Volume 7, Issue 3, May-June 2003
Michael Levy, Esq.
Why Nice Guys Shouldn't Finish Fast
Editor’s Note: Michael E. Levy is the president of the Law Offices of Michael E. Levy, a law firm in Stafford, Va. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University and has been a practicing attorney with a strong knowledge of the film and glass industries for 20 years. He will be writing on legal issues relating to the window film industry.
Joe Niceguy owns Niceguy’s Film & Tint in a quiet town in the Southwest. Joe does some auto work, but really began to expand his residential film services seven years ago when a slew of big builders started putting up upscale homes and retirement communities just outside of town. Joe figured the new homeowners would jump at the chance to add a new product to their homes that would make them more comfortable and reduce their energy costs. He also expected a number of seniors in the retirement community would want film to help darken their homes and make it easier for them to see.
Joe figured right, and within two years his residential business was booming. He’d hit upon what he thought was a perfect sales strategy: some direct mail and radio coupled with telemarketing. When a coupon came back from a mailer or someone called the toll-free number they heard on the radio, an appointment would be made and Joe (or his son, Joe Jr.) would go out to visit the potential customer quickly.
Once there, they’d make a bit of small talk, take measurements and figure estimates. Joe brought his laptop and a very small personal printer with him. He used the laptop to show a Power Point presentation about energy savings and to figure estimates. His potential clients were ecstatic and usually ready to sign right away. That’s where the printer came in handy, as Joe was able to customize his pro forma template, print it on the spot and hand it to the happy customer, eager to sign. Usually, he’d try and sit at the kitchen table because he’d read a long time ago that people who welcome you into the kitchen usually have a high level of trust. Joe’s sales pitch was very low-key. His references were great. He usually got the job.
Until this past January, Joe’s business was so busy that he was booking film jobs three and four weeks out. But, by then, the builders had maxed out their land, the economy had slowed and he’d picked up most of the business available in the retirement communities. Joe got to the point where he’d even have some holes—some days with no work scheduled—which were driving him up the wall.
So he felt really lucky when the 30-ish couple he went to see early last month wanted their job done right away. It was extensive work in one of the most expensive houses in town. Joe produced a contract in their living room on Monday night. They readily signed and gave a deposit, telling Joe he could start whenever he wanted.
“Well,” said Joe, stretching the truth a little, “I had a postponement and could start tomorrow.”
“Great,” he added. “It’s a big job, so there will be four of us here for two days. We will be done by Wednesday.”
And they were. It was a beautiful film job—expert and first-class. Joe was thrilled with the work and came by himself Wednesday night to pick up the rest of his check.
He was expecting accolades when the door opened. Instead, he saw the missus with a deep frown on her face.
“My husband needs to talk to you,” she said. “Follow me.”
The Bad News
“Joe, great to see you, thanks for coming out,” hubby said. He was seated in his media room, having a big martini. “We have a big problem. My boss told me today that my territory is being cut—I’m a salesperson for Racketeer Aluminum Siding—and I just don’t think we are going to be able to afford the film job after all. I’m sorry to have to tell you this … “
“But .. .” Joe stammered, “but … it’s done.”
“That’s beside the point,” said the husband crisply, handing him a piece of paper. “We want to rescind the contract. Here’s your notice.
“My sister-in-law is a lawyer,” he said as Joe’s heart sunk, “and she said that every contract signed at home has an automatic three-day right of recession clause, allowing us to cancel it. And since we are within the three-day time period, that’s what we are doing—we are canceling it. We will be by tomorrow to pick up our deposit. Please have a cashier’s check ready.”
Joe tried to think fast but his brain felt like warm Cool Whip and his body like it had been hit with a stun gun. He remembered vaguely hearing something about a right of recession for contracts signed at home, but he thought the law applied to slippery aluminum siding salespeople (like the hubby) or shady magazine salespeople, not to ethical, respected business people like him.
“I’ll get back to you after I speak with my attorney,” said Joe in the whisper of a voice that was all he could muster. He walked down the steps doing quick calculations of the cost of all the labor and materials for the job. He went home to think.
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Now Joe may not be a real person, but his situation is. It happens many times a day across many industries, including the window film industry. His predicament is courtesy of the federal “Cooling Off Rule” promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In general terms, the rule says customers have until midnight of the third business day after a contract was signed to cancel if the contract (for goods worth more than $25) was either made by a company selling door-to-door or if the contract was made anywhere besides the seller’s usual place of business. Every one of the 50 states has a similar law in place.
If you’ve had a situation like Joe’s, please let me know the circumstances and how you handled it. Or if you have an idea for Joe, please let me know that, too. You can write to me at email@example.com. We will talk about the actual law, and how you can protect yourself from this situation in our next issue.
Michael E. Levy is the president of the Law Offices of Michael E. Levy, a law firm in Stafford, Va. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University and has been a practicing attorney with a strong knowledge of the film and glass industries for 20 years.
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