Monday, July 31, 2006

There's More

You likely found this site because of my compaint about a plumber. Just so you know: There is more to my life and this blog than trying to settle a business dispute. If you read far enough, you might even find something interesting.

If you are one of the few who made regular visits before I became a blogging cause celebre for what I've coined my "viral anti-campaign," hang in there. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Whatever reason you're here, you're welcome to stay as long or as little as you like. And I'll try not to assault your ears with alliteration too often.

Chris's Plumbing Responds

I have detailed my unsatisfactory experience with Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, FL here. I eventually complained to the Better Business Bureau.

Chris's Plumbing Inc. has responded. You can click on the image below for a full-size JPG of the actual letter. The text follows that. I have re-typed it verbatim, including the various misspellings of my name.

Better Business Bureau of West Florida, Inc.
Post Office Box 7950
Clearwater, FL 33758-7950

RE: Case #67063013 McQuiston, John

Mr. McQuistion hired our services at the rate of $75.00 per hour with a one-hour minimum. Upon arrival and an assessment of the job, the technician, Jose, advised Mr. McQustion that there was a needed gasket missing from his kitchen sink faucet. That without this gasket the faucet would not get a proper seal and the use of Plumbers Putty in its place would stain the Granite Counter tops. It was also recommended that he not re-use the disposer.

Mr. McQuiston elected not to have the work done; Jose advised Mr. McQuiston that he'd be charged the one-hour minimum. Mr. McQuiston opted to have the existing garbage disposal re-installed and the drains re-connected. He chose not to have a faucet installed at this time.

Quite frankly, I feel Mr. McQuistions complaint is exaggerated. Home Depots quote of $270.00 is reasonable. The spelling of my companies name isn't relevant to this matter. Jose was correct in telling Mr. McQustion that we will not warrant used or customer provided materials. My technicians are not commissioned; they have absolutely nothing to gain by selling labors or materials. The price on the faucet and disposer at Home Depot is $158.52, our price is $171.44 plus tax. That's a far cry from double and certainly competetive considering Home Depot "Is such a big company".

In closing, Chris's Plumbing Service, Inc. maintains the highest standards of workmanship and materials. We value fairness and customer goodwill and appreciate the efforts of the Better Business Bureau. However, Mr. McQustion received the goods and services on the attached invoice, therefore he is not entitled to a refund.


Chris Hoffman

The BBB site asks, "Do you accept the response from the business?" Not exactly. As Samuel L. Jackson once said in the movie Pulp Fiction, "Allow me to retort."

Thank you for allowing me to respond. I mentioned the peculiar spelling of Chris's Plumbing Service only so you would know that the grammatical error came from the business' name and not from me when you searched for a match in your records.

True, Chris's Plumbing Services did perform the service listed on the attached invoice. The dispute centers on the fact that the service that his technician Jose showed up to perform was substantially different from the one I hired to have done. I accepted such service only under threat of having a lien placed on my home if I did not consent to it.

Mr. Hoffman fails to mention the coercion.

Mr. Hoffman does not address why no one at his office told me that, in addition to the hourly charge, they would want to replace brand new parts, why they would want to do this or that I would have to sign a waiver if I didn’t buy their new parts to replace the new parts I already had. I was in no hurry. I would have welcomed a complete explanation of the process.

The reason, it appears, is simple. A more complete explanation would have made it clear how much more expensive the job would be and it would have cost them the sale. Better to deliver the news once the technician is on the clock at $75 per hour and Chris’s can claim that he sent someone to render service and that if I decline it at that point I still have to pay the $75 minimum or I am the one in the wrong and subject to legal action. Joanne Hoffman said as much when she threatened to have a lien placed on my home if I declined the service.

Perhaps not illegal, the tactic still stinks.

Mr. Hoffman got creative when he compared prices. The technician Jose never mentioned a price for a disposal, only a faucet. "I have one just like this one on the truck," he said, holding my faucet in his hand. The price would be about $120, he said. This was a basic, bare-bones model that you can buy at any Home Depot or Lowe's for around $50. So, yes, the faucet Chris's was trying to sell me was double the cost. Rather than exaggeration, I was being charitable in describing the cost as only double.

(I have replaced the faucet so I don't have the exact model and number at hand but I can ask my home builder for it if we need to verify it.)

Mr. Hoffman also fails to explain why, though the faucet and disposal he wanted to sell were readily available, Jose had to wait 15-20 minutes (on my $75 an hour) for a part I did agree to have installed. Chris's Plumbing Services is 0.75 miles from my home. By car the trip takes about two minutes. I'm sure the meter was also running for the 15 minutes I spent speaking with Joanne protesting in vain earlier that morning in addition to the 15 more minutes it took me to reach her.

The job Home Depot would have done for $270 was a flat fee for the entire job. Before hiring a plumber, I connected the left-hand side drain and pipe to the sink myself and later installed the faucet myself so I ended up paying Chris's $282 for a fraction of the job that Home Depot would have done all of for less money.

I do not expect to ever get any money back. However when Chris's Plumbing Services, Inc. says it values fairness and customer goodwill, I want to make others aware of what this company's idea of fairness and customer goodwill is.

John McQuiston

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Don't Look Now

Uh oh. Somebody gave Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, Florida a bad review on CitySearch. I wonder who that could be.

At least that review isn't the number one result for anyone who googles "Chris's Plumbing Service." Want to guess what is?

Apologies to the plumbing companies with the same name not located in Riverview, Florida. They are out there and they might very well give you professional and courteous service at a good price. It's worth double-checking to be sure.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The FAMOUS Chris's Plumbing Service

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flame begins to catch
The wind will blow it higher

Peter Gabriel sang those words a long time ago in a song called "Biko." It was about anti-aparteid activist Stephen Biko, who was arrested, tortured and killed by South African authorities in 1977. The line quoted above predicted that aparteid was doomed to collapse under the weight of popular disgust with it.

The context is obviously completely different here. But the words rang true in the sense that what I called my viral anti-marketing campaign against Chris's Plumbing Service has begun spreading like the proverbial wildfire.

The first gust of wind in this case is friend of mine named Ike Pigott who works in public relations. (See his blog here.) He saw my post about my less-than-satisfactory experience with Chris's Plumbing Service and the means I'm using to fight back.

His business is helping companies and organizations avoid bad press and he how had an example of how any disgruntled customer now can use his own "press" to spread his message. He passed it along to a friend of his in the PR trade, who noted it on her blog.

The news spread from there. Another blog picked it up. Soon the story had gone international!

So what difference does it make if a bunch of PR-types use my story as acedemic discussion fodder? Well, none. Unless you happen to google Chris's Plumbing Service or Chris's Plumbing Services (with an extra "s" at the end of "Service")and see what you get.

The flame has caught and the wind has begun to blow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Good Habits Start Early

Got an e-mail from one of my brothers yesterday: "Do you have the picture of me drinking from Dad's beer when I was 9-months-old?"

I'm sure you get that question from your siblings all the time.

In fact, I do have that picture. I used it in the family documentary I finally completed recently as my mother remembers a hot summer day, a cold beer and a thirsty infant who proves that, for some people, beer is not an acquired taste.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Plumber File (con't)

Chris's Plumbing Service has until tomorrow to respond to the Better Business Bureau regarding my complaint (detailed here).

Belated thanks to a girl from texas for digging up Chris's subpar record.

It appears that Chris and Joanne Hoffman, co-owners of Chris's Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services), don't care too much about their record with the BBB. Don't worry, guys: I'm not through with you yet. Next will be a report to the state of Florida's consumer division, which, like the BBB, has a convenient online form I can use.

There will be more. You've heard of viral marketing? I've posted on craigslist message boards and I'm looking for means to do viral anti-marketing about this place. Why they thought they would screw me and I'd just take it lying down, I have no idea.

Someday, neither will they.

Not Yet

This comes to you from the Riverview Branch of the Hillsborough County Public Library. Why pay for the Internet when there's free Wi-Fi less than a mile from home? I got my library card too. I didn't see the Spanish language instruction tapes but they did have DVDs offering guitar instruction and music CDs. Come to think of it, I could probably rip the CDs right here on my laptop while sitting here. Think they'd get mad at me for that?

I have not yet bought a new digital piano. Research continues. Prices online aren't any better than ones I saw at the Guitar Center store I visited. There's an anti-competition suit waiting to happen somewhere.

My last visit to Guitar Center I played a Martin DC16GTE. Price: $1449. (Again eerily similar to prices offered everywhere else I looked later.) The guitar sounded like magic even in my unskilled and out-of-practice hands. Wow! I might have to re-order the "list." And I better hope the car lasts longer than originally planned. What with the guitar and the piano and the couch and the end tables and the master bedroom furniture, it's gonna be a while before I can afford a new one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Plumb This

Due to my recent bad experience with Chris's Plumbing Service here in Riverview (detailed here), my kitchen had new granite countertops but its sink still did not have a faucet.

I could call Chris’s Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services) again but if that were the only way to make my sink fully functional, I would be the guy you see rinsing his dishes in the retention pond behind his building.

Cured for the moment of the wish to hire anyone to do anything, if I wanted a faucet in my kitchen sink, I was going to have to install it myself. Probably not a good idea considering my history with this home. Everything I do seems to be wrong thing. Hiring Chris’s Plumbing Services, for instance. And while I'd like to think I was handy around the house, all I had really ever done was strip and re-finish some old furniture and hang window blinds.

The Moen faucet, with side spray hose and soap dispenser went in just like the directions said they would. The directions didn’t actually say anything; they were all pictures. The first time I tested it, it worked fine but I had not installed the side spray hose. Oops. I turned off the water and disconnected the plumbing where I’d have to put in the side spray hose connection. The water left inside the tube drained out all over me. Oops. I hooked it all up and tested it again. The connection where the hose met the main water line leaked. I turned off the water and took it apart. Water drained out all over me again. Oops. I added more sealing tape, re-connected it and it worked. It worked!

And did not leak.

I made a mess when I tried to pour 18 ounces of liquid soap into the dispenser, which appears to hold 16, and I had to towel dry the puddles I made when disconnecting the plumbing but it otherwise went well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You're Not Taking One For The Team

Memo to people who show up to work with a hacking cough that won't quit:

The first time we ask if you want some cough drops, it's out of concern for you. The second time we're hinting that the racket is distracting us from doing our jobs. The third time we offer we are subtly suggesting that we don't care what it takes -- including your death from emphysema -- we just want you to shut up.

When you're at work sounding like you're trying to cough up a Mini Cooper, our sympathy ends in the first ten minutes. If it's going to be an all-day affair, do us a favor: Stay home and annoy your family instead of us. We have work to do.

Thank you.

Happy for a Friend


You made my day. I am so happy for you.

Stay well.


That was my reply to a friend of mine who e-mailed me yesterday to say that she and her husband were expecting their first child in January. The news overjoyed me. She is a wonder woman. Beautiful yet not full of herself. In fact she's the type who never gives herself enough credit, which only makes her more appealing. Knowing her, she's not celebrating her pregnancy because she's too worried that she won't be a good enough mother. That's too bad because she'll be great, just like she is in everything else she does.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Plumbing Complaint 2

As "A Girl from Texas" suggested, I have contacted both Angie's List and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about my experience with Chris's Plumbing Service (aka Chris's Plumbing Services).

It appears that you have to be a member of Angie's List to submit a report about a company but I was able to file the BBB complaint right online.

I don't think anything will come of it -- at least not for me. My goal is to spread the word about this outfit so others know about its tactics before deciding whether or not to engage its services.

As I said, maybe this is par for the course for plumbers. If so, I'll have to search much more carefully next time I need a plumber. All I know is that I felt much better last night after making my posting on craigslist.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Plumber Problem

My new home is coming along. My stuff is all in the place even if it appears to have been organized by a windstorm. I had a bad experience with a plumber recently, which I decided to share on craigslist. Here you go:

CONSUMER ALERT: If you live in the Riverview, FL area and need to hire a plumber, BEWARE the following company:

Chris's Plumbing Service, Inc.
aka Chris's Plumbing Services
6404 U.S. 301
Riverview, FL

Phone: (813) 623-6830
(813) 671-3993

I visited their offices on U.S. 301 July 6 to ask about having kitchen sink plumbing re-connected in my home. I had granite countertops with a new sink installed and needed the pipes re-connected. This is a new home so the "old" pipes had not been used.

Why replace countertops in a brand new home? You ask. It was thousands cheaper to buy the home with the included laminate countertops then hire Home Depot to rip them out and install new granite ones than it would have been to have the builder install them in the first place.

Home Depot would have done the re-connect for a flat fee of $270 but the sales person recommended hiring a plumber on my own because it would be much cheaper. He said Home Depot only charged so much because of liability issues. "We're a big company so people like to sue us," he said.

Actually, it turns out that people like to sue Home Depot because it farms out work cheap subcontractors who do shoddy work but I didn't know that then.

I go to this Chris's Plumbing Service (and, yes, it's spelled "Chris's" on its business card) because it is less than a mile from my home. I explain to them what I need and they say they'll come out the next morning. I ask for an estimate of what it will cost, even mentioning that Home Depot could do it for $270. One of the plumbers -- I don't remember his name because I didn't think I'd need to -- says that the charge is $75 an hour for labor. "Even at three hours, you'd be saving money," he says.

A plumber named Jose, according to the patch on his shirt, shows up the next morning and immediately proceeds to tell me that I need a new faucet (the faucet's already new) and a new garbage disposal (the one I have has never been used) and new pipes and fittings and that this would be a three or four hour job at $75 an hour plus the cost of the parts. If he uses any of the "old" parts, I'll have to sign a waiver absolving them of any liability.

Smelling a rat, I tell him that I don't want the service. He says that he has to charge me $75 for coming the 0.75 miles (I measured) to my home essentially to make a sales call. I call Chris's office and talk to Joanne Hoffman. (She and Chris Hoffman are listed as co-owners). She was in the office when I visited the day before and did not mention any of this stuff Jose's telling me now. I tell her that this is not the service I wanted and that I should not have to pay for what appears to me to be a rip-off. She says that if I refuse to pay that she'll put a lien on my property. I don't know if she can legally do this without my getting a chance to dispute it or not but I don't have time at the moment to research it.

I cave in. I do not buy a new disposal and I don't have the faucet installed at all and it still costs me more than $50 in parts plus three hours of labor, which included my call to the office to argue with Joanne plus another 15-20 minute break while Jose had to wait for a part to arrive.

Why it takes a quarter of an hour to drive three-quarters of a mile, I don't know but -- and this will shock you, I know -- Jose had the replacement faucet and garbage disposal he wanted to sell me [at twice what you could buy them at Lowe's or Home Depot for] sitting on his truck available instantly!)

So instead of paying Home Depot $270 to do the entire job, I pay Chris's Plumbing Service $282 to do part of it. I had already installed one of the drains in the sink and will still have to install the faucet myself.

Perhaps I am an ignoramus and this is standard and accepted business practice by plumbers but it felt like a con job to me. If you feel similarly, warn people about how Chris's Plumbing Services operates. I can't get my $282 back but I can inform others of my experience with this outfit so that they don't have to endure similar frustration.

If you have some spare time and feel so inclined, you can do something too: Call Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview at (813) 623-6830 and let them know that you are now aware of their tactics and that you are going to take your business to a plumber that deals with customers more honestly.

That's pretty self explanatory but I can't tell you how angry this experience made me. I was careful not to call them crooks, creeps or criminals to protect myself from charges of libel but if readers were to draw that conclusion I would not feel motivated to disabuse them of the notion.

I'll look for other ways to spread the word. Then, of course, I'll let Chris's Plumbing Service know that I didn't take their treatment (Mistreatment? You decide.) without a response.

The plumbing story continues: