After multiple complaints from Hoboken residents about overly-aggressive salespeople representing HIKO Energy, a Utah-based utilities company, a city spokesman said last week that the company has agreed to temporarily discontinue door-to-door solicitations in Hoboken at the request of the city’s director of public safety.
Several residents have complained after visits from the company’s salespeople, Hoboken city spokesman Juan Melli said, including one which resulted in the filing of two police reports. Following the complaints, the city contacted the company’s regulatory officer demanding an explanation. In response, the officer agreed to rein in the company’s Hoboken sales team and retrain them before they could continue their rounds, said Melli.
Last week, Joan Abel, an elderly Monroe Street resident, and her husband Jim Vance were visited by one of the salespeople. They said he was holding a PSE&G bill and allegedly tried to force his way into the entrance of their multi-unit building (which they own), after they politely asked him to leave. The confrontation became heated, the couple said, and both Abel and Vance were frightened.
“My wife is scared in her own home now.” – Jim Vance
“My wife is scared in her own home now,” he said. “Apparently these are legitimate salespeople, but she’s locking the door of whatever apartment she’s in, and she’s never done that before.”
Vance filed a complaint against the salesman, and said that the salesman made a complaint in response, claiming that Vance tried to throw him down the building’s front stairs. The men are scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 3.
Shevy Simins, the company’s regulatory officer who dealt with the city, said on Friday that HIKO salespeople are not trained to be aggressive in their sales pitches, but rather the opposite.
“We train them not to be aggressive,” she said.
Simins explained that the salespeople who have been going through Hoboken are not HIKO employees per say, but rather third party marketers who are trained by HIKO but managed by a marketing firm. In the wake of the complaints from the city, Simins said she spoke with the employee in charge of managing the salespeople immediately.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention, I spoke with the head of our third party marketers and discussed what we needed to do,” she said. “They’re all back here for retraining and because we have a zero-tolerance policy. Any of them that we find weren’t doing things properly will be removed.”
She also said that when they retrain salespeople return to Hoboken, they will be closely monitored.
“Now that this issue has been brought to our attention, we’ll be looking out for specific instances and removing any agents that we think are doing the wrong thing,” she said.
Two visits, no manners
Abel, who works from home, had been visited by a different company salesman two weeks earlier, though she did not file a police report at the time. She said that two different sales people convinced her to open the door by mentioning PSE&G, the couple’s current energy provider. She says that both salesmen, when asked to leave, put their foot in the door and refused to go.
“The first time, I guess it was adrenaline; I was able to close the door on him,” she said. “And I called the police, but I didn’t think of filing a report at the time.”
Several people said the salesmen have mentioned PSE&G and claims of being able to provide a lower gas bill.
A police officer who responded to Abel’s call on the second visit told the couple that vestibules and hallways are public property, and therefore solicitors are permitted to enter them, Abel said.
Police Chief Anthony Falco, who met with Vance the day after the confrontation, said he wasn’t sure about the law regarding lobbies, stairwells, and public property.
“I don’t think there’s a city ordinance regarding that, but I think if it’s a private dwelling, you shouldn’t be allowed in,” he said. “This isn’t something I deal with every day.”
Simins said last week that the retrained teams will no longer enter apartment buildings.
Advice for residents
Falco and PSE&G offered advice to any residents who feel harassed or threatened by a visit.
Falco said that residents should immediately contact police if they feel threatened by a visitor or someone attempting to gain entry to their homes.
“Anyone who feels threatened has a right to sign a complaint,” he said. “No one should feel unsafe in their home.”
Simins said HIKO employs a system through which any resident who signs up for the company’s services is contacted by a third party to verify that they didn’t feel intimidated into enrolling. The third party also verifies that the potential customer understands exactly what he or she is signing up for, said Simins.
A PSE&G spokeswoman, Kristine Lloyd, said that it's not uncommon for other companies to pretend to be representing her company, the largest provider in the state. She said that customers should demand to see a worker’s identification card, and not simply take anything for granted, even if visitor is wearing a PSE&G uniform.
“We’ve heard of people doing things like that, wearing something with the PSE&G logo on it or something,” said Lloyd. “It’s unfortunate because these are people taking advantage of the trust people have in our company.”
Simins said that when HIKO’s team returns to Hoboken, their sales pitches will be much more professional.
“It looks bad for us,” she said. “It scares off our customers and that’s not what we want.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org