The “Garage Door War”
© 2002 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2002
Author: Tom Wadsworth
The “Garage Door War”
An Editorial by Tom Wadsworth
The cover story for our spring issue, “Dateline NBC Investigates Garage Door Repairmen” was like a lightning rod for attracting hot comments from all over America.
Besides the Letters to the Editor that we printed (on page 24), we also received dozens of comments from several other dealers who did not want to be identified, sometimes for fear of retaliation.
I’m not kidding.
Here are some of their comments. At their request, I’ve used fictional names to protect their identities.
- Texas “Jim.” This Texas dealer said he formerly worked for the door company exposed by Dateline NBC, but he was terminated because he “only charged $250 for springs/rollers.” When Jim picked up his last check at that company, the owner told him, “There’s fixing to be a garage door war.”
- Atlanta “Bill.” Over the phone, this Atlanta-area dealer gave me an earful about sleazy practices in his area. He has been in the industry for 17 years, but he also declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.
His primary problematic competitor, he said, has the same owner as the one featured in the Dateline investigation in Dallas. “They lure the customer by saying they charge $49 for a service call,” he explained. “Then they run up the bill with $400-$600 in charges, if not more.”
Since that competitor gets most of his business from huge Yellow Page (YP) ads, Bill and his Yellow Page rep checked into how much that competitor is spending in YP ads. They figured the amount at $400,000 per year.
“Our primary source of advertising has become useless,” he added. “The only way they can spend that kind of money is by ripping off the consumer.” He believes the telephone directories are partly to blame.
- “Herb and Ruth.” This husband-wife team witnessed the same tactics reported by Bill. They’ve tried to keep track of all the business names used by the problem dealer. “They change names to avoid backing up their warranties,” Ruth explained.
Herb and Ruth also tried to compute how much money the problem dealer is spending on huge YP ads for all their “different” door companies. They, too, figured the amount at $30,000 per month (that’s $1,000 per day).
“Several dealers have dropped their Yellow Page ads because they can’t compete,” Herb added.
When I asked them if they were willing to send a Letter to the Editor, they also regretfully declined for fear of retaliation.
- Wholesaler “Cathy.” Cathy is a pleasant customer service rep at large garage door wholesale operation in a major southern city. I called her because I heard she was eagerly passing out copies of our Dateline story to her door dealer customers.
At first, Cathy was excited to talk to us and confirmed that a major problem dealer was one of their customers. “We’ve been aware of their shoddy practices for years, but we can’t control what they do,” she said.
She then abruptly told me to hang on for a minute. When she came back, she said she was instructed not to talk to me any more. She explained that her company didn’t want “to lose a good customer.”
- Homeowner “Debbie.” Debbie, a single mom of four, told me about her sad encounter with a problem dealer in a suburban area.
Debbie’s garage door began acting strangely one Sunday night in February. Fearing that the door might fall out of the tracks, she went to the Yellow Pages and found a large two-page garage door ad that included the Christian sign of the fish.
That dealer, “Chuck,” told her that the Sunday night trip charge was only $75 and that he could be there within the hour. When he arrived, Debbie was occupied with several house guests, so she specifically told Chuck to give her an estimate before he performed any work.
Chuck ignored her. He charged her $125 for the service call, $250 for a Sunday night charge, $275 for two springs, and $98.50 for 10 rollers, for a total of $748.50.
He also said he wanted to come back Monday morning to replace the operator for $355. Debbie was furious and refused to pay. He, however, refused to leave without payment.
She gave him a check, but on Monday, she stopped payment on the check. After calling some neighbors, Debbie called in a recommended dealer, “Don,” who fixed her door problem for about $250. Don reported that the operator was fine, and that Chuck had installed the wrong springs.
A Reluctant Messenger
I’d rather publish good news. It’s truly painful to expose stories like this in our industry magazine.
I’d rather emphasize all the good dealers who daily satisfy their customers and make us all proud to be a part of this industry. But when you begin hearing reports like these, it’s hard to turn a deaf ear to the problem.
The obvious question is, “What can we do?”
If you believe that a competitor is engaging in illegal or unethical activity, don’t just sit back and complain. As someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
This issue offers a few suggestions (see “Who Ya Gonna Call?” on page 32), but I hope this is only a beginning. I believe that our industry associations could have a meaningful role in curtailing sleazy activity.
Some associations have developed strong ethics policies that their members are expected to follow. Others have developed reasonable procedures for handling complaints of unethical practices.
A Team Approach
Working together, IDA and DASMA could develop public awareness campaigns that help consumers identify reputable dealers and installers. When a problem develops in a certain area, these associations could provide professional-level public service announcements, press releases, and template advertisements to warn consumers in that area and to spread the word about reputable business practices.
The industry, acting jointly, might also have some clout in getting the telephone directory industry to do a better job of screening advertisers and monitoring advertisements for false and misleading statements.
It’s possible that our industry isn’t large enough to handle some of those ideas. But I think it’s worth a try.
Someone has apparently declared war on the garage door industry. Do we want to respond?
Editor’s Note: If you have a comment on this editorial, please send your remarks to: email@example.com or fax to 815-285-2543.