THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Leg up: Chair squabble rocks new resident

Kellie O'Connor and her husband and son are among the many urban refugees who have recently moved to our area.

O'Connor's parents, in fact, retired to Lake Monticello several years back, and a job offer to her husband six months ago from a local company gave Kellie and her family the chance to join them– and at the same time to escape the long commutes and stressful, over-crowded living conditions of Northern Virginia.

Ah, sophisticated country living in Charlottesville, a town both hip and narcissistic enough to bill itself a "World Class City"– but also one with small-town feel, and where local emporia succeed based on the repeat business that flows from a good reputation rather than on volume from a large anonymous population.

That was precisely the feeling O'Connor had when, after a long search, she finally found the perfect kitchen set for her new home at Easton's Furniture in Keswick. 

Easton's is the kind of place where, after O'Connor noticed one of the chairs was slightly out of kilter, the cashier provided a discount without being asked.

It's the kind of place where, a few months later, when O'Connor noticed several other chair legs coming loose from the seat, the owner, Bernie Easton, said to bring them in.

It's the kind of place that would provide the kind of "go-the-extra-mile" personalized service they don't provide in Northern Virginia.

The kind of place that ...

[Cue abrupt screeching noise of phonograph needle skipping across several inches of vinyl, aurally signaling something has gone wrong.]

"I called, and the owner, Bernie Easton, was agreeable at first, but it went downhill from there," O'Connor says. "When I went in, I basically was hassled and told, ‘We don't guarantee stuff we sell,' and, ‘We don't have to fix these for you, but we will.'"

Easton, O'Connor says, "was rather rude about it all."

And, O'Connor adds, when she returned to pick up the chairs, "This time my Dad was with me, and he was rude with him also."

Besides the service without a smile, O'Connor contends that the chair legs were not properly fixed.

"They needed to be glued," she says, "and it looks like they just drove a nail in there." 

"I am mad enough that I decided to warn everyone I could about going and buying furniture at this place," O'Connor recently wrote on a local Yahoo message board.

Not surprisingly, Bernie Easton sees the situation differently.

"She's been back here six times," he says. "She and her daddy are nutty as a fruitcake. Just tell her to come on back, and I'll give her money back." 

"She'll be doing this the next three years," he continues. "Just tell her to come on back."

O'Connor laughs off the "fruitcake" remark, noting Easton is "even more of a character in person" than on the phone. As for Easton's offer, however, she's less sanguine.

"The bottom line is that I love the set," she says. "It's nice to know [I can get a refund], but I don't think I'm going to bring them back." O'Connor is adamant that "putting more nails in [the chair legs] didn't fix them." She says she will try to fix them on her own.

O'Connor had every right to expect that the chairs were properly constructed and that they would be repaired if they were not. Easton's offer to accept return of the merchandise is more than many businesses might do, but it doesn't address the other issue. 

Based on Easton's comments, it seems that a personality conflict came into play once O'Conner expressed dissatisfaction with the initial repair. That doesn't justify the store's alleged attitude, but it suggests this may not be typical of how Easton's typically operates. 

Easton says his store has been in business for 40 years. Usually that kind of longevity doesn't come from giving dissatisfied customers their money back but from satisfying customers.