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:: Saturday, November 23, 2002 ::

How a timeshare pitch mirrored my heart – A case study on evangelism.



It had all the ingredients for a disaster.  A renegade phone call. A person telling us that it will be the vacation of a lifetime.   A price that’s unbeatable.  The timing was impeccable we were tired and ready to get away from our normal lives. The method was a marketers dream – they conned us into offers we could not resist.  We gave in to temptation accepted the offer and that’s where the journey started.


Now I’m walking into a hotel where we will attend a 90-minute presentation on vacation club ownership.  Crap.  We fill out a form and wait for our representative to start the indoctrination.  She is short and shriveled – Paula is her name, her friends call her “Mighty Mouse” she says.  We start some meaningless chatter about superficialities, the weather, the beaches and then she invites us to a courtesy lunch.  On our way she assures us that they are not into high-pressure sails.  The food is Ok and we sit down with Mighty Mouse and she starts the profiling. 


Where are you from?

South Africa.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a pastor and we work at a church.

Ohhh? What do you like to do?

Anything in the sun and in the water.


She starts to tell us about all the celebrities owning property in the area. Oprah, Tiger, the Trumps (which she must have thought afterwards weren’t the best person’s name to drop).  The area is known for the white beaches the wonderful climate and all the sports, golf, sailing and whatever we want to do.  This is the premier spot in America, did we know that there’s no beachfront property left in South Florida?  Real Estate comes at the price of $11000 an inch!


I really like the chicken and the ribs so I smile and get up to get another helping of it.  At the buffet I meat a man we will call Bob.  Bob was suckered into the exact same ‘deal’.  He asks me if we can pick them up at their hotel on the way to the cruise that is included in our package, he read somewhere that parking will be $30 – maybe we can share it.  I tell him that I’m sure that our ‘package’ included a free parking voucher, and triumphantly walk back to my seat. (Later we found that the voucher was a myth and we had to pay yet another hidden cost)


The conversation continues and Lollie leaves for the restroom.  I see my gap and address Mighty Mouse:


How much success do you have with folks like us?

1/3 of the people buy some property.

That’s great!  I can assure you that we are in the 2/3’s category.

Why do you say that? We haven’t even looked at the budget yet.  I have lot’s of pastors that buy from us.  This is a great place to bring your church choir.  On these tours we give amazing first time offers that will be very affordable, you will see.

Mighty Mouse looked deflated.



After some further pleasantries, Paula ushers us into a bus to tour the property.  We never saw any of it!  Rather than showing us their property they took us to the yacht club, membership at the club is included in the price of the vacation package.  On board our bus is captain Larry, amusing us with his charm and wit.  He starts out asking everyone where we’re from and then connecting his life-experience to our home states.


Where are you from he asks.


Do you know what we do here in Florida when we see snow?


We change the channel.


Larry has the gift of really laughing at his jokes.  He then continues his sailing spiel with another  joke.


Have you guys heard on the news that the road to the Keyes is closed?  Yeah, all the bridges are up.  Someone accidently dropped some Viagra in the ocean.  Roaring laughter, mainly from Larry. 


Mighty Mouse turns to us and tells us how great Larry is – he’s the best captain in the Atlantic ocean.  The tour bus circles around the area for 7 minutes and then we go back to the hotel –it’s time to look at the finances involved in buying the dream vacation.


We sit down at a table surrounded by 50 other couples sitting with their version of Mighty Mouse.  Paula starts to ask us questions about our current budget how, much we earn, our debt (she is shocked to find out that we don’t have a credit card).  She then asks about the hotel we live in right now and starts to blacken the hotel’s setup of rooms, the cleanliness or lack there of and then she pulls out a floor plan of her luxurious unit.  She convinces us that we will spend at least $70000 in the next ten years on vacation – she appeals to our every consumer nerve and bombards us. 


Calculated she goes through charts that she developed with pertinent information underlined.  Graphic charts and comparisons abound in her literature – she frantically writes numbers to shock us on a paper.  She then suggest a walk on the beachfront, but we were there for so long that the beautiful Florida sunshine turned into a monsoon!  After 40 minutes of budget battering we take the elevator to see and taste the wonderful units.  She takes us to one of the demo-units and ushers us through vacation heaven.  She comments that this is one of the smaller units, one of the owners the other day showed Paula her unit, and it was huge – the bathroom was the size of this unit!  As we walk back she apologizes for the state of the hotel and explain that their busy with renovations.


Back at the table she asks what we think this dream vacation will cost – and remember it includes membership to the yacht club and discounts at the PGA Golf club close to the premises.  Lollie resigns from taking a guess and I humored her saying $40000,  she then whips out one of her self-developed charts (which we could not get copies off) and showed us that this dream will only cost us $28000!  We were not amused and Mighty Mouse must have sensed it with her mighty perception.  In a sensitive way we told the lady that we could not afford something like this.  Why don’t we get the church to buy one of these vacations, it will be a wonderful way to honor someone for a work well done she says.  Paula continues to address new angles and we keep on cutting them off.


Lollie in her brilliant way explains to her that we have a visa issue and until we know that we will be in the country permanently, buying a vacation house for a week a year don’t make sense!  Especially if the one week vacation house cost the same as a house in South Africa.  Mighty Mouse counters, in her humble opinion this will be an investment, regardless if we were in Africa or the US.  I try to explain to her that it’s impossible to pay the monthly premium on a South African salary. 


Suddenly she reverts to personal testimonies telling about her wonderful times in her vacation house and how much money she has made renting hers out.  On the sideline she tells numerous stories of friends and families who have been blessed by owning.  Sensing that we are not biting she offers to lower the deposit from $7000 to $1500, still we were not biting.  She then forced the $28000 down to $24000, still no response from us.  Her next move was to go and speak to a manager about our unique situation.  Now remember they are not into pressure sales.


Entered Dina.  She introduced herself and told us how many South African friends she has that owns here in Florida, Lollie looks smilingly at her and says that they must be very rich!  Taken aback Dina continues with her part of the presentation, miraculously she brings the price down to $14000 and manages to give us an extra week – to good to be true.  Sensing a general lack of excitement from us, she also starts to write frantically on a paper, presenting a matrix of numbers and options.




The penny dropped and Dina backs down (with another incredible offer).  In the space of 30 minutes they offered us the same product at 4 different prices – because they really wanted to accommodate us – says Might Mouse.  I ask her if she works on commission and she says yes, sarcastically she mentions that she probably won’t eat for a week.  The badgering is over and very professionally Mini Mouse walks us to the place where we will pick up our cruise tickets – (you see we had to go through this presentation of 90 minutes which turned out to be 180 minutes before we could get our tickets.)  We walk over to a different room.


Paula says her goodbyes and introduces us to Ray, a man that suffers from extreme sweating and looks grieved.  Ray explains to us that he will ask us a few questions about our experience.  Were we treated professionally?  Do we feel like we got good information about ownership?  Any recommendations?  We answer his questions cordially and look forward to getting out of there!


Now remember they are not into pressure sales.  At this point Ray, or Stingray goes under the radar.  In a whisper he asks us if he can tell us about a ‘deal’.  He explains that they are not allowed to advertise the following information because they might get sued over it.  Have we ever heard of a foreclosure, he asks.  He explains to us that they have some vacation homes in Orlando that people lost because they can’t make the payments, would we be interested?  Here we go again, we explain to him our knockout punch of visas and South Africa and then Ray comes in for the attack – In an extremely pissed off tone he says – it’s really not about the South African deal and the money, for only $5000 you can own this vacation home!  At this point I became mad – images of me verbally attacking him started to form in my head.  I was streaming.  In a calm way I said to him that WE WERE NOT BUYING!  He looked severely dejected and in a rude manner signed our paper that authorized the cruise and said ‘goodbye-now’ in a sarcastic voice.  My only question then was, where can I fill out an evaluation on StingRay?


Well we survived the Nazi, no pressure, information overload, vacation ownership deal.  Two nights later we were sitting at a table on our cruise with 3 other couples.  Our cruise by the way was also a total disaster, at our table 4 people had to leave because they felt seasick!  While everyone was still there we found out that we were all there because of the same ‘deal’.  After some probing we discovered that all of us had the exact same experience with the vacation ownership deal – except that one of the couples who were older, were hit with different foreclosure amounts – their bargain was for $7000.  What a joke!


Now a week later I realize that we as Christians, influencing this world can fall into exactly the same methods than our vacation ownership friends!  I will explain tomorrow.






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