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Forum topic by Russ posted 12-06-2011 05:53 AM 2075 views 0 times favorited 34 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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142 posts in 3226 days

12-06-2011 05:53 AM

I just finished a commission piece where the client paid for it but called today that she doesn’t like it and wants her money back. Since I trusted her I did not mention that the deposit was non refundable so I am wondering what you have done in such situations. The cost on the piece was $500 with $200 in materials. what have you done in this situation?

-- Happiness is being covered in sawdust

34 replies so far

View Delta356's profile


463 posts in 2881 days

#1 posted 12-06-2011 06:02 AM

Russ I have not had a situation like this before, but I feel as a woodworker when we build a custom piece there are no returns. When ever I deal with a client I make sure to build what they want 101%. If your client gave you the ok to build the custom piece, she does not have the position to say I want return it!!! I really don’t see how you return a custom built piece that you custom build for some one. I see it if you built the piece and sold it at a fair or gallery.

I would say strong, but not be mean, and say to her, tough cookies. I already built it.

I don’t know if this can become a legal situiation????

Good luck.

Thanks, Michael Frey
Portland, OR


View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3336 days

#2 posted 12-06-2011 06:52 AM

I would chalk it up as a learning experience and give her the money back.
It is always important to have an agreement/contract in writing stating all the specifics…such as a required no-refund deposit, progress photos and any important other factors such as no returns or refunds.
When you decide to turn a hobby into a for-profit endeavor you have to handle everything situation that could arise.

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 2621 days

#3 posted 12-06-2011 07:16 AM

I’m with Jonathan: make it right. If there is anything at all you can do to make her happy with the product, that’s a net win for you. Word of mouth is the best advertising, and you get that by going above and beyond for your customers. Even when your customers are jerks.

If you cannot make her happy with the purchase, then express your disappointment professionally and take the item back. Depending on the item, I would think it is likely that you can still sell it at a price to recoup your material cost. You are still out your time, plus some extra time in the hassle, but it is better to concede now and move on than to fight a long, drawn-out, fight.

Even if you are right, it only takes one ornery customer to make a lot of trouble. They could, for example, contest the charge/check with their credit card company/bank, report you to the better business bureau, even report you to the police or take you to court if they are really mad, not to mention tell everyone they know. While these might be overkill, and would largely result in nothing, it would be a long, drawn-out nothing. If you can make $300 selling it on Craigslist or eBay (thus keeping your customer happy and finding a new happy customer in the process), is it really worth the headache?

Sorry to hear about your trouble, though, that is really too bad. Best of luck resolving this issue.

-- Brian

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 2950 days

#4 posted 12-06-2011 02:24 PM

Take the piece back, bite the 200 and tell your friends about her.
All you need is one rotten customer to do a lot of damage to your reputation as a woodworker. Some people will never be satisfied whatever you do.

-- Life is good.

View ryansworkshop's profile


35 posts in 2395 days

#5 posted 12-06-2011 02:55 PM

Hello all, this is my first post here. I have been a reader for quite sometime.

I’d like to say first, I have been in business for 20 plus years. I am a third generation carpenter (ouch) woodworker.

I know it is the robot response to the old saying “The customer is always right.” But, my beliefs are not along these lines. Know each situation is different and based on your info, I’d say NO refund.

Let me ask you this? If you order a non-stock window from a box store what do they do? Money up front, no refunds. Get your truck painted, no refund.

I know we all want good feedback, exposure and word of mouth. So let me give you an example of an affair I had this past spring.

I had a customer with whom I had done work for before. Well about a few weeks into the project I could see all was not well in the relationship department. She contacted me with every little thing she could to badger me. I had all my ducks in a row. She went as far as to post on several local social sites about me. She contacted the BBB. A real bad public relations nightmare. One customer going to wreck 20 plus years of good business.

So what did I do? I sent all the texts, all my documentation and specifics to my email and downloaded them to those social sites. I let the jury handle the social bashing. To make this short, she is probably hiding in a corner and when she goes out she wears dark sunglasses. Best marketing thing I have done in along time. Business is great.

As for the BBB sending me a letter about the conflict. They also sent me two days after a letter/offer to join them. These were scanned and put on the local social sites. The BBB is a joke in my area.

Bad press can be a good thing. IF you are in the right. Just look at all the politicians, movie stars and celebrities, who have used bad press to make a gain.

Never compromise yourself, you are all you have.

Till our trails cross,

-- A small shop has it's pro's and con's. Never big enough, but easy to clean.

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 3171 days

#6 posted 12-06-2011 02:59 PM

Russ, first off, I’m wondering if you could provide more details. But lacking that, here’s my take: assuming everything was done to her specs, the piece (not even a description of the piece?) is hers and the money is yours. By all means, try to make it right by any reasonable means. If these are not possible, tell her you will try to sell it and the profit will go toward a refund to her. Put a time limit on this “consignment”, no one has too much space in their shop.

I have been in this position before, you cannot let people walk over you, you’ll become a marked man.

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3772 days

#7 posted 12-06-2011 03:10 PM

If the piece is something you can take back and resale, I would do that. If it’s a custom item that may not be easy to resale, you might offer to refund the money when you find a buyer for it. As long as there is no problems with the workmanship and design, the customer changing their mind should be a non starter. You might want to get your policies down in writing for the next time.

If a customer is happy, they will tell 3 people. If they’re unhappy, they’ll tell 11. Heard that statistic somewhere.

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 3713 days

#8 posted 12-06-2011 03:24 PM

Not legal advice, but a comment on professional practices … if you have a written document that spells out the remedy in the event of a dispute, you could stick to that. If not, you are stuck negotiating. Written document does not mean a full contract, even a statement of policy on the receipt for the deposit is a good start.

To me, the deciding factor is how much sign off the client has on the work. If I were doing custom work to a written specification, with sign offs on the design, color choice etc … as well as the fact that I clearly identified that I wanted confirmation before incurring significant material costs, then I would tend to stick to my guns. If the agreement was informal and the terms not communicated beforehand, I would chalk it up to learning better business practices.

Then it becomes a judgement call. General rule of thumb is a happy customer tells one person, an unhappy customer tells seven. If you have time and energy, you can spend it counteracting any negative publicity you will receive or you could spend that time positively promoting yourself to others.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View jtworkshop's profile


71 posts in 2691 days

#9 posted 12-06-2011 05:15 PM

I was building a small desk for a couple. They chose the dimensions/design/colors. I called them when it was completed and I had come in much under my original estimate. Never heard from them again!! Tried emailing them but no reply….what hurt was that they hadn’t even seen the piece. Maybe I should have taken a deposit, I don’t do much of this kind of thing so I just took them at their word. Haven’t wanted to do any kind of custom work since.

View jtworkshop's profile


71 posts in 2691 days

#10 posted 12-06-2011 05:16 PM

Good luck with your situation, I agree, if there is anything you can do to make her happy with it, within reason, then great…it works out for both of you.

View ryansworkshop's profile


35 posts in 2395 days

#11 posted 12-06-2011 05:21 PM

Once money is involved, it becomes a business deal. It should be treated as such. You need to protect yourself. The days of a hand-shake are over, which is sad.

Another thing. If this just happened, she may be looking to recoup some holiday spending money. Just a thought as you never know to peoples reasons.

-- A small shop has it's pro's and con's. Never big enough, but easy to clean.

View Don's profile


551 posts in 3270 days

#12 posted 12-06-2011 05:32 PM

More info is needed on what her issue is and what deal was struck but IMHO, to keep you name clean and to ensure repeat business, I would make the customer happy.

Of course it depends on what her complaint is.

-- -- Don in Ottawa,

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4246 days

#13 posted 12-06-2011 05:42 PM

Interesting topic.

I agree that more information on the specifics would help. You really don’t say if her unhappiness is the result of her own design choices, or if she is dissatisfied with the workmanship. It’s a fine line between keeping the customer happy (and thus protecting yourself against bad word-of-mouth advertising) and letting an unreasonable customer take advantage of you.

One thing to consider is this: If she really is being unreasonable, she is most likely the same way in other areas of her life. That being the case, people who know her will not pay much attention if she does bad-mouth you. And even if you do give her a refund, if she was not happy with your work in the first place she is not likely to recommend you.

Based on the limited information, my gut instinct is to tell her she can either keep it, or you will attempt to sell it for her and give her whatever you can get for the piece.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Russ's profile


142 posts in 3226 days

#14 posted 12-06-2011 06:05 PM

This woman had seen some of my other work and asked me to make a reception desk for her beauty spa business. I talked with her and talked dimensions and material ( walnut). I came home, studied the correct dimensions and built what I thought she wanted and when I arrived she said she wanted a desk. She had told me about a previous woodworker who had been hired to do some work for her but split with the money without completing the work, that was a red flag i missed. I think I did a great job, she has a unique and beautiful piece. I retired from cooking and started the woodshop before retirement, it seems I have a knack, when I did the farmers market last summer I sold may pieces and received many good comments on my work. my first reaction was similar to Jtworkshop but I know she is only one bad apple and others are more than happy with my work. I am leaning towards offering to resell it as suggested but the real odds of that are near zero, this is Alaska and a custom reception desk is not a hot item.Thanks to all who have offered advice and opinions, I value them all. There are very few craftsmen in Fairbanks and even though I have started a school and put out ads for fellow craftsmen to come and share their knowledge but no reply’s. So no one the ask here. Thanks again. Russ

-- Happiness is being covered in sawdust

View DS's profile


2926 posts in 2448 days

#15 posted 12-06-2011 06:17 PM

Sometimes you can’t protect a customer from their own bad decisions…

Case in point, a client wanted a “Smurf” Blue high gloss lacquer kitchen. We made no less than six color samples until we got just the shade of Blue she was looking for. It was a hideous color of Blue with Purple undertones—did I use the word “Smurf”?

I tried fruitlessly to talk her out of this color. In the end, we had redundant sign offs in the contract including an actual door sample finished and cut in half with her signature on both halves of the door. One half for her, one half for us.

On the day of the installation, she informed us that she hated it. (As I told her she would). She claimed we got the color wrong, but it matched our sample. She claimed that wasn’t the sample she had, so we had her bring her half of the door. It was a perfect match.

She got exactly what she asked for, just, not what she wanted. And no, she didn’t get her money back.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

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