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Shameless Cowboy Cons Old Lady

Sid Bourne says ‘steer clear of this rogue in a badly painted van’

YOU may recall a column I did a couple of years ago where I went to site to meet the installer who turned up in his rusty old van with roof rack and packs of opened solid wood flooring on top … and it was raining heavily. I thought I had seen the last of him but to my surprise, we recently met up again on-site.
The consumer in this case commissioned me to inspect engineered wood flooring which she believed was faulty. The flooring in question had been installed right through the ground floor.
I asked the lady why she thought the problem lay with the flooring. She explained that this was the opinion of her installer who she said was ‘highly qualified’. He had advised her that the floor was faulty and the manufacturer had refused to attend site. So I had been called in to arbitrate.
I arranged a date and duly attended site. When I pulled up into the driveway of her premises I saw before me an old blue transit van hand which had been painted in a totally unprofessional way. This is no lie. The wording on the side (and back) of the van had been painted on with an ordinary DIY brush in red and white gloss paint.
The person described by the consumer as a ‘highly qualified’ floorlayer was advertising himself on the side of his van as able to do ‘odd jobs, flat pack furniture assembling, gardening, painting & decorating, roof gutter cleaning and wood flooring installation’.
I read all this and just stood there in total disbelief. My jaw dropped as I read again the badly painted words on the van.
Then it suddenly dawned on me. It couldn’t possibly be the same installer whose workmanship I had inspected three or four years ago and condemned as beyond belief. Surely, after my report in CFJ at the time that same person wasn’t still installing wood flooring. But he was….
Preparing myself for an encounter with a crook and a cowboy, I entered the premises. There I was greeted by the lady of the house who smilingly turned to introduce me to the man standing at her side. Yes, my worst fear had become reality. ‘We have met before,’ I told him. But his face was blank: ‘I don’t remember’.
So I got down to work to inspect the complaint. It was 3 strip engineered wood flooring. All the joints were coming apart.
At this stage, just as I was kneeling and preparing to lift off one of the planks, the ‘highly qualified’ installer suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere else. So he says to the consumer: ‘I must be going; I have another appointment.’ As he shrinks away out of the house, the consumer waves him off, still smiling.
She then returned to me, saying that he was such ‘a lovely man’. At this point I had to count to 10 and took one of my high blood pressure tablets. After steadying myself, I then started on a closer inspection of the flooring.
The ‘highly qualified’ installer had apparently Intended to use a glue to tongue and groove installation method. The only problem was that he had forgotten to use any glue on the joints! The flooring had just been put together like a child assembling lego. With people walking on the floor, no wonder the joints were coming apart.
I asked the consumer where she had found this cowboy, sorry ‘highly qualified’ installer. She said she had seen his advert in the local newsagent. She had obviously been charmed by this smoothing talking rogue.
‘He was so reasonable and charged me half of what the retailer had quoted,’ she told me.
Hesitating and fearing the answer, I asked whether she had already paid him for the work. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘He said if I paid him in cash I would make an even bigger saving because he would not charge me for VAT!’
For how long had the floor been installed? I asked. About five weeks. So when had she noticed the problems with the floor? After about a week.
Had she contacted the installer and, if so, what had he responded. ‘He told me that it was all down to a fault with the flooring because it was made in China!’
Then to add insult to injury to this innocent trusting consumer, he said he would re-install the flooring for a ‘reasonable’ charge. But, she was beginning to get suspicious, and decided she should speak to the retailer from who she bought the flooring and did so.
The retailer replied that there was unlikely to be a fault with the product and advised her to get the installer back in to rectify the problem.
But when she again rang the installer he had changed his tune, telling her he would not accept liability and that she should take action against the retailer who supplied the product which was at fault.
And that was when she first contacted me. She said she had engaged me to get independent support for what her ‘highly qualified’ installer had told her was clearly a product fault. She hoped I could provide the professional evidence which would enable her to take the supplier and the retailer to court to get her money back.
The consumer, who was in fact a little elderly lady, had trusted this smooth talking cowboy and innocently accepted everything he had told her. Standing before her, I said she should phone the installer to get him back.
She did, but he refused to return to the house obviously having remembered who I was and suspecting that I would not support him. That was one thing he was right about.
I carried out my inspection and left to write my report. Later she phoned me to say that she had tried several more times to contact the installer. She had left messages, but he never returned her calls.
I attempted to contact the installer myself. Eventually after a few attempts he answered his phone. I asked him what he intended to do about the problems with the flooring he had installed for this consumer.
He said for what she paid, he would do nothing. I suggested to him that if she took him to court she would probably win and it would cost him. But he said the law wasn’t a bother for him, he had been there, done that. He had no issue with ripping off this elderly lady.
The last I heard of this was when the consumer, having been given the brush off by both the retailer and the installer, decided to employ someone else, someone professional, to re-install the floor and rectify the problem.
She had afterwards admitted to me that, although she had initially threatened legal action, she really didn’t want all the hassle of going to court. So this shameless cowboy got away with it.
There is a lesson here for all consumers. Regardless that the lady in this case was elderly and had been charmed by this young cowboy, would any sensible person honestly employ someone who turns up in an old van with signs hand painted with gloss paint? And even worse there were spelling mistakes and run marks from the paint!
I later discovered that this ‘highly qualified’ wood flooring installer had been under investigation for some time following horror stories of his work, not only with flooring, but involving other trades as well.
I would take great pleasure in naming and shaming this cowardly cowboy in CFJ with a photo of his distinctive van. But with all his experience of lawyers and courts, he would no doubt want to make a case against us. So I will give him no ammunition and for CFJ readers he will have to remain nameless. However, I have no doubt that I will meet him again.
T: 01564 703900
E: sidbourne@blueyonder.co.uk
www.sid-bourne.co.uk
T: 07841 500940

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.