Love it or hate it, Bargain Network has been employing hundreds of Santa Barbara area residents, most of them cash-strapped college kids, at its Goleta call center since it opened up shop more than a decade ago. But now, claiming financial prudence, the company is pulling the plug on its 805-based phone lines, leaving more than 300 employees without jobs by year’s end. Despite a checkered past with the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, Web sites like ripoffreport.com, countless former employees, and even Santa Barbara County’s District Attorney’s office, Bargain Network-peddlers of foreclosed home and repossessed car lists via late-night television commercials-has been a financial success story since opening its doors in 1995, ultimately being bought up by parent company Vertrue Incorporated for $27 million in late 2004. Despite what she characterized as “continued success,” Bargain President Samara Jaffe explained the downsizing this week as a money-motivated “consolidation with our parent company.” Jaffe promised, “We are not leaving Santa Barbara and just shutting down overnight.”
According to Jaffe, Bargain’s usually voracious recruiting of employees has been on hold since earlier this year in anticipation of the layoffs announced last Friday. And, while no definitive date has been set, she expects that all 320 sales staff positions will be terminated at the Hollister Avenue headquarters by December as the company shifts its call center to Houston and Montreal. (According to anonymous tips from current Bargain employees, layoffs have already begun.) While bemoaning the downsizing, Jaffe explained that Bargain will remain in town, keeping its corporate office, media team, and Web development crew among others things here on the South Coast to the tune of about 60 full-time jobs. Jaffe explained that Bargain Network may actually hire a few additional people for these positions.
Despite the hit to the local economy, don’t count Santa Barbara’s Better Business Bureau’s President Rick Copelan among those crying over the departure. “We’ve been around and around with this company since the year they opened,” explained Copelan earlier this week. “I can’t say we are sad to see them go.” According to him, Bargain Network has generated 416 consumer complaints at his office in the last 36 months alone-a track record that has earned the company the dubious distinction of an “F” rating with the bureau. Complaints range from accusations of false advertising and unsolicited credit card charges to difficulty canceling services and general disappointment with their product.
Bargain Network, which prides itself on never cold-calling people but simply answering consumer inquiries, has made its money by selling lists or booklets containing information on land or home foreclosures as well as seized and repossessed automobiles to prospective buyers for a minimal fee. As Copelan sees it, the company has added a new wrinkle to its business plan involving limited free trials of their services, often on the Internet, which eventually become anything but free. “If you don’t tell them you want to opt out of it, they just keep on hitting up your credit card,” explained Copelan, before adding, “And what we see time and time again is they don’t make it very easy for you to opt out.” With more than a million customers and really nothing overtly illegal about their business dealings, the knock on Bargain Network rarely amounts to anything more than disgruntled customers who feel hoodwinked by the fine print. (In fairness to Bargain, a survey of the 416 Better Business Bureau complaints revealed regular refunds being doled out by the corporation.) That being said, as one former employee who wished to remain anonymous said of his two-plus years working at the Goleta call center, “It was great money if you had a knack for it, but at the end of my shift, I always felt like my soul was dirty.”