DennisBeaverDecember 31, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

When a business doesn’t care about customer service, things go wrong. Most of us only want to be treated fairly, and to receive what we have paid for.

That’s what Mary Ann Borges of Hanford wanted when she was looking for new interior shutters in September 2005 and a representative from P & J Custom Window Coverings visited her home.

“I was impressed by her knowledge of the product and its lifetime warranty,” she told You and the Law. Borges could not know how big an issue that warranty would become when the shutters needed to be repaired years later.

How long is a ‘lifetime warranty?’

“P & J’s salesperson did a very good job of explaining what goes into good shutters, how they actually are exposed to a lot of wear. If your windows are open and its windy, they will bounce around. From being opened in the morning and closed at night, to the effect of heat and sunlight, over the years, all of this affects the boards, the mechanism and cords.That’s why a good warranty is so important, she told us.”

“She also explained that if anything needed fixing, repairs would be made at no cost to us under the warranty for as long as we lived in the house. This was a really strong sales point, because we wanted quality shutters backed up by a good warranty. As the price seemed right, and the sales literature used the term ‘lifetime warranty,’ we made the purchase.”

Marketing experts point to a lifetime warranty as often meaning the difference between a sale or a customer who walks away.

But what is a lifetime warranty? Whose lifetime are we talking about? How do we measure that time period? Are we talking about the manufacturer? The customer? The customary life of the product itself – how long it typically lasts?

Now, you’d expect that some federal law or regulation would tell us what “lifetime” means, but there is none! That’s right, our very own Federal Trade Commission hasn’t provided an answer.

But California lawmakers got this one right; a company that offers a lifetime warranty must state the time – in years – or how it can be determined. (See Civil Code Section 1797.93)

P & J’s written material defined its lifetime warranty as “the reasonable life of the product – seven years from installation.” That was a far cry from the sales pitch, “as long as you live in your home.”

‘No pink copy? No warranty!’

“In late 2011, our shutters needed to be repaired, because three individual louvers were no longer attached to the handle, so they would not open or close along with the others. It was impossible to keep them in any one position. Also, one of the brackets came off the panel and would not remain attached. Since P & J manufactures the shutters, they are the only ones who have the parts,” Borges explained.

“They told me to send them a copy of my invoice because they do not keep records. So, I sent them a copy with my order number which they had stamped ‘paid.’ But the manager said that was not good enough, that they needed the pink copy and unless they get it, would not help me.

“I told her that this is crazy – a lifetime warranty and you don’t keep records? I provided proof of my purchase! She still refused.”

“The next thing I did was to email you, as I thought that for sure there must be a lot of people being treated just like me.”

We began to do a bit of research on P & J Custom Wall Coverings, looking first at the written lifetime warranty, and then, the many online comments from other customers.

We left message after message for the owner, Matt Carlton, a very busy guy, always in meetings, or “just left the office” exactly when we called. “He has your message and I’m sure will call you right back.”

Only, he never did.

(Next time: We finally speak with Carlton, and he accuses our reader of “abusing” her shutters. We began to wonder would this be a case of the blinds leading the blind?).

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.