Big Bold Warranty - Or Something More Safe?


From original questioner:

We're having an extended friendly dispute about warranty terms on our upholstery work for residential clients.

Our experience has been that if we've worked on a piece and a seam bursts or a panel goes slack within a few years people will call us and ask about it.

The opposing views:

Camp 1: (production and finance) extend a workmanship warranty for 1 year and a cushion warranty for 3 years. This is fairly typical in the soft furniture goods so people kind of expect it.

Camp 2: (marketing) extend a forever warranty on everything except fabric. The cost of stitching a seam or replacing some foam is nil compared to the acceptance mojo we get up front and of re-engaging with our clients again to solve a little problem for them in the future.

What would you do?

From contributor Pa

I think that it depends on your existing reputation and credibility in the market. If you are well-established, and get all of your business by word of mouth, then you can stick with the shorter warranty. If you are not, you should match or slightly exceed what your competitors offer. If your competitors offer the big, bold promise, then you need to match that in order to demonstrate that you are as good as they are.

I confronted this issue when I started selling custom furniture back in the 80s. At that time, many of my clients were also looking at Thomas Moser, who offered a lifetime guarantee. I matched that in all of my communications, although I didn't lead with it. The interesting thing is that now, after a lot of my furniture has been out in use for 15+ years, some of the pieces are coming back for repairs. And I always do it for free, even though my clients have offered to pay. I made a promise, I keep it.

Guarantees should also reflect the reality of the product. It's not unreasonable to offer a lifetime guarantee on a well-made piece of solid wood furniture (with abuse and ordinary wear-and-tear exception), because it's designed to survive ordinary use forever. With upholstery, there has to be some point at which replacement is inevitable. And that might be a lot sooner than a lifetime. So take that into account.

Interesting question, I'm curious to see what others think.

Paul Downs

From contributor Pa

Peoples expectations should be considered in that the good will created by going above there expectations is valuable.

From contributor Ji

Hi Paul,

Thanks so much for your considered response.

The pressure from the marketing side is that we have (another) chance to get out in front of the competition. 15 years ago we offered no questions, no charge pick up and delivery when everyone was charging $x per trip. We upped the ante, and many shops have met us.

And that the big bold remarkable Purple Cow thing is something that fosters word of mouth (or social chatter) in that it is something unusual in a pretty boring (read: hard to differentiate) service. "So what that you can sew and staple? So can X other shops within 50 miles."

Camp 1 points out that we are growing anyway and profitable in that segment of our services, why increase costs and hassle for more exposure? People refer us because we do what we say and are...nice to deal with.

We're 65% new inbound and 35% repeat/referral.

From contributor th

interesting stuff but i think it depends on where your business is coming from and how it relates to the comfort level/ability of your customers.

for example, almost all of our businesses comes from outside of our immediate area (we've done business in almost all 48 states). we offer a lifetime warranty (as do a few of our competitors) on our products. naturally, there are exclusions and exemptions to this warranty, but it does offer piece of mind to clients that cannot see or touch our products before placing their order. same thing (comfort level) goes for us doing most of our sales with credit cards.

if your customers are coming locally, where they can meet with you, see and touch your work, and your business is doing okay/growing - i would be inclined to let sleeping dogs lie and not open myself up to more liability. as paul stated, our stuff (high-end woodworking goods) will last well-beyond production goods and seemingly forever (with a little care), so why back yourself into a corner to repair pieces forever for the occasional customer that mistreats their products?

From contributor Ji

Great points Google.

It seems the marketing camp is counting on the sweeping warranty (with abnormal use exclusions, etc) to ease the fence-sitting prospects in our direction. And then the honoring of such warranty to be a referral prod.

The finance camp concedes that such warranty fulfillment is a re-engagement opportunity with our customer, but holds that there can be other ways of doing that.

I checked our project history - we had three (3) THREE! upholstery warranty calls last year.

Maybe it is dead on both sides - but, then, which version to publish?

From contributor Pa

Lots of room in between 1 year and lifetime.

From contributor Ri

You want to really be different? Make it something like 10 years. Then contact your customers on every anniversary of their purchase and remind them of the warranty. This will allow problems from becoming more extensive, and allow you to monitor changes in material and processes. It will also generate continual goodwill and repeat/referral business!

From contributor Ji

Hi Rich,

That's a good idea. We log delivery dates in our CRM, so it should be fairly straight forward to process.