One of Santa Barbara County’s largest employers – witha turbulent history of consumer complaints and a temporary shutdown –will substantially downsize throughout the remainder of 2008.
Bargain Network, which employs more than 400 people in Goleta, willshrink to no more than 75 by year’s end, said the South Coast officepresident, Samara Jaffe.
The company offers deep discounts on foreclosed homes and repossessedcars nationwide, and handles calls for them in Goleta. Those telephonesales positions will be sloughed off and integrated at BargainNetwork’s Houston and Montreal call centers by the end of the year.
Many of those telephone sales jobs are filled by University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara, students, and historically have had highturnover. Many students looking for part-time work turn to Bargain forquick cash, meaning hundreds of them will have to turn to other areaemployers for work.
“I think we’ll have a lot of students out looking for jobs,” saidMicael Kemp, director of UCSB’s Career Services. “I do think they hirequite a few of our students and there will be just that many fewerpositions for our students to select from. I think as the economycontinues to tank, we’ll probably see more of this.”
Bargain Network has been plagued by disputes throughout its 13-yearhistory. The Better Business Bureau reports that it has had 415complaints in the last 36 months and maintains an “F” rating.
Jaffe said the complaints were not a factor in Bargain’s Goleta downsizing and that she is not aware of any lawsuits.
“There are BBB complaints and we have a compliance department thataddresses all the complaints to make sure consumers are satisfied withthe resolution,” she said.
Bargain Network also had trouble with the Federal Trade Commission andwas charged with making a variety of misrepresentations to induceconsumers to pay $50 to $100 or more for auction or businessopportunity information. According to www.ripoffreport.com, the FTCtemporarily shut down the company – then under the name Century DirectMarketing – in 1999. Bargain Network was acquired by Connecticut-basedVertrue in 2004.
Jaffe said Bargain’s Goleta center will shift its focus in the comingyear to its Web site, and will put more emphasis on the real estatemarket. She said the location also will focus on IT, engineering,creative and media functions. By not refilling vacated telephone salespositions over the next few months, Jaffe said Bargain’s downsizingshouldn’t have an overwhelming effect on the Santa Barbara job market.
“I expect there will be some impact on the economy, but most of theemployees who are affected are part-time employees who work an averageof 20 hours a week,” she said.
Although she did not know what percentage of part-time employees areUCSB students, thousands have worked as telephone sales representativessince the company opened in Goleta in 1995 . “I’m pretty sure thatbecause I had a pulse, I got hired,” said former employee NeilKustanbauter, who worked as a telephone sales representative for ninemonths in 2004. He labeled his position as an “inbound telemarketer”and eventually quit because he “couldn’t live with myself at the end ofthe day.”
“It takes its toll on the individual,” Kustanbauter said. “It is verystressful. You’ve got numbers to make; your income is based on yourperformance.”
Bargain Network currently employs 968 nationwide. Of the Goletacenter’s 421 employees as of late March, 320 were part-time salesrepresentatives, Jaffe said. She said that number already has shrunkduring the last couple weeks as “people have left on their own.”