on the man’s arm.

The Better Business Bureau shows similar complaints. Though their public listings provide no names or locations, one man says two RG salesmen tried to sell his girlfriend a vacuum for $130, neglecting to mention that was only the downpayment on a $2,600 bill. Two hours into what was supposed to be a 20-minute demonstration, things became heated.

“At this point, I moved to the adjoining room, armed myself and prepared to call the police,” the man wrote. “Maybe the two heard me chamber a round, I'm not sure, but when I came back out, both of them were hurriedly gathering their things and soon exited my home.”

In another complaint, a woman says RG sold her son a Kirby, convincing him to take out a loan at a “very high interest rate.” But the buyer in question had a traumatic brain injury at age 7, leaving him unable to care for his own affairs.

The woman called RG to explain that her son couldn’t make financial decisions on his own, and asked to cancel the sale. RG requested paperwork showing that another son served as the buyer’s legal power of attorney, then refused to accept it as valid, she says.

RG owner Mike Gerber declined an interview request, saying he would only answer questions in writing. But he refused to discuss the Burnsville company’s sales techniques, or why customers seem so prone to calling police on his salesmen.

“Let me start by saying that I apologize for any frustrations that my neighbors in the communities around here have had with my business,” he wrote. “Because we do in-home demonstrations of Kirby products as part of our work, you can imagine that this sometimes is misunderstood as door-to-door sales are not as common as they once were…

“However, if there have been issues involving salespeople who affiliate with my business, any inappropriate behavior and actions should not be tolerated. It’s important that these issues are brought to my attention so that I can address them.”