“We’ve always built our business based on service after the sale and customer service,” says Rick Popp, the second-generation owner of Ozark Outdoors, a lawn and garden equipment company in Springfield, Missouri.
When a customer bought a $6,000 riding lawnmower in the spring of 2000, Rick’s company provided its usual quality service after the sale, twice servicing small repairs covered by the warranty during the heavy-use spring/summer mowing season. At the end of the season, the customer had the lawnmower picked up for minor repairs. But it turned out he had something else in mind.
“Instead of basically having us return it back to him, we got a letter in the mail from his lawyer saying that he didn’t want it any more and simply wanted his money back,” Rick says. “I’d never had anybody use one all summer and basically at the end of the season whenever they didn’t need it any more decide they’d just get their money back.”
The customer claimed that the literature for the lawnmower stating that it was “built tough” was a misrepresentation, suggesting it should always be repair-free. After numerous letters back and forth between lawyers, Rick decided to give in to his request.
“Some months down the road and just to put it all behind us, we offered a settlement of buying the lawnmower back,” Rick says, but “at that point he was no longer interested in that.”
Seeking even more, the customer took them to court, but there he was awarded just his original request – a refund on the purchase price of the lawnmower.
“I was out my attorney fees, plus I had to re-buy the lawnmower back and re-sell it at a discounted rate,” Rick says. “The total cost for my lawyer ended up being a little over $10,000.”
As a small business owner with fewer than 20 employees, that was not a cost easily paid and it took them several years to fully pay it back. “We’re not able just to cough up that kind of money right out of our back pocket,” says Rick.
The cost of the lawsuit wasn’t just financial.
“It takes time away from our business; it takes time away from our lives,” Rick says. “Not to mention just the stress of having to deal with it and put up with it and it’s really something we shouldn’t have had to do, we shouldn’t have had to have worried about.”