The $2,000 king-size bed made of weather-resistant wicker and rust-proof aluminum was exactly what Christine Strumper-Darrie wanted for the rooftop terrace of her New York City apartment.
The only part that troubled her was if the 80-inch piece of patio furniture would fit in her building’s service elevator.
She said she was assured by a Top Grill saleswoman that the Martinez business handles such deliveries all the time and there would be no problems, but there were – and Strumper-Darrie wasn’t alone in her complaints.
Last year, consumers filed more complaints against Top Grill than any other company in the metropolitan area, according to the Augusta chapter of the Better Business Bureau.
In total, 13 customers reported that the company provided “inferior service.” Second on the list, with 12 complaints, was Electric Medic. The owner of the Martinez TV repair shop, Perry Bower, was charged with theft by deception last week for collecting $65 deposits from customers and leaving their TVs unfixed either at their homes or at his Washington Road store.
“I’m still recovering from the experience,” Strumper-Darrie said of Top Grill in a phone interview with The Augusta Chronicle.
Strumper-Darrie filed her complaint against the nearly 40-year-old company last fall, stating that when the delivery crew arrived at her home in September, they couldn’t get her bed into the elevator or break it down into smaller components to make it fit.
The shipping company, subcontracted in New York, held the furniture on its loading dock until Top Grill management resolved the issue, but according to the Better Business Bureau, the Columbia County warehouse failed to return phone calls.
The order was scrapped and Strumper-Darrie said that only through the intervention of her credit card company was she reimbursed.
“Top Grill has taken thousands of dollars from me without delivering a product,” she said in the complaint.
Kelvin Collins, president and CEO of the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau, said the agency plans to work with Columbia County sheriff’s investigators and the Georgia Office of Consumer Protection to compensate all Electric Medic customers, but providing relief to those affected by Top Grill may be difficult.
After the Better Business Bureau revoked the company’s accreditation on Oct. 29, its ownership vanished – leaving a trail of victims that stretched as far as Connecticut and covered a wide range of complaints, including flaking finish on a $6,600 patio set and $4,600 of undelivered swivel rockers and tables.
A visit to the company’s warehouse at 4012 Enterprise Court last week by a reporter found the building was leased to a gym owner 90 days ago. A stack of unopened Top Grill mail from FedEx, American Express and the Internal Revenue Service remained on the premises and advertised phone numbers for the business had either been “changed, disconnected or was no longer in service,” according to an automated answering service.
“It’s pretty clear they are no longer in business,” Collins said of Top Grill, adding the company’s Web page is no longer active.
Although the Better Business Bureau has no enforcement powers, Collins said the private nonprofit organization tries to work as a mediator between consumers and merchants “because most complaints are the result of miscommunication.”
Collins said Electric Medic, which records show opened as a two-person operation in January 1996, was resolving disputes until August, when it accumulated 12 complaints in five months.
Fort Gordon Chief Warrant Officer Deshawn Bell said he was one of Bower’s victims. On Sept. 23, he said Bower visited his Grovetown home to look at a 52-inch Sony flat-screen television that took a while to warm up and turn on.
Bell said he gave Bower a $65 check to determine what was wrong with his TV and the repair man cashed it two days later. A week later, after no word on his TV, Bell said he left numerous voice messages on Bower’s cell phone and visited Electric Medic’s shop on Oct. 2 during the listed business hours, but no one was at the office. Bower finally replied via text message the following day, stating he was “still waiting on information from Sony and would be in touch.” After that, attempts to reach Bower by phone and text on Oct. 7 and Oct. 11 went unanswered.
“I basically gave up at that point,” Bell said. “As of today, I have no resolution and my TV is still unfixed.”
Bower did not return phone messages seeking comment and was not at his shop despite several visits during listed business hours.
Collins said it is not uncommon for businesses to fold before complaints start to pile up, but that it is rare for companies not to resolve complaints of inferior service. Last year, records show, more than 83 percent of the complaints made in the Augusta area were resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction.
“That is want you want to see,” he said. “Businesses doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”