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Custom order gone bad


#1

I have a customer who saw a one of a kind necklace at a show about 3
or 4 years ago. She called me this spring excitedly talking about
the necklace she remembered. It had been sold awhile ago, and wasn’t
available. She asked me to create a new one, with full artistic
license as long as her piece was “made in the same spirit” of the
first (a gold granulated apple in a silver frame, all on a gold
chain). I keep extensive notes on pieces, so I knew I could create a
similar one. She said there was no deadline.

All of my custom orders are paid half up front, non-refundable (to
cover materials and some of the labor), and the rest due upon
completion. I accidentally quoted the original price, forgetting the
increase in gold prices from a few years ago, but stuck to my quote
b/c it seemed the right thing to do. She sent the check, I made the
piece. Long story short, when she came to pick up the necklace and
pay the balance, she said it was nothing like the original and
refused to accept it. When I asked her to specify the difference,
she wasn’t able, just that it didn’t “feel” the same or “speak to
her” like the first one did.

I offered to make some small adjustments based on what she said she
disliked (free of charge), she agreed to it at first, then a couple
of days later refused and demanded her deposit back, saying it was
nothing like the original. I sent her a photo of the original as
well as her necklace, which are nearly identical. I have a copy of
the deposit receipt which clearly says it is non-refundable. She had
no response to either the photos or receipt. There are lots of
little details to this story that show she seems to have a weak
grasp of reality (one example is claiming I had no contact with her
during the time I created it when phone records can show several
calls initiated from my number lasting several minutes each time I
talked to her and updated her on my progress).

I take pride in the craftsmanship and detail of my work as well as
my own integrity. I am an honest person who works very hard doing
what I do. She seemed very nice and gushed with excitement early on,
but now is threatening to notify the BBB (who just sent me a letter
of report about her claim), my local chamber of commerce, and every
show I’ve attended, telling them about my “horrible way of doing
business” - unless I send her the deposit. I refused, and told her
unless she paid the remaining balance on the piece within four weeks
I would attempt to sell it to recoup my losses. I have been shaking
in my boots, not used to extreme confrontation like this, but also
unwilling to be a doormat.

What to do? What have others done in situations like this? Do I need
to respond to the Better Business Bureau letter even though I’m not
a member? Is there any negative side to telling them what really
happened?


#2

Jennifer,

Documentation, documentation, documentation, show whoever, your
documentation and all your perceived problems will disappear, the
customer is completley in the wrong. Every retailer has been there.
Don’t back down, there is no good will to recover :))

George


#3

Don’t fret. The BBB is pretty worthless in their abilities. When’s
the last time you or anyone you know inquired with the BBB before
making a decision. I have yet to meet anyone who has. If your
talents and integrity are as good as you say, then no need to worry
as nearly all will read you for what you are. And most individuals
will read her for what she’s worth. If you are in business for any
length of time, you’ll have more horse’s _ _ _es like this one.
Ignore them and move on. Ya win some, and ya lose some. I’ve been in
retail jewelry business almost my entire life, and I’m busier than I
care to be most of the time, because I don’t dwell on the losses,
only plan to improve the odds of winning.


#4

Jennifer,

This is such an unfortunate situation, it is really not fair after
all that work that your client is unwilling to follow through. That
said the first thing you need to do is contact a lawyer in your area
and find out what your legal situation is with respect to this
client. Consumer protection laws are often going to favor your client
and you may not be able to enforce your no refund contract. Then once
you have some legal advise you can proceed with confidence. You may
be able to solve the whole thing with a letter from your lawyer. But
any advise you get from us is going to be of limited use without
having a lawyer look at your contract with your client as these laws
vary by location.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#5

Jennifer,

I am so sorry to hear about the problem you are having with one of
your customers. I would suggest that you contact the BBB and give
them the whole story, sending along whatever documentation you have.
I believe that once they have the facts they will see that there is
no justification for the woman to demand a return of her deposit.

I may be entirely wrong, but it sounds like a shake-down to me.

It is a shame that you have to go through this and I hope that it is
all resolved to your satisfaction.

Alma.


#6

Tell them exactly what happened and let the chips fall where they
may. Don’t worry about it. Secondly, learn from this!

I Always show my clients all waxes that I carve for them to show to
their customers. Once they give the approval of anything custom…
They own it! If I carve a wax, and they approve it, they own it. They
can freely take it to anyone else to complete it if they want, But
like I said before, once they approve it, they own it. Any Minor
alterations are free of charge with a re-approval! AND I stay away
from ANY jobs that are stated “We trust you, use your imagination,
etc.” All Jobs are done on an Approval basis, Even if you have to
mail to them express overnight after its carved. You could even show
pictures of the progress being made, but the bottom line is to let
them approve at different stages, that way there are no surprises.
Factor it into your costs! After all, it is custom designed jewelry,
and anyone but a fool would want to see the progress.

Best of luck!
Steve Cowan
Aristae Designs
www.aristadesigns.net


#7
What to do? What have others done in situations like this? Do I
need to respond to the Better Business Bureau letter even though
I'm not a member? Is there any negative side to telling them what
really happened? 

In this situation I believe it is easy for you to understand that
when a customer is unhappy, and they seem unreasonable, when they get
frustrated because you will not do what they want you to do, they
resort to threats and use fear tactics to try to get control.

Have I been thru this? Yes.

Did I try doing everything to bend over backwards to be reasonable
with someone who would not cooperate in any way other than to demand
that I do what they wanted or they made it clear with the dreaded
threat that they would let everyone know I did them wrong. Yes. At
some point you have to tell them to go away and report you, andsue
you, and tell all their friends.

It is emotionally devastating to be threatened.

However, I find that I have to stand up for myself and not allow
another person to subject me to judgment, blame, or criticism. You
have all the records to support yourself that you completed the
custom job as communicated and agreed to by the customer. Don’t let
the customer play on your guilt.

I recently had this happen. A woman came in and put a deposit down on
a ring to be made for her mother-in-law.

This economy is hurting me, and I had to let two part time bench
jewelers go. My wife had just gotten out of intensive care for viral
meningitis after 5 days in intensive care. Somehow I got
overwhelmed??? and I did not start the job let alone finish it.

So, in comes the lady with her mother-in-law and hubby to pick up
the ring. I realize I had spaced it, and I tell her that my wife was
in the hospital and I did not get it done and I can have it for her
next week. (I had three other custom jobs for engagement and wedding
jewelry that I did not space on.) Mrs. Lady starts SCREAMING that I
had promised that it would be done before her mother-in-law had to
fly home. Tells me how incompetent I am and what a terrible business
person I am, and then the threats, in a picket, with a sign.

I apologize and tell her the best I can do is refund the money if
next week is not an option. She continues to scream and threaten
while her mother-in-law has a dream-like spacey not all there smile
on her face, like nothing is happening. She is still going on, and I
said I think she had made it very clear that I was totally
incompetent and a bad business person, and asked her if she needed
to add more to that or was she done?

Evidently Hubby is a nutless wonder who seems fine with observing
live “reality tv”, watching his wife judge, threaten, and criticize
me with a blank look on his face. I"m thinking her gets what I got
and worser! I had the credit card in my hand to do the refund, she
keeps going, and then she says "If your wife is so sick why are you
not at the hospital? (Might be that our health insurance is over
$2000 a month…)

I put the card on the counter and I said, “Now you get out of my
store and you can sue me for the deposit, get out right now.” She
says she won’t sue. I said, The only way I will do a refund is if she
leaves the store right now, out, get out, out the door now or I will
not refund the money. She leaves, I give the refund to Mr. Nutless.

I did not mention this to my wife weeks after, did not want to
stress her anymore than she was by being flattened by her illness.
She said she was glad the customer did not have my work.

At some point, you just have to forgive yourself and let it go, after
you beat yourself up sufficiently.

P.S. I had a salesgirl standing right next to me, observing this
transaction. On the job training!

Richard Hart G.G.
Denver, Co.


#8

Yes, yes, yes - respond to the BBB. Does not matter that you are not
a member. Your business will likely have a profile on their site
after this, if it doesn’t already.

The BBB administrators are reasonable people. In your letter of
response, be aware that it will be forwarded to your customer. Attach
a copy of the receipt showing the non-refundable statement, etc. They
will send you notice that they have forwarded the response to her,
and then another letter once they have closed the file or she
responds again.

Good luck, and be sure to reference their case/file number, and
respond well before the deadline. Some BBB sites let you see other
businesses’ response - look there for examples of other
letters/responses, and see if your business profile exists.

Lynn


#9

Fun times.

The Better Business Bureau can only accept complaints against its
own members here…Ottawa CA…So she can try to complain but she
won’t get too far. They do not register complaints for businesses
that are not members. (I learned that from being on the other side
of this coin)

You are well within your rights as a business to keep the deposit
and ‘try’ to make the client happy. If not… You have a right to
recoup your costs plus a PIA non-refundable tax!..hence making up
for the mis-quote based on the increase in base costs.

You want to do what will still allow you to look yourself in the
face the next day and be proud of you as a person and
businesswoman…even if your knees ARE still knocking together!!!

Paz
Simone


#10
I refused, and told her unless she paid the remaining balance on
the piecewithin four weeks I would attempt to sell it to recoup my
losses. I have been shaking in my boots, not used to extreme
confrontation like this, but also unwilling to be a doormat. 

Well, Jennifer, you have a terrible situation, but it’s not going to
just go away, sounds like. I do special order for a living, mostly,
and my policy is simple: “I guarantee to make you what you asked me
to make. I do NOT guarantee that what you asked me to make is what
you thought you wanted.” IOW - you ordered it, it’s what you ordered,
pay me. It’s toughto be where you are, but remember that she sought
you out and asked you to do this, of her own volition. The biggest
problem, in my mind, is that your design and communications were too
vague. “Just make it something like that…” That’s OK in
silver where your cost is ten bucks, but not in gold. THAT is your
mistake - not really nailing it down to begin with.

Meaning it wasn’t good business practice, not that it’s your fault.
She was there, she accepted everything, it’s done. She just doesn’t
get it, and it probably will get worse before it gets better, I’m
afraid. I had a comparatively amateur client who didn’t like
something, and started telling influential entities about it (never
talked to ME), as with you and the BBB (of which I am a member,
btw). I was proactive - I copied an especially fine pic of an
especially fine piece and wrote what was essentially a PR piece, and
sent it those very same people. Made her look like the child she
was, frankly, and it all just vanished overnight… That’s one
thing, anyway…


#11

I think everyone who does custom orders has at least a couple of
these tales. It’s not your fault!

I think if you show all entities who inquire the info that said that
deposit was non-refundable, as well as any other basic supporting
documentation (but you needn’t flood them with it), they’ll
understand that the “customer” is trying to get something to which
she is not entitled.

And yeah, re-sell it- it sounds lovely. :slight_smile:

Some people start out with the intention of cheating. Others start
out sincere, but then decide that they can’t afford it, or no longer
want it, or have read about how everything is “negotiable” these days
and so want it for a third price. Sometimes they give warning signs
up front; sometimes they don’t. That is why deposits are not
refundable!

So- stick to your guns- you’re in the right here. Best of luck! Feel
free to contact me off-list if you like; I’m also really
conflict-averse, so I understand how hard it is.

Amanda Fisher


#12

The one and only nice thing about crazy customers is they tend to
show there craziness to those they tell about your “HORRIBLE WAY OF
DOING BUSINESS”. Personally I would not worry about the crazy lady
and stick to your guns. Sounds like you have done everything to
protect yourself in this case.

Yes reply to the BBB. Note that the only power the BBB has is to
share the compliant filed with anyone who asks them for info on you
(not exactly earth shattering". I think telling your side to the BBB
fits well with the integrity you have shown in this deal this far.
You have nothing to hide.

Jon Daniels
The Ring Lord Chainmail
http://theringlord.com


#13

Just thought I would relate the following experience that we had
with our local BBB. To me it puts their importance into
perspective…

We opened our store in April of 2007. We filed all of the
appropriate paperwork with the state, city, etc in January and
February. In March 2007 we were busy renovating our leased retail
space to be ready for our opening day. Midway through March I
recieved a call from the Better Business Bureau. I was asked if we
would like to pay a large sum of money to join. I was then told that
there were several outstanding complaints against us. Wow, what a
shock, since we had not served the first customer yet!!! When I
asked for copies of the complaints in writing so that we could
respond, I was told we had to join first.

Anybody smell a scam???/

Needless to say, we did not join.

We have not recieved any complaints from the BBB since.


#14
Midway through March I recieved a call from the Better Business
Bureau. I was asked if we would like to pay a large sum of money to
join. 

How sure are you that the caller was actually from the BBB?

Al Balmer
Sun City, AZ


#15

Joining the BBB is as much a waste as joining a Chamber of Commerce.


#16

this really puts it into perspective peg, but let me tell you, when
u are in business u can get complaints before u even serve a
customer, maybe this is how they seem to think that they can call up
just about anyone and tell them there are complaints? i dont doubt
for a second that there might be a total scam running with this BBB,
but let me ask you (or anyone for that matter) this, if you were to
accomplish quite a large business and you got this call would u pay
the money to know about the complaints? well a lot of people would,
and dont u tink that those complaints could be real? now the real
question here is if they are giving fake complaints, why havent they
been reported to the government for fraud? eh?


#17

A few thoughts…

Selling the piece brings up ethical issues. You got paid half. If
you sell it at full price you making more than you would in a fair
deal. The legal implication may be that if you later sold the piece
at full price then you have no longer suffered a loss therefor a
refund of the deposit is warranted. That’s over and above whether the
non-refundable aspect could with stand a challenge.

but now is threatening to notify the BBB (who just sent me a
letter of report about her claim), my local chamber of commerce,
and every show I've attended, telling them about my "horrible way
of doing business" - unless I send her the deposit. 

Seems to me she is just about coming out and saying she knows she
has no legal case, or at least at this point no intention of pursuing
one. Big grain of salt on that one.

Sometimes you just let things go. Not because you want to but
because you have to. Weigh how much money is at stake, how much
energy you have to put into defending yourself, how much time you
lose when you could be doing something productive.

I once had such a learning experience. It dragged out seemingly
forever and escalated at each turn. I felt my integrity was on the
line. It distracted me intensely.You know what, finally I realized it
just was not worth the aggravation. I had other fish to fry.

Ask yourself…is it the money, or is it your self esteem?


#18
if we would like to pay a large sum of money to join. I was then
told that there were several outstanding complaints against us.
Wow, what a shock, since we had not served the first customer
yet!!! When I asked for copies of the complaints in writing so that
we could respond, I was told we had to join first. 

Almost sounds like Washington, the IRS, and the mob, wanting
protection money to protect you from them, huh?

Ed


#19
Just thought I would relate the following experience that we had
with our local BBB. To me it puts their importance into
perspective... 

Speaking of the BBB- they called me today pressuring me to join
because people had been trying to find my rating & since I’m not a
member I don’t have one. I asked what that would do for me and they
said that I’d be rated and then people would be reassured that I was
on the level. I told them I was a tiny business and didn’t think it
applied to me. I always thought it sounded like a waste of $$$.

Any comments on why it’s important?


#20

I’ve sent my response to the BBB, so we’ll see where it goes from
here. I did check out their national database just to see what the
average Joe could see during a search, and it strikes me as a little
useless. Yes, you can see if there have been any complaints about a
business in the last 36 months, and see what category they’ve been
assigned to, and even a vague idea of how it was resolved. But you
can’t see any specifics, and even if a complaint was stamped as
"resolved", it could mean the complaintant never responded after the
business stated it’s position.

Ironically, the BBB sent another letter I received the same day
asking me to join their organization. That does feel a little
weird.

Neil brought up a good point that I also considered. Since I was
paid half for the piece, I will not be selling it at full price, but
discounting the amount I was already paid. My conscience is too
strong and loud for me to be able to sleep at night after pulling
something like that off, so as far as I can tell I am ethically
covered. And yes, my reputation and character alone are worth
fighting for in this; it’s not about the money anymore.

Thanks to everyone for their insight and advice - and especially for
the boost in morale. I can’t say thank you enough!

Jeni