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Problem Customer, possible wear and return


#1

I’m having some problems with a customer. Here’s my unusual
situation.

I’m a historical jeweler, and I make a lot of the crowns and
coronets for Renaissance Fairs and renaissance reenactment groups
worldwide. It’s mostly one off and commissions, that range $500 to
$4000. My portfolio website is http://www.darkridgejewels.com

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like I make custom prom dresses
for a living. Some people will buy these pieces with the sole intent
of wearing it once, or for the season, then insist on returning it.
Sometimes even purposely breaking it for the sole intent of returning
it as defective. This happens often enough that I actually have that
wording written below my “All Sales Are Final”, and "No Refunds"
clause on both my website and commissions contract.

However, there’s always that difficult customer…

I have a young actress, mid-20’s, that’s purchased a low-end sterling
silver crown, and has worn it for four weeks. She emailed Monday
evening to tell me one of the pearls just mysteriously broke off,
complaining she couldn’t wear it over the weekend, and it was an
emergency to have it repaired by Friday. Now, the pearls are in
bezel cups that are soldered onto a cast piece. I had checked it over
before she bought it and it was fine. The cast piece would’ve have
to been bent severely in order to break. But, it can happen so I
always try to give the customer the benefit of doubt.

I politely explained my policy, but said I would repair it for her,
there was just no way to do it properly in only three days. I’d have
to disassemble the crown, pull the gems, solder, etc., and it would
take at least a week for repair, even under rush circumstances. I
also politely questioned the breakage. She got upset, insisting she
had to have the crown to wear for the next four weekends, and she
was highly disappointed that it just mysteriously broke after only
wearing it four times. Also, she was overly defensive that she did
nothing that might have broken it.

Having a gut feeling this wasn’t going to go well, I bent over
backwards, and told her to drop it off at my home studio the next
morning. I’d see what I could do to make temporary repairs so she
could wear it for the next four weeks. I would repair it properly
when she could part with it for a couple of weeks, but would not be
able to give her an estimate of the repair charges until I examined
the piece.

She seemed okay with that, and set up a time to drop it off
yesterday. She never showed, and hasn’t called or emailed. Now, she’s
not returning calls or emails. I went to the fair’s website to look
for any alternate contact and lo and behold, there’s
several photos on there of her wearing it this past weekend…after
the time she’d said it broke!

I seriously wonder what she’s trying to pull? I have a feeling she
was going to try the old ‘break and return’ trick. In my mind this is
fraud, plain and simple. Akin to buying a prom dress, wearing it with
the tags tucked in, then pulling a seam and trying to return it as
defective. Unfortunately, I don’t think this practice is illegal,
just highly immoral. Does anyone know if there are any laws here to
protect artists/small businesses?

I’d greatly appreciate any input.

Lyn


#2

As a fellow fair jeweler stick to your policy. No returns All sales
final.

If she becomes a problem send her via certified mail a copy of the
contract she signed with the policy in question highlighted.

Teri
Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry
www.corneliusspick.com


#3

Lyn.once again this rears it’s ugly head:

It is illegal. It is fraud. .file in small claims court tomorrow> Go
to the venue and take photographs as soon as possible. Put an add in
the local paper for photos from the past weekends event And offer to
pay up to a a buck per photocopy with datestamp

clearly written contracts, signed by all parties are essential.You
have exercised due diligence in printing them on your contracts ( if
you’d like email me a copy off Orchid and I’ll be more than happy to
review it and offer any suggestions/revisions that might be to your
advantage if necessary- include your state of residence so i get it
right!)

print up a sheet of costs and hand it out when a custom order comes
in so everyone is on the same page as to charges, policies,repairs,
materials acquisitions, and other important concerns regarding
custom work…i know the Renaissance Faire crowd/racketeers well and
some are very unscrupulous, dishonest, and downright exploitative of
the people that vend in their spaces /villages etc.they do not
deserve latitude.

Since you have a no return on custom work policy consider adding a
discount possible for defects in workmanship- NOT BREAKAGE OR
CUSTOMER FOLLY, after having an objective 3rd party present with both
of you to inspect the piece…a jewelery professor or educator (
university level) or jewelry appraiser, or professional mediator,a a
few examples of potential objective 3rd parties…or simply say you
will inspect and make a decision and all decisions are final and
indisputable in any circumstance…

As i said,take her- immediately to small claims court- 25 bucks to
file, print the pictures off the site, get any photos from the faire
that are published, available etc…( you tube,newspaper,etc &r other
venues- leave no stone unturned)…and inform her, regardless of
whether or not she shows up again…you wasted time and energy
already , that costs money in your business, plain and simple…if you
can demonstrate she wore it after claiming it was broken, and it was
not it is an attempt to defraud you as a business person., you also
have civil suit grounds, but that’s a longer conversation and
depends, partially on your state of residence and the location of the
venue that the faire was held.

you are correct in your intuition- TRUST IT…do not hesitate to
follow through with this. It will not affect your further business
at all. next time its a pearl coming off issue politely suggest that,

  1. you are backed up and 3 day rush jobs begin at a 200.00 fee plus
    2x the labor costs and whatever materials are necessary for repairs.

  2. suggest she apply a bit of gs hypo cement or superglue gel to the
    pearl’s back with a toothpick, that should hold it in place until
    you have time to rework it AFTER going over the contract with her

Since she clearly defrauded you, or attempted to, inform her that
there are two options. as you will be pursuing litigation on the
matter…: you recommend she find another jeweler that is unaware of
her deceptions, because to do more work would be a conflict of your
interests and you are unwilling to deal with her further OR tell her
you have sent courier by way of the mossy path the Elven king and
you are certain his assistance is forthcoming in the matter…It
doesn’t look good in the realm as far as her name that is being
whispered among the trees and carried on the wings of raven to the
centre of dark world that seeks to make her a Liege…or some equally
absurd fantastic declaration…perhaps on parchment with a nice 1/4"
velvet ribbon and wax seal binding the scroll!..

Try perhaps, once more to contact her via email and get as much
in writing from her as possible…Ask her to describe in
detail what happened and why she believes you should be responsible
for repairing anything…and any other comments she would care to
add…let her hang herself…

Truth, Lyn, is molten…I firmly believe that and being an actress
she is clearly a drama queen. so.with that in mind, don’t offer
anymore services. keep your contact at a minimum if at all, and seek
the damages due you for lost time, lost work, and whatever other
activities and engagements she kept you from fulfilling…through
phone calls, blocking out time to meet with her, purchasing
additional repair materials, lost time at other projects, personal
anguish caused you based on the caliber of work you do,…etc…

at 20 she needs a lesson in how the real non-dramatic, non fantasy
world works…while it may not be your chosen mission to perform it is
now at your feet…handle it professionally…


#4
She never showed, and hasn't called or emailed. Now, she's not
returning calls or emails 

Then you don’t really have a problem. She’s not pursuing it,
apparently.

The time it soaks up to handle disgruntled customers is part of
business. You can’t sue for it, you have no financial loss. It is not
illegal for a customer to be unhappy with a purchase.

If however she does try to take you to court, (for a pearl? gallery
giggles
) you can demonstrate the contract and your willingness to
accommodate the grievance in a reasonable manner. But it would be
wiser in that case to make some sort of settlement, mostly so you
don’t waste more time with court dates and preparation. You say it
was a low end piece so how much is it going to cost you to fix it?
How much is it going to cost you to get mired in an endless
emotionally inspired feud? I can tell you from experience the second
route costs way more.

BTW, you have a nice little niche carved out for yourself. I would
assume you don’t have a whole lot of competition, but you also maybe
depend on word of mouth to some extent, since its a small market.
Protect your good name. Its always the best business decision.


#5

Lyn,

It’s never comfortable to suspect (or know) that you’re being taken
for a ride.

However, if your clientele seem to be consistently trying to do that,
it may be telling you something about demand in your market… Have
you considered creating a “loan” instead of purchase outright option
for some of these pieces? For example, someone could “lease” a crown
for a season (or an event), similar to the way that stars "borrow"
pieces from jewelers for events like the Grammys and Oscars, except
that your clients would be paying for the privilege.

Otherwise, I think I’d just prepare my ammo (which you’ve already
done by investigating) and IF she shows up, simply present the
evidence, point out your no-return policy, and quote your price for
repairs of HER crown. You are under no obligation to repair it for
free.

Good luck!
Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs
Hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry


#6

Well, the story took an amusing turn today. I got an email from the
fair manager, who filled me in on the rest of what happened. The
young lady in question was fired from her acting job last Sunday
night. In a fit of anger she threw the $500 crown on the ground,
resulting in the breakage. The manager then informed her, the fair
WAS going to buy the crown from her before she did that. So my gut
feeling was right. She had every intention of trying to return it for
her money back after wearing it for four weeks then breaking it. My
no return policy put a damper on her plans. Thankfully, the fair did
purchase the crown from her this week, at a discount, and they’re
going to go without a queen for the remainder of the season. They’ll
be shipping it back to me, and paying for the repairs. So, it looks
like the problem’s resolved itself.

I really didn’t ever think this would go to court. The whole thing
is a bit ridiculous, especially for a pearl (yeah, that made me laugh
too)…It’s not worth it. I was more concerned about the validity of
my business policies, and if anyone had similar experience with this
kind of problem.

Normally, when I sell crowns to fairs I deal with the fair directly.
They call for bids, have a budget, a committee, and long list of bid
requirements including weight, height, extensions, specific artwork,
etc. Same thing when I deal with any other group, or individual
commission. The contract involved in this type of transaction
provides a certain level of protection to both parties. When there’s
not a contract involved, I clearly state my policies on my website,
or a sign in my booth. I’ve always understood this to be my
front-line of protection against a problem customer.

I stopped having merchant booths at the renaissance fairs after last
year because of the hassle. There seems to be a large group of people
that frequent these things that think it’s perfectly okay to buy a
piece of jewelry because it goes with their costume, wear it for the
day, then hassle you to return it. I don’t have that problem at the
couple other historical events/juried shows I do, just the renfair
crowd.

Karen’s idea of “leasing” a crown was brilliant! Thank you Karen! I
wholesale to some fair costume rental companies, and I’ll definitely
be suggesting this as my next sales pitch to them. They can buy it,
lease it out at the fair, and it’ll pay for itself in a few weekends.

Thank you to everyone who responded!

Lyn