Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 5 June 2005
A Dealer's Perspective
Guaranteed for Life... and Beyond
The Story Behind the Warranty
by R. Mark Reasbeck
I would like to take you back to Saturday, the 13th of November 2004 (imagine a little harp music in the background similar to what David Letterman uses when he goes back in time). One of the batteries in our delivery trucks had died earlier in the week and I was returning the dead battery to Sam’s Club to reclaim a whole seven dollars. The traditional “form line here” sign was visible and a line was already in progress.
I joined the line, and soon found myself baffled by the man in front of me. His back to me, he had two gigantic bags of candy under each arm, enough to inflict some serious cavity damage to an entire grade school. I watched as his cell phone rang. This should be good, I thought.
Scrambling to answer the phone, the man placed one of the bags on the counter, at which point I did a double take. It was Halloween candy! Two full bags of potential trick or treats, unopened, unused and obviously unwanted. I checked out the calendar on the wall. Yessir, it was November 13th. Ok, now I knew I had to watch this production and see what would happen at the “Candy Counter.”
When it was his turn, the Sam’s lady listened to the man’s story, his hands waving and pointing in every geographical direction. He stopped talking, she smiled, opened the register and gave the man his refund for candy that technically expired on October 31st, 2004.
If you have read my columns before, you know I couldn’t let this one slip by me. However, I didn’t even have to ask the question when the counter lady volunteered with, “I know, why did we take back the Halloween candy? Because it’s our policy to take back anything that has not been used, even seasonal items.”
“Wow,” I said. “What if I bought a Christmas tree from you, was very careful not to damage it, and brought it back to you on December 26th saying I hadn’t used it?”
Ah-ha, I had stumped her. She said no one had ever tried that one, then promptly gave me my $7.00 and said goodbye.
But Wait, There’s More
Having one of our wettest winter’s on record, spring was very much anticipated this year, until, she called. March 2nd, 2005, over the intercom, one of my office staffers told me there was a customer that had some warranty “issues” (there’s that word again).
“Hello, this is Mark, can I …” That’s as far as I got.
“I have window problems … just bought this house … and we have 15 failed pieces of glass … and I know they’re under warranty … and want some one to come measure and replace them …” (The dots here represent “blah blah blah.”)
“Is this a new home?” was my first question.
“No, we are the second owners, but I know the warranty is transferable …”
“Do you know the brand of windows?” She told me. “Do you know when the house was built?”
Ready? “Nineteen hundred and eighty-seven!”
“ … ” (These dots represent the long pause of silence from me.)
“Well ma’am,” I finally said, “those were out of warranty in 1992, and in the 90’s most warranties went to 10 years. Even with ten years, you’re still seven years over.”
Here comes the classic line: “You mean you’re not going to stand behind your product?”
That was not the right button to push with me. Trying to remain professional, I asked how long she thought the warranty should last.
“Lifetime,” was her response.
“On what basis?”
“A product should last longer than it has,” she answered.
People will say anything so they don’t have to stick their hand in their wallet and pull out some green. The long and short of it, someone had tinted most of the windows and that had caused them to fail, which would have voided even a lifetime warranty.
If You Act Now …
What is it with furniture ads? They all look like they were printed at the same place for the same furniture, just changing the name of the stores. A few weeks ago one of them caught my eye. “Queen mattress set $299,” it read. Right below that were the words “30-year warranty.”
So do you really think that this company can make a mattress set and sell it for 300 bucks and it will last 30 years? Of course not. They are betting that this mattress will be sold in a divorce sale, given to Good Will or once it’s worn out, some college student will be happy to use it as an upgrade from his futon. They also know the vast majority of people on this planet will not be able to find the receipt in just a few hours. Bottom line, they could claim “100- year warranty” and it would have the same results.
Go Ahead, Quote Me on This
Here’s my take on this whole situation. I believe we have now become a Hyundai Society. This is where you buy the most inexpensive product and expect the warranty to follow you into the grave. The story goes that Hyundai Motors saved themselves from bankruptcy by offering the cheapest car in America with the best warranty allowing 100,000 mile coverage.
Again, how do you sell a $10,000 car and cover a warranty for that long? Simple: they’re betting that the car will be sold in a divorce sale, given to Good Will or some desperate college student will be happy to use it as an upgrade from his futon.
Warranties, it seems, have become a front just to sell a product. In turn, the consumer has been trained by this and it has become a major component in the decision-making process for a purchase.
Before you climb all over me, I like warranties too, but during the course of day-to-day window business we are finding that things like a child running through a screen door are called into us as a “defective door” covered by warranty. Builders also take advantage of this.
As a subcontractor, I am required to offer a one- to two-year warranty on new homes, but we get calls eight years later for sliding glass doors that won’t lock. That particular homeowner was in a panic because we would not come out to adjust her door for free. After being asked, “What am I supposed to do?” by the homeowner, my service person, Kelly, finally told the lady, “This is why Home Depot exists; buy yourself a screwdriver and turn the screw at the bottom of the door to raise or lower the door.”
I’m in Good Company
If you aren’t familiar with a man named Joe Turner, he is the premier expert on customer service to the building industry. Besides a wealth of information on customer service, he is also a great resource for website links pertaining to construction defects, mold and connections to people in the home building industry. I bring up Joe Turner because we have similar views about warranties. I think that the builder sets the boundaries and limits for the homeowner’s expectations of warranties.
If a homeowner calls a builder five years down the road with a screen door that has fallen off the track, and they respond, the homeowner will test the limits in year six, seven and beyond. There is a fine line drawn between really desiring to keep your customer happy and allowing warranties to last for life … and beyond.
I don’t know about you, but I’m out of words.
R. Mark Reasbeck is owner of Legend Windows for the West, a Las Vegas-based window dealership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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