How Staples Lost A Loyal Customer In 15 Minutes

Staples Parking Sign
Staples Signs

I like to think of myself as a positive person who is thankful and appreciative.  Spending a good bulk of my time researching and writing about new consumer packaged goods and services, I find good customer service hard to find. When I have a good customer experience I write a letter or make a phone call to the company to commend a person or business for doing something well.  More often than not, people are more apt to criticize and complain. However, I recently had an infuriating, bad customer experience with Staples in the Bronx that I feel compelled to share.  It only took Staples less than 15 minutes to lose me as a loyal customer.

Staples receipt 1

I own a small consulting business and I have been a loyal Staples customer for the last 10 years at the Staples, 5680 Broadway and West 234th Street, Bronx, NY 10463 location.  On Tuesday, June 4, 2015, I parked in the Staples parking lot located on West 234 and Broadway.  I went into Staples and made a purchase at 11:24 am.  I put my Staples purchase in my car trunk and then crossed the street to pick up a few groceries.  At 11:37 am (13 minutes later) I left the grocery store to find my car on a J&S Tow truck about to be towed.  Flabbergasted I approached the tow truck operator and a person I later found out to be a Staples parking lot “spotter.”  I asked what was wrong and why were they towing my car. I explained I had just made an earlier purchase at Staples.   The spotter told me to read the signs and explained that this private parking lot will tow the cars of Staples’ customers at their own expense if individuals leave their car parked after making a purchase. Unsure if this was legal, I called the police. Unfortunately, the police explained they could do nothing because it is a private parking lot and legal in New York. I had to go to the bank to get $136.00 in cash to pay J&S Towing to release my car.  Please note, having this practice of parking lot “spotters” in other states is illegal.

Staples parking lot sign - Read the fine print
Staples parking lot sign – Read the fine print

After paying for the release of my car, I went back to the Staples store and spoke with the Staples manager, asking to be reimbursed for my $136.00 I paid in cash to get my car off the tow. Unable to help me, she gave me the Staples Corporate phone number for the Office of the President, 800-338-0252.

I was infuriated to learn that Staples has a contract with J&S Towing Inc. who pays the “spotter” to watch people leave the Staples parking lot without their cars and to immediately contact J&S Towing (who are  nearby) to tow their cars. I had noticed the spotter in the parking lot wearing a bright yellow safety vest and we made eye contact as I left the Staples parking lot.  Instead of informing me of the parking lot rules and letting me know I would be towed, he watched me leave and then had my car intentionally towed. This practice is deceitful, totally unjust, and completely appalling.  To purposely report cars of honest customers who are unaware of this policy is unethical and a bad business practice. Staples should be ashamed. As I left the parking lot I saw another Staples victim car on the tow truck.

When I called the Office of the President at the Staples Corporate headquarters on June 4, 2015, I explained my situation and dissatisfaction and asked to be reimbursed $136.00.  I was heard, but the blanket response was “Staples is not responsible for the towing of my car and I would not be reimbursed.”  I probed more to find out that Staples leases the space in the Bronx location from a private landlord. The Office of the President continued to explain that the parking lot watcher and the J&S Towing Inc. are not employees of Staples, but of the private landlord. I discovered that Metropolitan Realty Associates is the private landlord who owns the Riverdale Crossing and its parking lot.  I explained that the parking lot is shared by multiple businesses.  The signs clearly read “Staples” and regardless of whether the spotter or towing company is employed by Staples or the landlord, this is unethical and a bad business practice associated with Staples.  By not taking responsibility or stopping this money making practice, Staples supports and encourages this scam. Not satisfied with the response I received, I reported Staples to the Better Business Bureau as well as NY Department of Consumer Affairs.  As you can see from my BBB correspondence with Staples, not only does Staples not take responsibility for the company’s bad business practice, they then have the nerve to suggest I “direct my concerns” to J&S Towing.

BBB response from Staples 6-8-15
Staples Corporate Response to my BBB complaint

 

Staples takes no responsibilty & suggests  J&S Towing
Staples Corporate 2nd Response; suggests reaching J&S Towing

Upon research, I found that Riverdale Press cited this practice has been going on since 2008 or before in “Towed from a Lot Law May be On Your Side” 11/6/08 article.  I also discovered the Riverdale Press “Staples: No more towing from this infamous lot” 8/27/09 article, which interestingly showed that a “Staples” spokesperson stated the company had stopped this practice.  It’s odd and conflicting that a Staples spokesperson is quoted if Staples is not responsible for the parking lot rules.  Timing is everything and on June 18, 2015 the Riverdale Press “Predatory towing pervades Broadway” article prominently featured Staples on Broadway was up to it again and the company has not changed their poor business practice.

I am sure I am not the first or last unhappy customer to report this. Staples lost a loyal customer in less than 15 minutes.  All it takes is one bad customer experience.  The fact that Staples takes no responsibility, puts the onus on J&S Towing and then doesn’t even try to correct the situation that the company is fully aware of is inexcusable.  I will not shop at Staples on Broadway again or any other Staples locations in the future.

If you have been a victim or know someone who has been a victim of Staples’ parking lot scam, I’d like to hear from you.

Fuhgeddaboudit!

Fuhgeddaboudit
Brooklyn

I am organizing a sensory trend excursion in Williamsburg for a large group of people and I recently called a few independent coffee roasters with retail shops and bakeries to arrange a store visit.  I wanted to purchase an iced drink and a pastry for 25 people and have the owner speak about the history of the shop and what makes it unique.  One would think this is a great business opportunity; a shop owner could introduce interesting products to potential new customers.

To my surprise, apparently I was wrong. Not 1 but 7, independent retailers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn turned me down. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief that they walked away from guaranteed business.Their reasons were:

  • “We can’t accommodate you since we cater to our local customers and it would be disruptive to our shop.”
  • “We can’t accommodate you; it just doesn’t work.  Our local customers get upset if we reserve tables.”
  • “We can’t accommodate you. It will interfere with our business flow and we are not staffed for that many customers, but you can come in and order independently.”
  • “We are too small and we can’t fit you.”
  • “We always keep the focus on our loyal clients and maintaining their shopping experience and don’t want to detract them.”
  • “We work very hard to accommodate and please our neighbors and it is not in our capacity to be able to please the market.”

I thought for sure in this economy and competitive business environment, finding an independent retail store to accommodate us would be an easy task.  I’m not sure what the store owners’ long term business growth strategies are, but from a business perspective, I think these store owners are shortsighted for multiple reasons:

  • I am guaranteeing the shop business for 25 people without the business owner having to chase business or market their company; I came to them.
  • The shop has a captive audience of 25 people for twenty to thirty minutes.  The business owner has the opportunity to talk about their business and show their products.
  • Their business is being exposed to people who have no idea their business exists.
  • Business 101 – we all know word of mouth travels, good and bad.
  • Although it may inconvenience the store’s local customers and be a little more disruptive than normal for thirty minutes, it’s a short finite period of time during a week day. In the big picture it’s thirty minutes out of a full day and will not negatively impact their business.
  • Additionally, one would think that local customers would be happy and supportive to see the store is doing well and attracting business.
  • If locals pass the shop and see a large group of people, their curiosity might be piqued and they might want to stop by to see what’s going on. Bonus, more customers.
  • I understand these indie shops aren’t designed to fit a large group of people at one time, but work with me.  I suggested taking shifts and having half the group go in and the other half wait outside and then switch.

I believe these stores have missed an opportunity and are thinking small.  Think small and be small. Although I am intrigued by their store concepts and executions, I’m disappointed in their customer service.  I’m not inclined to rush back to support their local businesses nor recommend them. I think I’ll fuhgeddaboudit!