Hulk Hogan/Troy Aikman
Hulk Hogan, perhaps the most famous pro wrestler of all time, has an undeniable blue-collar appeal. Ditto for his co-star in recent Rent-A-Center commercials, Troy Aikman, former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
We are not going to pretend athletes -- real or make-believe -- should be held up as having particularly altruistic motivations. But still we have to wonder why, given all the endorsement opportunities they might have, they aren't more picky about the businesses they are associated with.
Rent-A-Center is hardly a fly-by-night operation. In business since 1986, it owns and operates more than 3,000 stores in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and Puerto Rico.What gets the goat of many consumer advocates, however, is that its business model -- get that TV, computer or sofa you want for easy weekly payments -- encourages people to impulse-buy their way to a very bad loan, one with a triple-digit APR. That big-screen TV could end up costing you twice as much at the end of a contract, and that's not even including depreciation and the fact that better, less-expensive models may hit shelves before it's paid off. If it gets paid off. The company's own data show only one-fourth of customers actually complete a purchase. Last year, Rent-A-Center agreed to a settlement with the attorney general of Washington state over its collection tactics. The company denied the state's allegations but agreed to a list of restrictions on its practices. Among the accusations were "cussing at customers, pounding on doors, peering in windows and threatening arrest." The state presented testimony from customers who said employees seeking to collect on debt went so far as to attempt to kick in the door of a couple's home and told an 11-year-old autistic girl being baby-sat that her mom could be jailed for theft. If you need a couch for two weeks between moves, great. But the rent-to-own options are financially reckless and targeted to a low-income audience. And that's something Hogan and Aikman, successful businessmen, should know better than to push on their fan base.