A Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., woman who is recovering from a heart attack says she counted on Sears to provide superior service when she wanted new windows installed.
Instead, Joan Greenough tells CBC in a Go Public investigation, staff at the financially troubled retail giant called police and had her charged with trespassing when she refused to leave the store after demanding to know what happened to almost $7,000 she had paid the company. She has a court appearance set for later this month.
Greenough's dealings with Sears Home Services began in October 2013 when she signed a contract for $11,905 for new windows for her rental property.
'I had no idea I wasn’t dealing with Sears.' - Joan Greenough
She made a down payment of $6,905 by bank draft, payable to Sears Canada Inc., with the balance to be put on her Sears credit card.
She said the Sears quote was $1,000 higher than two other estimates, but she chose it because of the company’s reputation and warranty.
“I’ve dealt with them for 35 years,” Greenough said.
“I’ve bought furnaces, carpet, appliances, all sorts of things from Sears and they’ve been wonderful.”
But in late December Greenough got a call from the manufacturer saying the company operating Sears Home Services had gone into receivership and, because he hadn’t been paid by Sears, she wouldn’t be getting her windows.
She went to the Sears store at Bonnie Doon Centre in Edmonton where she had paid her deposit and asked to speak with the manager, but was told he wasn’t available.
She was told Sears Home Services was a separate company, and she would have to contact the receiver, PricewaterhouseCoopers, about her money.
“I had no idea I wasn’t dealing with Sears,” Greenough said.
“The salesman’s card said Sears Canada Inc., so I thought, 'OK,' this is Sears.”
Home improvement division sold in 2013
Sears Canada sold its home improvements installation division in March 2013 to SHS Services Management Inc., a company formed by the owners of Calgary-based Installation Services Org.
SHS ceased operations in December, after projecting losses of more than $18 million in less than a year.
The collapse put nearly 650 former Sears employees out of work, left suppliers unpaid, and Sears to sort through a mountain of contracts, deposits and unfinished jobs.
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Greenough went back to the Sears store after Christmas to try again.
“I know from being in business myself that 90 per cent of the time, once a company goes into receivership, it means there’s not enough money to pay out even the big guys let alone the little people.”
Greenough wanted answers because she had paid Sears Canada, not SHS.
When Sears Customer Service wouldn’t budge, she struck on the idea of taking pictures of the SHS booth being dismantled and posting them on YouTube.
“I was just going to say, ‘This is where I gave the cheque for $6,905 to Sears Canada Incorporated for windows and I’ve since learned they’ve gone into receivership and I’m not getting my windows.’”
Greenough says she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong, but when staff called security, she refused to leave the store for over half an hour until she had spent a $200 credit she had on her Sears Card, believing that the retailer's financial woes might wipe that out too.
“So I went shopping and bought a bunch of towels for $150, and was standing in line and a policeman joined me.”
Police escorted customer from store
She said the police officer waited while she made her purchase and escorted her out of the store to her car.
Greenough thought that was the end of the matter, but two weeks later, she received a summons to appear in court to answer a charge of trespassing.
“I was really shocked,” she said. “I think I’ve had a couple of photo radar tickets or something, that’s about it. It was really shocking to open that up and realize I was charged with something.”
Greenough suffered a heart attack on Jan. 27 and, although she learned four days later the manufacturer may be able to honour the contract, she says the potential loss of almost $7,000 was a stressful experience.
'It’s very important for the retailer to step up and do everything they can.”' - Retail analyst Kyle Murray
“I think they treated me badly. I would like somebody from Sears to call me and say, ‘Yes we have your $6,905 …and we apologize for your treatment.'”
Management at the Sears Bonnie Doon store declined to comment, referring Go Public to Sears Canada spokesman Vincent Power.
In an email, Power said the salesman wasn’t authorized to use “Sears Canada Inc.” on his business card.
Sears had received permission from PricewaterhouseCoopers to complete Greenough’s job, is working to complete other outstanding customer orders and is standing behind all warranties, he said.
Power declined to comment on Greenough’s trespassing charge, calling it “unique.”
Sears reaction ‘extreme,’ says retail expert
The financial situation of Sears is serious, but this is exactly the time to treat loyal customers better, not worse, said Kyle Murray of the University of Alberta’s School of Retailing.
“One of the things that retailers live and die on is their brand,” Murray said.
“That brand makes a promise. So when things go wrong, and this happens to retailers all the time, it’s very important for the retailer to step up and do everything they can.”
Murray said even if Sears staff were being bombarded with inquiries about SHS, they should have treated Greenough better.
“It’s extreme, and I think given the opportunity to do it over, that’s probably not how Sears would manage the situation,” he said.
“They may not be able to save Sears Homes Services, but it is important to do what you can to reassure those customers, and at the very least speak to them, explain to them and apologize.”
Greenough is to appear in court on Feb. 25.