I know it's unheard of to refund money on custom ordered items of just about any kind. And I am very reluctant to be the first, but customer satisfaction is paramount to me. This is a very difficult situation. The client was referred to me by another client. He had seen my work and was pleased with the quality.
On March 28th I met with the client and his designer. We discussed a dresser/TV cabinet for his bedroom, I drew a design based on his input, and gave a detailed estimate outlining all aspects of the piece. My bid was acceptable at $6400.00 and I took half down. His designer wanted it built as soon as possible, but had not yet picked a drawer front profile or a finish. I ordered drawer boxes and hardware, picked up my wood, and started building the unit. The designer finally picked a profile April 23rd, so I ordered drawer fronts and everything arrived by May 18th. At this point it's only been 6 weeks since our meeting. I told him it would take about 6 weeks to complete once I had everything in place, so I was shooting for end of June. After delivering 10 variations of painted maple, linen was the base color with van dyke brown glaze. This was decided on June 3rd.
It's now June 25th. The cabinet is complete except the designer doesn't like the glaze technique, and the client says I've had more than enough time to deliver and wants his deposit ($3200.00) refunded to him and he told me to go sell the cabinet to someone else.
I've spent about $1200.00 in material and logged 68 hours including design time. I'm looking for opinions whether or not to:
A: Refund his $3200.00 and make him happy.
B: Offer to consign it for him and refund his money if and when I sell it.
C: Sue him for the balance since the job is complete, and his only objection is that his designer doesn't like the glaze.
He said the finish doesn't matter to him; it's up to his designer to approve it. And he doesn't want to wait any longer and give me a chance to redo the glaze to her satisfaction. He felt the 6 week build time started when we met on March 28th, not when the design was finalized and I was able to order drawer fronts which I received on May 18th. Thanks for any insight you may have.
From contributor A:
You are a nice guy. The designer is incompetent. The client is obviously not a nice guy. He has already proven that by threatening to not pay you. At this point he has already passed the whiffle ball and softball steps and moved onto hardball.
Keep in mind this is between you and the customer alone. His money, your product, and the contract the two of you signed. He has already badmouthed you and will continue to do so regardless of the outcome. Except if you sue him and win. He will never mention it to anyone ever again, because it is embarrassing.
At this point I would have a 3 way discussion face to face with the client and designer. If they want to throw stones, let them do it man to man. Most people won't. If it comes down to it, I would not hesitate to threaten to take him to small claims court. He will lose and still owe you your money. Hopefully the guy is somewhat rational and will have words with the designer.
End of the day, do not take less than 90% of the project before install. Argue about the final 10% after install. Do not be afraid to threaten small claims suits.
Do not bring a knife to a gun fight. You are not in business to make friends. You are in business to do good work and get paid for it. This job is already a negative. The only positive thing that may come out of it is you getting paid.
Dump the designer! Don't raise a stink, just don't let this happen again. No starting without all details and approved finish samples. I agree the designer helped cause this problem, but you should not have let this happen.
I am right now in a similar situation where the designer gave me vague design criteria and is holding up my production of the work due to her failure to provide these details. Specifically I am talking about "coated glass doors" (no specifics or color provided) and "paint finished panels."
The client expects me to deliver next week, but that is not possible because I still do not know what the materials are. From the client's perspective, I am late. It is my responsibility to make sure the client knows that I am ready to proceed but I need the info from the designer. I have done this by CCing the client on all my emails to the designer.
I will not buy materials without a deposit and I will not take the production deposit without having all finish details specified. I think that was your mistake. You took the deposit without any signed finish samples.
I agree with the previous comments. Have a sit down, type out a document with the timeline of events. Bring all the documentation you have, especially any pictures or emails from the designer regarding the finish. If your documentation is good they will not have a leg to stand on. If they insist on being A-holes about it, your options get very narrow very fast; keep the unit and the deposit, sue for the balance and deliver it, give the deposit and walk away. I agree that giving the deposit will not help them change their mind about your work.
What does the customer do? Is he in some kind of business where everything is completed on time, every time? I would like to know what that business is.
Get an approved sample from the designer, re-do the finish and present a bill to the customer - to be paid in full before delivery (make sure you cash the check first). Does he think someone else will make the unit on short notice, to his designer's specifications, or has he just changed his mind about spending the money? Why did he hire a designer, if he is a cheapskate?
I would definitely not refund any money, in this case; you have a nice piece of furniture for your home or showroom, and learned a valuable lesson about working with designers. Believe me, this lesson could have cost a lot more, on a bigger job, and you are really not out that much, even if you get nothing more for this job.
The only referrals that you will get from people and designers like these, are more of the same.
As suggested, have a sit down with all three parties and work out a resolution. If they are not willing to do this, then go to small claims court where you will be afforded the fundamental right to face your accuser. To do otherwise is a transgression to yourself.
Offer to redo the finish. Good opportunity to work on your technique. Do some research, take your time, bring the client and designer into the process. Does the client really want to wait another 6 or more weeks to contract with somebody else?