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No More House Calls

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 7, 1998



BOSTON

If you move, they won't come.

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Forget the hand-delivered basket full of free refrigerator magnets, rubber jar-lid openers, and pens swathed in names of local dentists and insurance agents.

After 70 years and 50 million house calls, the Welcome Wagon is going the way of the encyclopedia salesman.

As of Jan. 1, the smiling ladies (OK, 2 percent are men) who once were the first faces to welcome new folks to town, will knock no more.

Yes, it's tempting to be nostalgic and bemoan the loss of another community icon. But let's not get too dewy-eyed. It's not the passing of a purely do-gooder organization. Welcome Wagon is a business, owned by Cendant Corp. Those fine women are paid to gather local advertisers and go knock on the doors of new parents and newcomers to deliver a neighborly pitch.

Such door-to-door sales have clearly hit a societal wall. In America, nobody's home. Fifty-seven percent (and rising) of married couples have duel incomes. And half of all new homeowners dine out four times a week - they're not even home at supper time (avoiding telemarketing calls, no doubt). If they are home, they're not eager to invite a stranger in after dark.

"It's out of our control," says Welcome Wagon spokesman Chris Jones. "If people aren't home or don't want you in their home, it's hard to stay profitable."

The solution? You guessed it: The Internet.

Next year, if you want a basket of free goodies, go to www.welcomewagon.com. About 500 reps will continue to lure local advertisers but the "basket" will be mailed.

The other option, if you can't live without Welcome Wagon visits, is to move to Canada. Same name, same modus operandi, different company. Or, if you're feeling entrepreneurial, start your own service: Welcome Baskets? Conestoga Freebies? Knock, Knock Guess Who?

* We're home. Let us know how we're doing. Write to the Homefront Editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com