Deal or no deal?

Membership comes at a price that may or may not be right

By Jay Somerset


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How’s this for a sales pitch: join our club and save up to 70 per cent off regular retail prices on everything from home electronics to windows and doors, plumbing fixtures, furniture and appliances. Join today and start reaping the benefits of purchasing directly from more than 500 big-name manufacturers. Welcome to DirectBuy, a members-only buying club that started in 1971 in Indiana and has spread across North America, with 22 stores in Canada and “hundreds of thousands of members,” says Sara Shragal, manager of public relations at DirectBuy.

For the homeowner, this pitch sure sounds plum-so what’s the catch? To begin with, there’s the upfront fee of up to $6,000 plus taxes (prices fluctuate depending on location), which covers the first two to three years of your 10-year membership, plus about $200 per remainder year. By the end, membership fees could total more than $7,000.

“It’s been really worthwhile for us,” Susan St-Pierre says. She, along with her husband, joined the Toronto DirectBuy four years ago after purchasing a 1920s house in need of a reno. The couple furnished their living room, bedroom and baby’s room, found wall-to-wall carpeting for the basement, two sets of washers and dryers and a paddleboat for their cottage all through DirectBuy. “Our dining room set cost $3,000; the same set cost $12,000 at DeBoers.” All told, St-Pierre says, “the savings have been significant.”

However, not everyone shares St-Pierre’s zeal. “I keep thinking it will pay off, but if we could reverse time, we wouldn’t join,” says Halifax resident Eleanor Beaton. Like St-Pierre, Beaton joined up about four years ago. “The first year, we didn’t buy anything because we were renovating our house, so money was tight,” she says. And while she’s since bought a few items (leather office chair, mattress set, phones) she is happy with, Beaton says the overall experience has been expensive and inconvenient. “I like to shop online and the [DirectBuy] website isn’t great for browsing and pricing, and even when you go into the store, you’re leafing through catalogues.”

To join DirectBuy, you have to request a visitor’s pass online or over the phone (non-members aren’t allowed to visit showrooms or view catalogues). Then a DirectBuy rep calls and confirms a presentation date. You and your significant other must attend a two-hour presentation followed by a membership offer. Turn down the offer and you must wait seven years before requesting another visitor’s pass. “They know this beforehand,” Shragal says. Besides, she adds, “We give everyone ample opportunity to read over the contract.”

How do you compare DirectBuy prices with other retailers? Shragal says visitors can leaf through dealer catalogues and view prices, but all the people interviewed for this story say they weren’t allowed to view catalogues. “They only gave examples,” Mark Ebedes of Markham, Ont., says. During the video presentation, Mark’s wife slipped away to use the washroom. On the way, she noticed a KitchenAid binder. After a quick price comparison, “she came back and said the prices were more than what we’d found on our own. That’s when I realized DirectBuy is in the business of selling memberships.”

So, is it worth it? That’s the $7,000 question.

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