Muscley maufacturers and irregular internet retailers

aliris19March 26, 2012

I'm trying to be a good consumer, really I am.

I am in the process of replacing a Franke faucet with itself. Online, not surprisingly, there is a spread of available prices, all considerably less than retail. My most-trusted internet retailer, also a brick-and-morter place in their own locale, will price-match, but not down to the lowest price out there; says that's below their cost.

So the question is, why? how? Well, says they, perhaps it's open box or not really as stated or different finish, or they're not authorized, etc etc.

So I call the less-reputable place, who I have, as it happens, ordered from before. It was not the most pleasant of experiences and I'd prefer to stay away from them but am not calling them out as rank thieves. They say -- look at our home page; we're authorized retailers, no way is this open box, we just do a higher volume so get a better price. Etc etc.

So I call Franke: is it true that they're authorized, etc -- because in the past, I've discovered - and it's been noted here by others - that claims of "authorized retailness" may be false.

On Franke's website is a page of -- how do they put it: "policy violators". Included is the less-reputable as well as my fav store. Also noted is that this list was put in place in 2009. I asked the Franke rep what was the procedure for being placed on this list; why is the company on this list; do they know about it? is there a policy for removal... all of which I'm assured there is, etc etc.

Meanwhile they have a far shorter list of "authorized websites" that includes some outfits that I was under the impression -- impression only, mind you -- were a little less than up-and-up, as well as some that I happen to know are very fine.

So what gives??? I call back my retailer of choice, they are unaware of the list, or at least the sales rep is. Point out the old date. Etc etc.

I didn't even bother calling back the cheapest guys, the ones I don't much love.

So .... tell me again why does all this happen? One reason, evidently, for being placed on a "violator" list is that the company may sell the product at less than the manufacturer is happy with. I still don't get why this is legit. Why this isn't price-fixing. Because they're unsuccessful at fixing the price? Is that why it isn't "price fixing"?

Yes, Virginia, I know there are liars and cheats out there, but when I can't I even tell which is which but they're all pointing fingers at each other, I am just confused. I want to be a moral consumer, but I can't even figure out how to do that.

(Did figure out the sales tax bit though. Not sure why I didn't think of this before, but nowadays, I look preferentially for a retailer in my state (and still cheap) so that I may have the goods delivered, at a reasonable rate, and still fork over a penny or two for the school librarian. True this doesn't address the brick-mortar problem, but at least it covers the tax issue).

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I suspect the answer to the question about why your favorite retailer is on the "bad" list could be found between the lines of what Franke lays out for their policy: Policy page.

I posit that a retailer without a brick-and-mortar would be on the bad list, but also that a brick-and-mortar store that doesn't provide a large enough show space for Franke merchandise could also be on the bad list. Furthermore, if the store's website doesn't do things in a certain way, that could put them on the bad list. Possibly if a retailer doesn't move enough units, they could be put on the bad list.

I'm not convinced that "authorized retailer" lists for a manufacturer are anything other than a way for the manufacturer to ensure control of how their product will be placed/sold -- not a means for identifying ethical businesses (one has literally nothing to do with the other).

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 10:28AM
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I often find myself overwhelmed with options and prices. It's hard to figure out what's what and who is what.
I find myself saving my money a bit farther and just buying nothing. Not a successful plan for moving forward, I admit.
I'd rather wait than do something that turns out to be the wrong thing for me.

I always question why stores can have 50% or more sales off. If they can take that much off, why was it so high in the 1st place?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 11:29AM
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Christine: indeed.

twodogs: !

But it gets better ... did I mention this already? Turns out my fav place is also a "preferred provider". Not just a regular ole 'provider', of which they have several, but one of the exalted few "preferred".

say whaaa?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 11:49AM
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It's not price fixing because our illustrious supreme court ruled it so - according to them, it's only price fixing if there's collusion between brands, not within a brand. If you don't like the price of a particular brand, you're free to buy another.

I would guess that Franke has an inadequate process for updating their lists of dealers. The only issue for you is whether they'll the honor the warranty.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 12:31PM
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Well, funny you should mention warranty....

It hadn't occurred to me there was such a thing in this circumstance. House froze, and seemingly the tip of the faucet rusted out, but the thing is at least 10 years old anyway. Or was. They really have nothing to do with the damage, I don't think, plus it's old; I was just surprised to find something similar still being manufactured.

*However* -- I did call back Franke this morning to relay the latest, that this supposedly evil internet violator is, on another page, an exalted "preferred" provider - no plebeian ranking for them.

I learned several interesting things. It was pointed out first that the 2009 date is when they implemented this internet policy, not an update date. My bad, though who reads this stuff so carefully? But after much discussion they agreed to accept my point of view that though from theirs, the internet and brick/mortar part are separate companies, from my point of view it's the same people, same place, same credibility and the distinction is not only ludicrous but harmful to *Franke's* credibility.

I mentioned that were this a purchase for my own sake alone I would long ago have walked away from it. Whereupon she mentioned to me that they have a "replacement" policy. Evidently if you're replacing a Franke product with another, they'll sell it to you (free ground shipping) for half of retail.

Who knew? She didn't even ask for any proof of the replacement, though this may be because she decided anyone this deranged to make multiple phone calls on behalf of other, random nefarious retailers is probably not really lying about the product they want to replace. Who knows?

So upshot is: they're going to try to yank some semblance of sanity into their curious cautionary pages.

Oh -- and this of note -- HomePerfect, despite claiming to be an authorized Franke Dealer, is not. They don't sport the actual Franke logo, just a typed facsimile thereof. And this is apparently a "Dead giveaway", though I wouldn't have known it: there's no photo of the items in question. I presumed that was so trivial to put up that it not being there couldn't possibly be significant. The CS rep claimed otherwise.

So there you have it. I've bought stuff from HomePerfect and it wasn't the most pleasant of transactions but in the end I have what I wanted (and more so but that's another story); they haven't closed up shop in the dead of night. But I don't trust them much and here's some evidence for why. Just sayin. They've done a huge number of transactions, so.... There are clearly scarier internet retailers out there. But a font of trustworthiness I think it's safe to say they are not.

And I'm going to submit a separate posting with searchable subject line about this policy of Franke's as it may help someone in the future.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 1:03PM
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Very timely post for me. Last week, I decided on a Whitehaus Metrohaus faucet (as relayed in a recent post). I google-shopped and found the lowest price (~$321) at Home Perfect, and second-lowest (~$352) at Vintage Tub. A casual glance at the google Seller Ratings seemed like a near-wash (4 stars for HP, 4.5 for VT). But I delved a little deeper, and devised a metric: I added up the number of 4+5 star ratings, and divided that by the sum of 1+2 stars. (I figured that 3 is neutral, 1 or 2 is unsatisfactory and 4 or 5 is satisfactory.) The ratio was strikingly different for the two. (I think it was 2.5 for HP and 7 for VT.) I had just had a bad experience with a lowball retailer for my undercabinet lights, and did not want to go through that again, so I decided to use Vintage Tub. Then I noticed that VT has a price-match program; they will match the lowest advertised price on a like item. So I got the faucet from the place with better ratings for the lower price. (BTW, the customer service at VT was excellent, really outstanding.)

Here is the kicker: today the faucet is being advertised at HomePerfect for $346. I guess my timing was pretty good!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 4:33PM
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Wow, Angie -- I love that metric! *Very* interesting!!! I don't know if I'll have the patience to do that in the future, but when I'm evaluating two internet companies I definitely will so that as a way of measuring "negatives" against "positives". Smart idea!

I'm not really very savvy on this sort of thing but I'm almost positive there are sites that will alert you when a price drops below a certain figure, so you can keep an eye out for these sorts of price jumps if you've time and patience. You probably have to ask someone under 30 years of age for such information. ;)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 5:54PM
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It's really a tap dance, isn't it?
Why do I feel like they invented the replacement policy just to appease? well, I'll take it, but what does one do next time?

I just suck it up, hold my breath, and click "buy".

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 10:08AM
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Sucking it up ... I should be doing a little more of that lately I guess. Not sure why all this is getting under my skin.

I got an email from Franke: evidently the good-guys should not have been on the "premier provider" list. OK, so I ask them: but are they on the recommended provider list? That list has two tiers and the good-guys were on the upper part of it. "No", they write back all huffy: "we already told (sic) they should not have been on the premier provider list". Whereupon I have to point out to them that their stupid recommended provider list has two levels, being excluded from one does not necessarily exclude you from the lower. I was just curious but also more than a little shocked at their emailed 'tude.

Anyway, I'm happy never to buy Franke. This is a purchase for another. But I'll be sure to stay away from them myself.

I suppose they may all be this bad, but really I am so exasperated with all the smoke and mirrors. Bottom line for me is that almost all the faucets are overpriced, ugly and function poorly. I'm gonna put in an outside tap next time. ;)

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 11:37AM
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The 'service' is to prop up the pricing by trying to limit distribution to 'authorized' retailers.

If the stuff is high quality, the warranty would be the least of problems.

I rarely bother with them.

Most higher end makers will supply repair parts for nothing.

Taking a day off work to wait for a 'factory authorized' technician would often cost more than a new item.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 12:06PM
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Thanks. Now I'll certainly not purchase anything from Franke. It's not my job to police where their products go and if I remember correctly they don't even manufacture the faucets.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 1:10PM
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If a place is not an authorized retailer, where exactly are they getting their inventory? Why would Franke even send them a single faucet? I find it difficult to believe that a place like AJ Madison or Abt (which is a large b&m, family run and respected store here) sells knock-off Franke faucets. Their volume is high enough that if they sold that many knock-offs, you'd think the Franke lawyers would be all over that with a cease-and-desist or something.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 1:23PM
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That's why I went to all this trouble phoning back and forth. I *know* Abt is highly respected (wait, did I actually let drop their name? I was trying to be a little circumspect. Ooops)... and I've had some really exceptional experiences with them. That's why I wasn't so terribly impressed with the "policy violators" page -- showed up my prejudice too. I was perfectly happy to believe the less-reputable folk (did I let their name slip already too?) were on that list, but I became instantly skeptical when I saw Abt. Which isn't fair, perhaps -- but called the whole thing stem to stern into question. Hence a flurry of phone calls, etc. Most of which have been moderately polite at least with the exception of this new clutch of snotty-plus emails.

It's been pointed out, as suggested above, that Franke doesn't even make this stuff, they're "consolidators" of parts... whatever. But the take-home message I got which I agree is hard to swallow from Franke, is that 'they just don't know where this equipment is being gotten from, don't know how "they can be selling it so cheaply" and perhaps that's why they're on the violators list .... though at the end of the day they told me they couldn't even tell me why a company was on the violator-list (as in they did not know, not that they would not). Which I should think is at least unfair and at most unlawful since aren't we all guaranteed by law to face our accuser? Or perhaps not for the "state of Texas" - aka an institution. That's probably only constitutionally protected for individuals ... unless it isn't.

Am I ranting or what? Bad day here.

I suspect at the end of the day there's a huge amount of grey-area behaviour going on in all kinds of directions. I suspect consumers, while getting their fair share of breaks, are not coming out ahead.... dunno about that either, don't know what would be proper, actually, But as I said in the beginning, it's really hard to know how to act morally in such an unregulated, opaque atmosphere.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 3:12PM
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Yes, you are ranting.

And morals have nothing to do with it.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 3:55PM
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Hi all.

I am very interested to read all your comments about the Franke internet policy. I live in Oxford in the UK and i think we are now starting down this road also. I tried to buy a Franke sink and tap online and found every 'Authorised Internet retailer' was selling at the same price!! As you have said some other sites which have fantastic customer reviews are 'not authorised' but cheaper!!


    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 4:33PM
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