Dateline Dallas: One Year Later
© 2003 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Spring 2003
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Dateline Dallas: One Year Later
One year ago, we published an 8-page investigative report of an unethical dealer problem in the Dallas area. NBC’s Dateline had first exposed the problem on their Jan. 4, 2002, program.
Since we published our report, we’ve received more phone calls, E-mail, faxes, and letters about this problem than about any issue we’ve ever covered. And they keep coming.
Instead of letting this important issue die, we decided to return to the four Dallas-area dealers who were involved in Dateline and in our spring 2002 cover story. Our questions: Did the media exposure deter unethical activity? Has the door business in Dallas changed in the last year?
Just like last year, Phil McGregor of Plano Overhead Door, Gary Staats of Action Door & Repair Specialists, and Raymond Kimbrell of Plano Garage Door & Opener were glad to talk to us. But AA Able Overhead Door again refused to talk to us or return our calls.
What has changed in the Dallas-area door business since the Dateline investigation a year ago?
McGregor: I've been in business for 25 years, and I'm astonished at the variance in pricing out there. You see spring jobs for $150, and others doing it for $400-$800. I used to consider myself a high-end dealer with higher prices, but now I'm not even close. Some customers now ask us, "Why are you so cheap?"
Staats: I think Dateline scared a lot of people. I think a lot of dealers lowered their prices for fear of getting on Dateline.
Kimbrell: Some dealers tell customers over the phone that a service call is just $35 or $45. Then they charge large bills for labor and parts.
Have you changed any of your business procedures or operations because of the media exposure to unscrupulous door dealers?
McGregor: If you don't put a big ad in the Yellow Pages, you will not stay in business. Our ad budget is $160,000 per year and most of that goes to the Yellow Pages.
I'd guess that at least 80 to 90 percent of the installers in this area are subcontractors. Therein lies the problem, and I don't know what to do about it.
Staats: I'm trying to make our business "Dateline Proof." All our customers get all three options: low, medium, and high price options, with a warranty suited to each level.
Kimbrell: We have two full-page ads in Plano. We need to do that just to compete. If I dropped down on my advertising, I probably wouldn't get any new customers.
AA Able Going Strong?
In 2002, Dateline NBC broadcast that AA Able’s manager told his repairmen to "Work those tickets so they stay high. Stay around $400."
One year later, are they still doing it? Gary Staats reports, "I hear they give bonuses for the highest ticket of the week and for the highest ticket average for the week."
In the Dallas area, AA Able still appears to go by several names, such as America’s Choice Overhead Garage Doors, AAA Allstate Overhead Door, Garage Door Service, A ASAP Garage Door, America’s Alliance Door, and perhaps others.
Gary Staats says that Dateline hasn't slowed down AA Able. "They’ve actually expanded to more cities," says Staats. "Their people tell me that they’re now listed in about five more cities across the country than last year." Staats thinks those cities include San Antonio, Seattle, Houston, and Phoenix.
Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president with the Better Bureau of Metropolitan Dallas, says the BBB has received 894 inquiries about AA Able in the last three years. The inquiries include 48 specific complaints, and 40 of them have gone unanswered. She says all three numbers are shockingly high.
And so it goes.