Follow Up: Consumers: Know what you are getting into!

Cheryl Kees Clendenon Business, Featured, In Detail Says 11 Comments

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Today’s post illicited some strong opinions and also “been there done that” stories. I commented as well, but then thought, hey why not do a follow up post with some of the things I tell my clients every day.  Since I am gearing many of my blog posts to really broadcast ” a day in the life” of a working mom, designer and small business owner, it makes sense to follow up with some of the thoughts I had when reading comments. I think consumers can  be  more “mindful” and make good decisions but this can also be helpful “ammo”, er, I meant “info” for any of you business owners or managers out there who run any type of business.Please join in the discussion and comment!

Consider this:

**News flash: we are still in a tight economic market.

Think carefully Mr or Mrs Consumer about buying items with pieces or parts that require specifications or large ticket items on the internet. Are you aware that 97% of online businesses fail? Where are they going to be when you need service, help finding a replacement part or just an answer to a question about your purchase? I have been in business in my community for 11 years and am busier than ever. What does that say? And, my business is well capitalized. No joke, I tell my clients this. I work this into conversations with potential leads also. They NEED to know I am in this business for the long haul and will be there for them if something goes awry. Now, more than ever, if you are a consumer, you should ask these questions. And, if you are a vendor/designer and have longevity, make this a key selling point. Because it is.

**Whether you like it or not, there is no free ride.

If you purchase online, you are required by law in most states to pay sales tax. It is grossly unfair that many retail online giants are CHEATING your state and county of taxes owed. Sorry but this is the truth. If you are a vendor or designer, you should point this out, Gently. Look here for some info and here. Many states are trying to rectify this immense problem with varying results.

**Along these same lines for bigger ticket items:

When purchasing a new kitchen design/cabinetry/appliances etc or same for bath or rest of your home, KNOW WHO YOU ARE GETTING INTO BED WITH FOLKS! This is so important and it simply flabbergasts me to see how little consumers know about the people they engage to remodel or build their home or supply items for it. Make sure they are going to be in business after they take your money. Even good and decent business owners are facing inordinately tough times and their business can fail. You may feel bad for them but if you have given them money and you do not have the product, you are going to feel bad for YOU. Research the people you are working with…it is EASY to do. And Vendors/Designers; does not hurt to do a bit of research on your customers either.

**If you have or need a builder, make sure he or she is licensed

What you say? Surely if he says he is a contractor ( or sub contractor who is required to be licensed) he is as he says? Nope. Around these parts, you can advertise yourself as a “contractor” or “builder” and have someone not even in our area carry the actual license. I will guess it is same in some other areas as well. To me, this is just plain wrong.  And, I know people in our community who have no idea that their builder did not carry his/her own license or even more scary, did not check to make sure the contractor had workers comp insurance and liability insurance. Living in hurricane hell, I witnessed first hand how many people got screwed by dishonest people taking advantage of a nightmare. Especially hard hit were the elderly. That is bad jou jou in my book.

**Know the  contractor lien laws in your county.

For consumers and for vendors. If you are a consumer and you are working with a contractor, ask him to get lien releases from the subs doing work. We rarely get asked this of our builders. The only reason I have ever heard given is ” well, we just trust folks around here”. Bah. I am trusting too but I am a two income family and my livelihood is predicated on solid business sense. If you are a vendor or designer, know the lien requirements. Know if you are “in privity” with a client. And, do not HESITATE to file a lien if you are owed money legitimately.

I have done it 3 times in 11 years. One client sarcastically said to me, “Well, I guess we will know not to mess with Cheryl” Yes that’s right and good. Point made. Losing 25k could wipe out a small business like mine. I have not worked this hard to lose. Your dang tootin I will file a lien if I am not paid.

**Remember when remodeling a home, building new, doing interior design work,purchasing items for the home that require installation  or a professional, you are entering into a relationship.

How can you have a relationship with an internet seller that will stand the test of time? You are generally talking about a nominal price difference to get a real, live. local person with expertise to help you. And, consider it a benefit that probably she or he may know your neighbor, kids go to same school, your mom sits on the same board, and so on. Same with Interior work. Let your designer purchase. Do not beat them about the head and shoulders over an item you “think” you can get less on “F bay”, “Over”, or “”.

**TALK to your friends, neighbors, coworkers. Ask them for referrals of good businesses.

And, if you are a vendor or designer, make SURE you are working this angle also. YOUR BEST CLIENTS COME FROM YOUR REFERRALS. This can be client or from subs. I am sure I do not have to tell anyone that..but be honest, when is the last time you sent a note to a former client? For a birthday, a special occasion, a news worth clipping from the paper, a  blog post via email??? We routinely send out thank yous each Friday to anyone I have not met personally that comes into our shop and buys anything. Even simply one knob. I enclose my business card, a 3/50 flyer and write a note on memorable note cards. I THANK THESE PEOPLE FOR COMING IN AND BUYING LOCALLY.  So, it is not enough as a vendor or designer to yak about buying local, you need to do your part to encourage the behavior by rewarding those who do, even with a simple “thank you”. It is the cheapest but best advertisting of your business you will ever do. And, pay it forward please. If you get a good referral, go out of your way to follow suit. It is the karma of construction.

Weigh in. What is your opinion? Do you have other helpful information along these lines?

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

~~~Henry Ford

Comments 11

  1. Cheryl,
    Great Post, you are so right. A big developer taught me the lein laws when I was in retail, and I too am shocked at how many designers do not understand their rights or the rights of their customers.
    Their is a business in Fort Lauderdale called “Builders Notice” that provides a valuable service. I used them years ago. I am sure there are others in other communities.
    Protect your clients and protect yourself. The true Karma of it all is that once you start talking about this to your clients, they will not mess with you.
    Great Post Cheryl Thank you.

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    Thanks Robert! Means a lot coming from you! We do reall talk about this stuff all the time to our clients. To protect both of us! I guess some of this will be controversial and hit a nerve on both sides but you know what? I think that is really the value of talking about all of this. An exchange of ideas! I want my blog to not just be lots of pretty pictures from our own jobs or swiped from the Internet but about real life issues in business and design. I hope it helps stimulate conversation on both sides of the coin. You know me from NKBA meetings ao know that I don’t shy from hot topics!! Wasn’t you and I trying to “fix” KBIS?? Ha!!

  3. Wow. Quite a stream of comments on this subject.

    I do agree with your comments somewhat. I am one who does not feel the need of an interior decorator (which could be because I really know, or because I simply THINK I know!), but if I did want that kind of advice, I would get a book on whatever subject interested me. This is what I have done with a number of the projects I have pursued over the years. It never occurred to me that I would waltz into an interior decorating firm’s showroom, knowing full well I had no intention of making use of their services, and then ask them a lot of questions. But that sort of thing really just goes back to ethics, which is something people either have or do not have.

    Home Depot has tightened up their return policies in recent years, but for a long time if you bought it and didn’t like it, no matter when or no matter how much you may have used it, you could take it back. Because of the woodworking I do, I use a lot of tools and materials, but I am proud to say I have NEVER abused this policy. To give just one example, I once needed a special bit to drive some one-way screws (they go in, but don’t come back out). I knew that it was a five minute project, after which I would never need that tool again. So I bought it, used it, and put it on the shelf in my shop where it still sits. The only way I could live with myself for taking it back would be if, for whatever reason, the bit did not do the job. However, it worked just fine, so the only honorable thing is to pay for the tool. Home Depot is not in the “free rental” business.

    I do shop online for various things. It really just depends on what I need and what is available here locally. Sometimes they just don’t have it here, or I can see that, after the first three or four failures at finding it that it’s going to be a long search to find the product, so going online is the way of least resistance.

    My fear with the sales tax controversy, though, is that it will somehow get around to where people are paying tax in two states for one purchase. I am in the process of setting up a picture framing business which I mean to pursue online. Under the current laws, I am only required to collect sales tax on California residents. Because you’re in Florida, if you buy from me, there’s no tax to be collected. Florida thinks they should get that tax anyway, but not many, as you pointed out, are going to send it in to them. As a businessman, if I have to know the tax laws of all fifty states, that would be quite a burden, and, I think, an unfair one.

    However, if you came to San Diego and purchased a frame from me in person, I would collect the sales tax, just as it would be if I had set up a brick-and-mortar outlet. I personally don’t have a problem with collecting California’s sales tax on every sale I make, regardless of where people live, even those who are in Germany (hey, it’s an Internet business!). Because, as I say, if this were a brick-and-mortar, that is what I would be doing anyway. Everyone who buys the product pays the sales tax. And that would be equity.

    As for the main thrust of your first posting, the looky-loos… those, in some respects, we will always have with us. It’s like the people who buy a dress for a wedding, wear it once, and return it. They applaud their cleverness to their friends, but, really, it’s a form of theft. You see a lot of that sort of thing, really, the people who get detailed plans for a project, then take them down the street and commission someone else, because he bid lower. I think all you can do is nip as much of it in the bud as you can, and then thank god that you are not yourself such a despicable human being.

  4. I am a homeowner who has done some minor remodeling in my house. I do some of the work myself, and hire folks for other things.

    I buy off the internet often.

    While I agree it is unethical to seek free professional design advice, then buy from a stranger, there is another aspect from a homeowners point of view. I will interview contractors for a job, or suppliers, and they will tell me the thing I want does not exist, or can not be done, or will cost 10 times more than my budget.

    They do that because they do not sell the product I want. Then I’ll go on the internet and find exactly what I’m looking for. It requires lots of legwork from me. If I’m doing all the research, I’ll buy from whoever will give me a good price on the item I want.

  5. Post

    Elizabeth: Thank you for your perspective. You are dealing with contrators or suppliers NOT a design studio. There is NO way a layman can know what I know unless their design hobby is a 24/7 job…like mine. We do sell products but NEVER do the products dictate the design. In fact, we can get just about everything because I am a boutique indpendent dealer so can get anything from a distributor. If you are interviewing professionals and they tell you that a “thing” does not exist, then by all means I understand your need to search for it yourself. And, if a client of mine wants to do the “legwork” and save money, by all means that is fine…as long as our understanding reflects this. It is different for every person. I have great ideas as reflected by my website. However, I cannot run my business on billable time only. No one can and have a viable business unless you work from home. So, the product angle helps and also ensures the designer is supervising the product selection etc and also warranties the product..which many online retailers do NOT. And, what people do not understand is that many many mfrs’ will NOT honor a warranty from an online dealer…if they do not have a B and M store also. This is truth. I have the letters from the mfrs. But, your point is valid. If you do the research and are not abusing someones shop with questions, looking at displays “in person” etc, then think there is no problem at all in buying online. Curious, though…do you pay the sales or rather use tax if not collected?

    Joseph: The prob with collecting sales tax is just as you say..knowing all the rules. That is why it should be a flat rate to even the playing field. Surely the govt can figure this out??? Or is it simply too much to ask???

  6. I don’t think it has to be a nation-wide flat sales tax. If California wants to charge 10% and Florida charges 12%, so what? The California legislature lives with me, and the Florida legislature lives with you, so they know what they should be collecting in their respective states.

    When the Internet began, the idea was that NO ONE would collect sales taxes on purchases as a way of building up Internet businesses. Now they have it to where, say, Rockler, which has outlets in my state, must collect California sales tax. Amazon, which does NOT have a California outlet, collects neither California nor Washington state sales taxes.

    California takes the view that if I bought it in Florida, either from an Internet purchase (in which I would pay no taxes) or from an in-the-state-of-Florida purchase (in which I would pay the Florida sales tax) that we’re supposed to be paying a California user tax, because California has, somehow, been robbed of the opportunity of collecting a sales tax on this item.

    The better and fairer and easier way to resolve this is for all states that collect sales taxes to collect said tax on every item sold in their state, and ONLY on items sold in their state. It means that California will lose out when I buy something in another state (which they mostly do anyway, because who really reports that sort of thing?), but on the other hand, out-of-state people who buy from California-based Internet businesses will be paying a sales tax that does them no good whatever—just as it would be had they journeyed to the Golden State and made their purchase in person.

    I think this is a solution that would be fair to all concerned, from state governments to brick-and-mortar outlets to Internet entrepreneurs.

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    joseph: As it is now, the sales or rather use tax is paid by the consumer for where they live….or supposed to be paid. No one I know does it as is kind of a mess to figure out…but you are supposed to do so. The way you are describing would mean that it would be best to always purchase out of state items and I do not think this is good either. I think the only way to level the playing field for small businesses or face losing so many more…is to have a sales tax on all items purchased on the internet. After all, if it is shipped to you, then the shipper is using roads and infrastructure in your state. Right? I know there are taxes for this too…egads…is so overwhelming. All I can say if from the perspective of a small business owner, it is tough to competed with “no” sales tax at all when my clients want to purchase a f acuet or whatever in some other state. And, you are robbing the state of the potential income. That is a fact. And what does it say about our communities? You live in a large city, I do not. So, if some of my fave businesses go under then that is a bad thing for our area…what if this happened to all small businesses…in all small towns??? Do you want us all living with you in San Diego??:):) Ha!!

  8. Cheryl,

    I guess I didn’t do a good job of explaining myself. There’s a ten dollar faucet in your showroom that you sell to someone who walks in to make the purchase. You charge him Florida sales tax. If that same customer orders the same ten dollar item on the Internet from me in California (I’m not in the faucet business, but we’ll pretend I am!) he will not pay sales tax because he does not live in California. He is supposed to pay use tax to the state of Florida. Only a handful of people actually do so. So that comes to mean that I now have an advantage over you in the ten dollar faucet business because I can sell them to Florida residents all day long and never collect a sales tax.

    On the one hand this is cheating the state of its rightful due and so forth. But let’s think this through to the end. Say I go to Florida on a vacation, visit your shop, like the ten dollar faucet and make the purchase. You don’t say to me, “Show me your driver’s license, because if you’re from out of state I am not required to charge sales tax on this item.” No, the state of Florida requires its sales tax on every item sold in the state of Florida by its brick and mortar outlets. But what do I get in return for the sales tax I am now paying to Florida? Nothing, really. I’m going home in a few days, and my tax money stays behind. But on the other hand… if you later come to San Diego on a visit, come to my shop (it doesn’t exist, but we’re pretending it does), see a ten dollar faucet you like and make the purchase, I am legally obligated to collect California sales tax on the item. So, really, it all comes out in the wash.

    If California has more tourists than Florida, California will do better in the long run, which is the argument they use whenever they want to give more tax money to the Chamber of Commerce in these parts, and I suspect, in your parts too.

    Where it rubs, and where it’s not particularly fair, is the tax on Internet purchases. If you set up an Internet shopping section on your website, you will only have to collect sales tax on Florida residents, just as I will be collecting only on California residents. And since no consumer really reports those sales and voluntarily pays the sales tax (use tax) to the respective states, it means two things: (1) that amount of sales tax is lost, and (2) those who deal mostly or only in Internet sales have an advantage over brick and mortar outlets that must, by law, collect sales tax on every sale they make.

    Everyone who does business legally on the Internet has a business license and whatever kind of license he needs to collect sales tax in his state. Personally, I have made up my mind that I will faithfully report all of my income and so forth, because when I go to bed at night I want to go to sleep. But anyone who makes himself legal is known to the state, as is his income. Collecting sales tax from legal vendors is not a problem.

    And that means, in turn, that the solution is simple. Each state that collects sales tax should be empowered to collect said tax on any item sold in their state, whether it is sold on the Internet or not. So now when I sell you my ten dollar faucet on the Internet, you have to pay California sales tax on it. And, in exchange, every state should now be obliged to simply give up on this “use tax” nonsense for items purchased out-of-state. But since they’re not really making any money on that sort of thing anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem.

    And from a vendor’s point of view, if I am collecting ONLY one sales tax (which is what I am currently doing), then it is no particular problem to keep track of it. In California, a lot of the communities have added half a cent to the sales tax. How in the world are outsiders going to keep track of something like that? But brick and mortar outlets simply collect the sales tax for whatever city they happen to be located in.

    One sales tax to keep track of—that’s simple enough. Do the same for Internet vendors by making a law that says they have to collect the same ONE sales tax any brick and mortar outlet collects, and we’ve achieved equity.

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    I get what you are saying now Joseph! So, all internet vendors would be paying sales tax. But, then there might be an outcry from those vendors whose sales tax is much higher than another state. Let’s face it, you can get that 10 dollar faucet from several places and if you can get it from a state that charges less sales tax than another, would you not get it from the less exp state? So, thus, I still think there should be ONE tax that is universal on internet sales and the proceed should go to the state in which the product was sold. Yes, maybe it is less that sales tax plus county added taxes…but, at least would close the gap somewhat.Thank you so much for posting all of this on here!!

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