St. Louis, Mo., April 8, 2010 - Job hunters say they felt misled by a Bridgeton, Mo., business that advertised management positions, then insisted they work several weeks or months selling knock-off perfumes to family and friends and in shopping center parking lots.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges Missouri and Illinois job seekers to be careful when responding to ads from 5 Star Management and similar businesses in the St. Louis region. 5 Star Management is a 14-month-old company headquartered in the Airport Commercial Center business complex at 3801 McKelvey Road.
The owner, Jerry David Babb, has run virtually identical direct-sale perfume businesses in the St. Louis area for many years. He formerly operated Orion Enterprises, Gateway Marketing Solutions and Mid-America Marketing.
Babb has been the focus of other BBB alerts involving perfume sales companies, the earliest dating to 1993.
5 Star Management is a local distributor for Scentura Creations, an Atlanta-based company headed by Larry Hahn. Scentura supplies rendition, or copycat, perfume products to companies like 5 Star across the U.S.
A woman from House Springs, Mo., responded to a Craigslist ad for an “entry level management position” in late February. She said she went to three meetings with officials of 5 Star before they told her she would have to start by selling perfume.
She said she did not understand that the fragrances were not name brand and ultimately sold several bottles to friends. When she realized that the perfumes were renditions and that the job was not what she had expected, “I just wanted to cry. I felt I was misled.”
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the BBB, said that 5 Star and similar direct-sales companies need to be more candid when advertising job openings.
“For these businesses to bait people with offers of management positions, and then switch them to selling perfume is simply deceitful,” Corey said. In most cases, these are people who “don’t have the time or money to spend days chasing after a job that may not even be there.”
The BBB also is concerned that 5 Star and similar companies may not encourage salespeople to disclose full details of the perfume to customers. A sales script given to two young women fails to instruct them to mention that the fragrances are renditions. The script, in part, says:
“Hi, quick question for you. What kind of fragrance do you wear? (Give examples: Issey Miyake, Coolwater, Aqua Di’Gio.) The reason I ask is that I work for a wholesale fragrance company, and we have the top designer fragrances 50 to 80 percent off.” The script also says, “Remind them how much money they are saving on something they are going to buy anyway.”
The woman from House Springs said that when she responded to the Craigslist ad, a receptionist identified the name of the company as Enterprise. But she said that when she phoned the company later, Babb answered the phone “5 Star.”
She said that between 20 and 25 people attended the third meeting with company representatives. That was the meeting when she was told she would be selling perfumes. She said Babb told them that they would earn no less than $35,000 the first year and some managers made six-figure salaries.
She said that after selling several bottles to friends and family members, she was moved to an assistant manager’s position, but was told she would continue to sell the fragrances. She said she quit the company and was trying to get refunds on the bottles she had sold.
A man from West St. Louis County said he answered a similar Craigslist ad for a management job last month. He said a company representative, who identified the business as Enterprise, initially seemed “rather vague” about the job. But, he said, he was told in a meeting at 2305 Weldon Parkway in Bridgeton that the company would guarantee him his own office in 90 days. If he worked hard, he was told, he could get an office in six weeks.
He said an instructor took him and another candidate to a Walmart store on St. Charles Rock Road in St. Ann to show them how to sell the rendition perfume.
“It was worthless,” the man said. He said he was asked to sign a paper guaranteeing not to say anything disparaging about the company in any mass media. He said he felt the Craigslist ad was misleading and seemed to be just a ruse to get applicants to sell their perfume.
Two other women – one from Ferguson, Mo., and the other from south St. Louis – told the BBB they, too, applied for management positions earlier this year after finding ads on Craigslist. They said the company first was identified as Enterprise Fragrances, but then they were given phone numbers for Babb at 5 Star.
The women said they were told they could earn between $35,000 and $45,000 a year the first year, $45,000 to $65,000 the second year and $75,000 or more the third year. They said a company representative told them to go to the Walmart store in St. Ann to sell the rendition perfume, even though they had no solicitor’s permit.
“I had my hopes set high; I’m so disgusted by the whole thing,” said the St. Louis woman.
The Ferguson woman’s grandmother said, “It’s a shame when people’s dreams are smashed, especially in this economy.”
BBB offices around the U. S. have heard similar stories from consumers about Scentura distributorships in New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Sacramento. Scentura says it should not be held responsible for the actions of its independent distributors.
A security guard patrolling the Walmart lot in St. Ann said that roaming perfume salespeople are an ongoing problem. She said police have been called several times.
Babb told the BBB in a phone interview that, “we certainly don’t teach them to sell at Walmart,” but said the office has little control over where salespeople solicit business. He said each is an independent contractor and is responsible for obtaining his or her own solicitation permits, when needed. He said all salespeople are told to represent the perfumes as renditions. He also defended the way the company advertises for employees.
“People can move into management and run offices,” he said. “So that is accurate. We try so ridiculously hard to make sure that everyone gets it. Anybody that wants to run an office can run an office.” Babb said he understands that some people believe that anyone who is in direct sales is involved in a scam. But, he said it is no different from what other sales firms do.
The BBB has the following tips for persons responding to a job posting:
- Immediately ask what kind of work is involved and what your responsibilities will be. Your time is too valuable to spend it pursuing a position you are either not qualified for or one which you do not want. If a prospective employer is hesitant about describing your responsibilities, it is probably best to move on.
- If the position involves direct sales, find out everything you can about the product you will be selling. Often, permits are required for door-to-door sales, sales outside stores or sales in parking lots. It may be the responsibility of the salesperson to obtain those permits. You can be ticketed, or even arrested, for selling or soliciting without required permits.
- As a consumer or a job applicant, contact the BBB for a Reliability Report about a business. That information may be obtained by calling 314-645-3300, or found online at www.bbb.org.
Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org
, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, email@example.com