La-Z-Boy gives repeat customer a royal pain

Consuming Interests

February 20, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Columnist

It is often said that it costs businesses five to 10 times more time, energy and money to win a new customer than it does to keep an old one.

If only someone had reminded La-Z-Boy Inc. of that before longtime, loyal customer David Dansberger showed up at the company's Golden Ring showroom.

The 51-year-old salesman came in to replace the tattered, worn recliners in the family room of his Middle River home. He had no doubt what he was looking for, since he had no complaints about the first, second or third sets of La-Z-Boy recliners he has owned. For the fourth go-round, Dansberger and his wife had their hearts set on two top-of-the-line chairs complete with heat, air lumbar support and massage function.

Opting for one in burgundy leather and the other in a green-and-tan patterned fabric, the Dansbergers were assured they'd receive them in time for Christmas.

The grand total for that deluxe seating: $3,392.21.

"We put half down and the other half we'd pay upon receipt," Dansberger said when we chatted this month.

"We had ordered them in plenty of time for the holidays," he said, "and were originally told in early December that they would be delivered in time for Christmas. We are still waiting for the chairs."

Disappointed, but not yet fuming that they had not received their Christmas gift to each other in time, the Dansbergers went back to the store after the holidays to make inquiries. Store employees apologized profusely and called the regional warehouse in Odenton, only to be told that there was a shortage of motors used to build the power recliners, Dansberger said.

The factory, Dansberger was told, was "waiting for a part." Loosely translated, that meant, "Sorry, but don't hold your breath."

To make up for missing the December date, the store offered Dansberger free delivery when the time came to ship them. On Jan. 6, the store manager told Dansberger he'd get $200 off the total price, but yet, no delivery date.

Two days later, La-Z-Boy's regional manager left a message on the Dansbergers' phone to say, yes, you guessed it: The chairs still weren't ready.

A Jan. 20 letter Dansberger wrote to Kurt L. Darrow, La-Z-Boy's president and CEO, produced no response. On Feb. 6 when the Dansbergers contacted The Sun, the couple had waited 18 looooong weeks since the day they plunked money down.

That's far longer than the industry standard of eight to 12 weeks and preposterously longer than the four weeks or less that La-Z-Boy says it normally takes to deliver most orders. By this time, David Dansberger didn't need a massage chair for his aching back as much as he needed a fistful of aspirin for his aching head.

"I am thoroughly disgusted with this situation," Dansberger said.

When I contacted the Monroe, Mich.-based company on Feb. 7, La-Z-Boy's customer service manager was quick to respond. Within 24 hours after I forwarded Dansberger's previously mailed letter to CEO Darrow, I was told the chairs had arrived at the Odenton warehouse that week and set for delivery that weekend.

So what was the holdup?

La-Z-Boy Treasurer Mark Stegeman blamed the delay on out-of-stock fabric. He said he wasn't aware of a shortage in motors, but added that any supply issue can interfere with production schedules.

"Usually, we do a better job with our information system so we can figure out if we have everything in stock and, if not, how much time it will take, so we can give customers a fairly accurate delivery date," Stegeman said.

"We're doing our best to try to make our furniture gallery stores easy to deal with and to deliver a comfortable, customized product quickly," he said.

The thing is, Dansberger didn't have a problem with the local store and regional warehouse. Both tried their best to be helpful.

He didn't have a problem with the product since he was happy with the previous sets he owned. And once Christmas delivery passed by, he also didn't have a problem waiting some more - as long as someone, anyone, could give him an actual estimated time of arrival.

The beef he had was with headquarters.

Most of La-Z-Boy's 4,000 stores across the country are independently owned and operated, so it's somewhat reasonable to understand how a breakdown in communication could occur between a dealer and the factory. The Golden Ring store, however, is owned by La-Z-Boy Inc., so you might expect more efficiency.

Instead, Dansberger said local employees complained to him that the factory was being "completely uncooperative" and that they could get no information from corporate. The only solutions they could offer, Dansberger was told, would be a $200 discount with an indefinite wait, a full refund and no chairs, or a choice of two chairs from the showroom floor.

"That is not the solution I wanted, since I wanted the chairs to coordinate in color like the ones my wife and I spent time picking out and ordering," Dansberger said.

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