So you’re on your laptop, feverishly applying for jobs, when suddenly you get an email from a company you never applied to, stating that they’ve “carefully reviewed” your resume, and it really “stood out” to them.
“We would like to invite you to an interview,” says the email, credited to one Cecilia of Sway Worldwide-Houston.
“Weird,” you say out loud to yourself, because you’ve been cooped up for months and are going slightly insane. Even though the whole thing sets off your sketch-ometer, you’re both desperate and curious, so you hop onto the website. Now your sketch-ometer is redlining, because it all looks very dubious. The vagueness; the typos; the love of stock photos — it looks like the kind of thing that Nigerian prince dude’s older, slightly smarter cousin might slap together.
“Since 2017, we have been creating experiential marketing campaigns that bring quality customers and sales to our clients,” the site states, explaining that Sway is a “dedicated team of marketing professionals who aren’t afraid to try new techniques.” Sway says they “implement our campaigns with strategically targeted venues and diverse approaches,” and their clients allegedly include Xfinity, Spectrum, Quill, and for some reason Petfirst Insurance.
You move along and quickly forget about Sway, but ol’ Cecilia is nothing if not persistent. Soon, she texts you. Then she calls you. She doesn’t want you to miss out on the rapidly approaching hiring deadline.
Now you’re really curious. So you Google Sway’s address, 7211 Regency Square Boulevard, Ste 112, and you find that 112 must be one huge mother-effing suite, because there are a lot of companies located there, and they all seem to do what Sway does. Same clients and everything.
So you call Cecilia and agree to a phone interview with the CEO, whose name you’re not given. Eventually, Cecilia gives you her first name; you hop online to find out her full name, which is Shanice Bolling, and she appears on multiple “marketing” websites, for companies in Houston, Portland, and Canonsburg, PA.
A little more Googling, and you find a glut of info online about these kinds of companies — thinly disguised door-to-door sales crews who try to recruit every warm body possible, even those who didn’t apply. After reading enough, you learn that your talk with Bolling will be the “first round,” and you’ll be told to wait to see if you make the cut, which not many candidates do. And sure enough, that’s what happens. You make it to the personal interview stage, where you’re told to bring a pen and paper, because you’ll have to take a lot of notes.
This aggressive recruitment campaign is not just going on in Houston, of course; it’s a decades-long, nationwide campaign by major direct sales contractors like Chicago-based Credico, and Cydcor, outside Los Angeles.
Operating largely out of the limelight, they sub-contract with “independent” sales teams like Sway, who peddle products door-to-door (an especially welcome thing these days) and tend display booths and kiosks inside big-box stores, or in the parking lots of said stores. They’re paid virtually nothing, are entirely expendable, and, much of the time, they don’t even know what they’re getting themselves into.
Of course, they’re just the flies; they couldn’t survive without the mounds of offal to give them sustenance and nurture their maggots. AT&T. Comcast. Verizon. Sprint. The list goes on. Everyone makes money, except the poor schlub who’s about to knock on your door.
Keeping Sales Crews at an Arm’s Length
Like a ghastly but addictive friend with benefits who brings equal part relief and shame, door-to-door crews are a breed the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast want to keep on the down-low.
Although, at a base level, there is a very real relationship between those companies and entities like Sway, it’s strictly one-way. While a training manager for Sway referred to AT&T as their biggest client, no AT&T executive or flack would be caught dead admitting as much.
Moreover, on paper, and in court, these major companies are insulated from any such suggestion — the roving sales crews are kept at arm’s length, because the big companies don’t pay them directly. They pay intermediaries like Credico and Cydcor; from there, a few peanuts are tossed to the likes of Sway.
The intermediaries keep their costs low by classifying sales agents as independent contractors, who aren’t subject to minimum wage or overtime. In fact, Credico has spent a lot of time and money making sure these sales agents don’t make much.
In the past ten years, Credico has been sued numerous times in federal courts over alleged misclassification of these agents. The company claimed a huge victory in April 2019, when a federal appellate court upheld a judgment in Credico’s favor following a 2015 class action suit accusing Credico and its offspring of conducting a nationwide pyramid scheme and depriving sales agents of money lawyers argued were owed under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The suit, filed in a New York federal court, argued that agents should be paid minimum wage, and also argued that Credico was a “joint employer” — meaning that the poor saps who knocked on doors for whatever entity lured them in were also working on behalf of Credico. However, Credico, in its trademark integrity, threw the agents under the bus, successfully claiming it could not be held liable for any labor violations, since, even if the sales agents were “employees,” they didn’t technically work for Credico.
But that’s not the only way the sales agents were screwed; the best part was this: Even if hell froze over and agents were classified as employees, U.S. Department of Labor guidelines would deem them to be “outside sales agents,” who are not protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Boom.
It should be noted that, however legally sound the ruling may be, there is a nagging notion that the appellate court treated Credico’s progeny as run-of-the-mill businesses, despite evidence presented to the contrary.
Most outside sales agents, for example, are not beholden to daily or weekly “gong ceremonies” where they have to bang a gong for unclear reasons; they typically are not transported in groups to canvass the same neighborhoods or stand at a booth handing out brochures for cheap cell phones all day; they generally are not required to engage in ritualized public humiliation, where high-sellers are able to degrade under-performers in front of their peers, in any way they see fit. They often do not spend each morning chanting tribal buzzwords like the Manson Family. It seems the judges just zipped over all that.
Cell-phone footage of such cult-like behavior is included in a brief documentary about the class-action lawsuit produced by BRIC TV, a Brooklyn public access channel. The documentary allows a rare glimpse into the actual practices of Credico affiliates — the stuff an applicant wouldn’t find out up top.
The lawsuit also brought to light the account executive manual by one of the Credico-affiliated defendants, a New York sales crew called Cromex. It is quite simply one of the greatest pieces of literature in the history of the English language — think douche in print form.
Its buzzwords and perverse interpretations of trite marketing concepts are echoed in Sway’s second-round interviews. There is “student mentality,” defined as a “hunger to learn,” although ostensibly not a hunger to learn about when and where the shell company you’re working for was formed. There is the “law of averages,” as illustrated by someone who does not understand math. There is the blatant appeal to a customer’s innate greed (literally headlined “GREED”) and the tendency of customers to follow the herd (“SHEEP FACTOR/JONES EFFECT”). This is followed immediately, without irony, by a section on “Ethics,” which extols the virtues of punctuality.
Harold Lichten, the Boston labor law attorney who brought the case against Credico and Cromex, calls the idea of Credico’s field workers being outside sales agents “a complete farce.”
Lichten, who’s practiced labor law for three decades, says, “It is a complete exploitation of very low-income people. Many of our clients lived on the streets.”
He alleges that his clients worked “ungodly hours” for barely any pay. They didn’t receive commissions for every wireless service contract a customer signed, only those whose contracts were accepted; many were rejected because of bad credit, Lichten says.
“You could have a valid system...where you treat people as employees,” he adds— minimum wage, overtime, incentives for extra sales. “They basically don’t pay the person a thing even if they’re on the street for eight hours and make three sales.”
It’s a good point — why don’t AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others require minimum standards from their direct sales contractors? Can one not survey the current direct sales landscape and find a contractor who eschews gong-banging and pays a livable wage? (Two of the plaintiffs in the recent class-action suit alleged they were paid $40 and $140 after working more than 60 hours in a week. Testimonials about the hours, pay, and work environment at Credico and other direct sales companies abound online,including on Glassdoor and reddit;
Those interested may also want to check out another investigative documentary, The Slave Circle, which doesn’t just focus on Credico, but its direct sales peers as well.
Verizon and Comcast didn’t respond to requests for comment — and why would they? Who cares about these people?
At least AT&T took the time to offer a hollow, self-serving deflection of emailed questions about its relationship with Sway Worldwide. But first we need to hear what Sway says about it.
Playing a Shell Game
Sway’s Regency Boulevard office suite gives no indication it is the home of Sway, or of any other company for that matter. This is because it’s home to many shell companies, whose names constantly change, and who recruit simultaneously, so you can’t have people responding to a Sway solicitation be greeted by a giant sign for Continuity Marketing or Emson Global or Robinson-Brandt or Champs Executives. That would be disorienting. So the only company logos on the wall include Comcast Business, Xfinity, Verizon, DirecTV, Quill, and Safelink.
Although Sway’s site claims it’s been in the experiental marketing game, whatever that might be, since 2017, the company is actually a bit younger. Secretary of State records in Oregon and Texas suggest that CEO Bolling was referring to an entity called Sky High Executives, incorporated in Oregon in December 2017. Sway was set up in August 2019 as an assumed name. (Sky High and other entities in the office share the same corporate trajectory — their articles of incorporation were revoked for failure to pay franchise tax in February 2020, and then reinstated in June).
Sometimes, keeping the locations of so many shell companies straight can be difficult. For example, another Bolling entitty, Limitless Interactions, has a Houston address on its website while claiming to be based in Portland. Oregon Secretary of State records show that Limitless was incorporated by Bolling in August 2018, at the same address as Sky High Executives. So it’s no wonder that even Sway’s own emails contain different Houston street addresses. (In case you were wondering if Limitless Interactions is classy, the answer is yes. Its slogan is “A Marketing Firm With Class.”)
The woman conducting this very exclusive second-round interview for Sway introduces herself as Jackie. Shadowing her is a young sales agent, Hope, who was recently “promoted.” It’s a safe bet that, for the next 20 minutes, those will be the only true things she says.
Jackie says Sway Worldwide is a third-party direct marketing company whose largest client is AT&T. She intimates that Sway played a vital role in securing $50 million in direct sales for AT&T last year.
She explains that the communications giant depends on companies like Sway because it simply doesn’t have enough managers to run its brick-and-mortar stores. And that $50 million figure? That was half of AT&T’s total sales.
She explains that direct sales are crucial to companies like AT&T because the results are actually measurable, unlike those cockamamie Super Bowl ads. Really — do those companies actually know how much they’re getting for their miilions-per-minute commercials? Why would they settle solely on reaching 100 million viewers of the most-watched TV broadcast every year when they could also have Hope knocking on doors?
“We are powerful, and we are very needed,” she says. That’s why, in addition to its Houston outpost, Sway has offices in Tampa, Atlanta, and Denver, and is planning on opening offices in Germany and India.
Even though you’re an exclusive member of the Round Two Club, Jackie has never seen your resume. So she asks about your work history and things you like to do for fun. She asks you what you think the term “student mentality” means. You tell her it sounds derogatory. She finds that strange. Then she echoes how the term is defined in the Cromex account executive manual from the Credico lawsuit — a hunger for learning.
Then comes the nitty-gritty: if hired, you’d start as an account executive, raking in $350-$500 per week, all commission. But within 14-30 days, if you work hard, you could be promoted to account manager. That’s $600-$1,000 per week. (Of course, you’ve got to break some off for the more senior executives).
But for that, you’ve got to build a team. You’ve got to have four people promoted under you. The good thing is, just like you’ve been kicking a percentage of your income to your bosses, you now get to collect from your subordinates. (You’re a little confused by this unorthodox pay structure, so it helps for you to picture a triangle on its base, with money going up the sides.)
Somewhere after five weeks, you can become a junior executive, where your commission doubles, so you’re making about $75,000 a year — but now your team has to be at least seven people.
Getting to the Money Loop
At that point, because Sway doesn’t want any spendthrifts in its employ, you need to show your bosses that you have a $5,000 “business fund” set aside, in an account in your name. You need to show them you’re wise with your money.
Then, usually within 8-12 months, you’re a senior executive, raking in $170,000-$220,000 per annum. At that point, you can set up your very own office — and the company will pay $20,000, sometimes more, if you want to relocate.
But before all that, you’ve got to go through training. All emplo — er, independent contractors — start each day with a ritual called “atmosphere,” which Jackie describes as “organized chaos.” Music blaring, lots of pumped-up bro-talk — you’re basically starting every morning inside a giant can of Monster.
After five days, you and your fellow trainees will hit “the field,” which is Sway-speak for “residential neighborhood.” That involves a “three-loop” system of canvassing the neighborhood for 90 minutes, re-canvassing it for two hours, followed by a quick break and a final round of door-knocking, wrapping up at 7:30 p.m. Jackie calls that final loop “the money loop,” because now more people are home from work.
All trainees then turn in their numbers to Bolling, who breaks down the day before everyone heads out by about 8:30. (Saturday is only 9-5; Sundays are free).
Jackie asks if you have any questions, which you do, but it turns out she either doesn’t know the answers, or she directs them to Bolling. The most she’ll disclose is that Sway is aligned with Credico. She says she doesn’t know about Bolling’s other businesses. When you show her emails from Sway with different addresses, she has no explanation, but she curiously claims that the logo on the emails “isn’t our logo,” when it most certainly is. (Well, at least for that day).
As it turns out, Jackie doesn’t have much of a student mentality. Sitting quietly beside her is Hope, who looks personally insulted by your questions. After all, she was recently promoted and shouldn’t have to take this shit.
Unfortunately, Bolling doesn’t want to answer any questions either. Reached on the phone, she initially expressed interest and enthusiasm in being part of this story, but said she first had to check with her “legal team.” We never heard back.
Also, Credico COO John Zavoyna did not respond to an email request for comment; nor to messages left at the company’s Chicago headquarters.
A spokesperson for AT&T said he’d look at questions, but of course he didn’t acknowledge them — except to deny Jackie from Sway’s assertion that AT&T had hiring difficulties.
In an email, the spokesperson stated, “It is simply untrue to say we have vendor relationships due to staffing shortages.”
Otherwise, AT&T’s flack offered a self-serving statement that seems to show exactly how much AT&T cares about its subterranean door-knockers: “Like many companies, we use vendors to support and augment our workforce. We are one of the largest employers in America, providing our employees solid middle-class jobs with competitive wages and benefits.”
It seems like the kind of thing you’d find in the Cromax account executive manual under “Ethics,” which is why AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others have such a special bond with the kind of people aggressively recruiting the doe-eyed and desperate to 7200 Regency Boulevard Square, Ste 112.
“Take control,” the manual asserts, “...take control of your customers, yourself, and your situation. If you don’t take control, someone else will.”
Which Credico-affiliated Company is Right For You?
With so many Credico-affiliated shell companies stalking job applicants in Texas right now, how do you know which one is right for you? They all promise so much, what with all their sites stuffed with the kind of business-buzzword mumbo jumbo you’d hear from a slick yet overworked ad exec in a Hallmark movie, just before they fall in love and discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Here’s a sampling of the entities we found, all at 7211 Regency Square Boulevard, Ste 112, unless otherwise noted. (Oh yeah, they all list the same clients: Verizon, DirecTV, Sprint, Xfinity, Spectrum...and that freaking PetFirst pet insurance. Really — what is it with that one?)
5821 Southwest Freeway, Ste. 330
As noted in the story, when it comes to shell corporations, Shanice Bolling is a baller. She’s got quite a few, including Limitless, which Bolling incorporated in Oregon in August 2018, according to Oregon Secretary of State records. And, as also noted in the story, Limitless is “a marketing firm with class.” This ain’t no low-rent firm. This firm doesn’t walk around unshaven in a Cheeto-streaked wifebeater, belching the alphabet. However, Limitless does promise — or is it a threat? — to “continuously fill your pipeline,” which sounds kinda gross.
Texas Performance Solutions
Have you heard about Texas Performance Solutions, with promises to “jumpstart your brand”? You should have — their website says they’re “taking Houston by storm.”
First the pros: The site has virtually no stock photography and includes actual photos of alleged Texas Performance Solutions sales agents, but there are also faces that pop up on other shells’ sites, which of course the casual observer wouldn’t notice.
Cons: The site is missing a few things, like a “me” in the “About Me” section. There’s no mention of who’s in charge. But the company was incorporated — as Performance Solutions — by one Courtland Harrison in January 2019, Texas Secretary of State records show. So it’s puzzling how the company already has “years” of experience, unless maybe it follows the Mayan calendar or something. We tried calling ol’ Courtland to straighten it all out, but we guess he was busy out jumpstarting people’s brands, because the company’s number just goes straight to this female robo-voicemail message: “Thanks for the call. Configure your number’s voice URL to change this message. Let us know if we can help you any way during your development.”
Continuity Marketing, Inc.
Continuity Marketing’s “CEO” is Mohsin Bolwala, a “self made entrepreneur” who was also the CEO of Global Legacy Consulting in Savannah, which has copy identical to Continuity’s. The only difference is that Global was “strategically located here in Savannah,” and Continuity is “strategically located here in Houston.” (Secretary of State records for Georgia and Texas show that Global was incorporated in February 2018 and administratively dissolved in August 2019, the same month that Continuity was incorporated).
Prior to those, Bolwala was an up-and-comer at another door-to-door crew for Atlanta-based Piwox, whose Instagram feed shows proudly announced Bolwala’s promotion to “management” in October 2017.
“After being in Atlanta for less than year [sic] I am now owner of my own office in Houston, TX,” Bolwala declares on Continuity’s site.
Here’s why Bolwala thinks you should choose Continuity/Global: “We endeavor to go above and beyond expectations and once we have your company’s campaign itinerary, we can begin to deliver results within a 24-hour period.”
Thrive Marketing Group
5821 Southwest Freeway, Ste. 330
Thrive describes itself as an “outsourced company specializing in events, direct marketing, and sales.” We’re pretty sure they mean “outsourcing” company...unless the company itself has somehow already been outsourced? Wouldn’t that lead to a real existential crisis? Who wants to hire a firm that probably suffers from a severe inferiority complex?
The registered agent for this one, incorporated in January 2018, is Divya Chandraskeran, who, until recently, listed herself as Thrive’s “SHE-E-O” on her personal Facebook page. After we messaged her through her Facebook page, that title was removed. She did not respond to our request.
In the grand tradition of Credico-affiliated companies’ affinity for motivational quotes by some of history’s greatest closers — like Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Aristotle — Thrive’s Facebook includes a quote from Helen Keller, which makes sense, because, as anyone who’s seen The Miracle Worker knows, it was Anne Sullivan who first taught a young Keller how to hawk satellite TV packages door-to-door. And it was Keller’s famous quote about sales incentives that would one day also inspire a young David Mamet: “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired.”
Blue Label Concepts, Inc.
5821 Southwest Freeway, Ste. 330
Blue Label’s Houston address is the same address that also appears on some of Sway’s emails, and is also home to Shanice Bolling’s Limitless Interactions; it’s one of those magical office spaces that is somehow home to many, many marketing firms with the same clients.
Texas Secretary of State records show it was incorporated in Dallas in May 2018 by Christina Kim, who is also the “CEO.” According to the company’s Facebook page, Blue Label “specializes in marketing and sales for the world’s leading companies and startups in Houston, TX.” (Kim filed a change of address to Houston in October 2019).
Although the company’s website is defunct, cached pages explain that “Chrissy Kim has worked to where she is [sic].” The company’s Facebook consists almost entirely of motivational-speak. There’s lots of talk about crushing things, chasing dreams, and doing whatever it takes. We hope Kim doesn’t talk like that in real life, because that would be absolutely exhausting.
Champs Executives, Inc.
Champs was incorporated in Houston in March 2019 by Miguel Jair Campos Carrero with the goal of expanding “our operations to multiple metropolitan cities in the United States, and become the number one marketing agency within our domain. Great work-ethic [sic] and habits will get us there.”
We like that Champs is aiming for “metropolitan cities,” and not, say, New England whaling villages or a Lakota reservation. It’s that kind of out-of-the-box thinking that makes Champs live up to its name.
The CEO of this gem, Erik Emanuelsson, incorporated it in July 2018, Texas Secretary of State records show. The Swedish native explains that he played soccer while in college, and then, when describing his sales expertise a few sentences later, highlights his “orientation towards goals.” But we’re pretty sure it’s not a callback to the soccer reference. Meaning, the dude blew a perfect goddamn pun. What was he thinking?
That’s not the only thing that ticked us off about this site. Like, half the time, it doesn’t even seem like Emanuelsson was trying, and this shows how no one at Credico or elsewhere even bothers to proofread or critique these poor independent contractors’ sham sites. Here’s what we mean: the site contains testimonials from two “clients” who don’t exist anywhere outside of the Emson website.
“Steven Clark” of “TNC, Inc.,” says Emson “has propelled our brand to a whole new level.”
Now, c’mon. Was there no one else at 7211 Regency Square who could have taken Emanuelsson aside and said, “You know, bro, you shouldn’t really intimate that you’ve done wonders for a company’s brand awareness when anyone can Google that company and instantly discover it does not exist outside the Emson Global Space-Time Continuum. Because that would mean it’s either made-up, or Emson really isn’t crushing it. You gotta show people you can crush it, bro.”
Finally, when we tried reaching Emanuelsson through Emson’s email, we wound up hearing back not from him, but from Miguel “Champs Executives” Campos Carrero. He stated in a text that he was Emanuelsson’s “business partner.” In a brief phone chat, he said we could email him some questions, but then refused to give his address. Oy vey.
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For a closer look at the manual: