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It’s been a while since I wrote a post about a personal experience that related to professional procurement.  But some recent dealings with Euro-Pro Operating, LLC – the maker of Shark vacuum cleaners – have “inspired” me to do a post that intersects work and home life.

So, anyway…

In the past year, I had purchased a Shark Navigator vacuum. Two of the factors that compelled me to buy this particular brand and model were the inclusion of a “Pet Hair Power Brush” and a five-year warranty.

The vacuum worked fairly well for the first few months that I had it.  But, one day, that Pet Hair Power Brush stopped working.

Now, I’m a decent handyman.  I can fix simple things.  I took the Pet Hair Power Brush apart, checked all the relevant moving parts, cleaned it out, etc. and still couldn’t get the thing to work.

So, being that this was a new vacuum with a five-year warranty, I followed the instructions for contacting Shark for support through their website.  I simply wanted to file a claim to have the brush replaced.

A week went by.  No response.

So, I called their customer support phone number.  Not directly reaching a human, I was put in their hold queue.  I waited approximately 15 minutes before finally having my call answered by a customer service representative – let’s call her “Jane” for the sake of anonymity.  As you may imagine, I’m a busy guy who always has something on his schedule waiting for him so, by the time I reached this representative, I had the need to hurry on to my next scheduled activity.

After I explained the issue to Jane, she clearly had no idea what a Pet Hair Power Brush was.  She started giving me verbal instructions to disconnect the base of the entire vacuum from its hoses and such before I interrupted her and told her that something just doesn’t seem right.  She looked in her computer, said that the Pet Hair Power Brush was not covered by the warranty because “accessories” aren’t covered by the warranty, and that I could purchase a replacement for like $30.

I said that not replacing a defective part didn’t seem fair and that I wanted her to consider having a replacement sent to me at no charge.  She claimed that she couldn’t because “accessories aren’t covered by the warranty.”

In the haste to get on to my next scheduled activity, I allowed the call to end without a resolution to my satisfaction.  I thought that the $30 I would have to spend wouldn’t be worth the valuable time I would lose by fighting for it.

But, as a couple of days went by, I began thinking of my role in the procurement community.  I teach buyers across the globe to be good stewards of their  organization’s finances.  I teach them to tenaciously defend their contractual rights.

So, rolling over to an amateurish customer service rep didn’t feel right to me.  What kind of role model would I be if I didn’t eat my own cooking?

After a few more days passed, I decided to look at the terms and conditions of the warranty which were printed on a sheet that came with the vacuum.  While the warranty did specifically exclude “non-durable parts…which normally require replacement,” I think it is fair to say that the Pet Hair Power Brush with its multiple components like gears and such would never be considered a “non-durable part” by a reasonable person.

So, I called the Shark support line again.  This time, I reached a gentleman by the name of Kyle.  I noted that I had previously spoken to a representative and reached an unsatisfactory result, explained the situation as I had previously explained it to Jane, and requested a free replacement of the Pet Hair Power Brush.

Like Jane, Kyle said that he could not offer a free replacement because the Pet Hair Power Brush was an “accessory” and that “accessories aren’t covered by the warranty.”

It was time to bare my teeth.

I always begin potentially disputed requests calmly.  But I can turn on negotiating emotion like a switch.  And it was time to flip that flippin’ switch!

I said something to the effect of this to Kyle (in my agitated voice, of course)…

“Kyle, you’ve said that accessories aren’t covered by the warranty.  The terms and conditions of the warranty are printed on a sheet that came with the vacuum.  I have them right in front of me.  It does not say anything about excluding accessories.  The only thing that it excludes are non-durable parts which normally require replacement.  No reasonable person would ever describe the Pet Hair Power Brush as a non-durable part that normally requires replacement.  The thing is bigger than my hand and is comprised of many components.  And you know what?  I teach contract law to thousands of people around the world.  I know that, if this dispute was to go to court, that I would clearly prevail.  If you aren’t an expert at interpreting contractual language, then perhaps you could connect me to someone there who is, because I am contractually entitled to a free replacement of the Pet Hair Power Brush.”

Needless to say, I received my free replacement three days later.

I’m really not too cheap to buy a new Pet Hair Power Brush, I swear.  But it’s a matter of principle.  And I wanted to demonstrate how buyers need to be careful when these types of situations arise.

Kyle was responsible for administering a contract for a supplier, but he had no real knowledge of the contractual terms that actually applied to the transaction.  And the documentation that he was relying on to convey how Euro-Pro handles this type of situation was inconsistent with what they “agreed to” in the terms and conditions that applied.  These same characteristics could apply to any customer service representative of any supplier out there.

Too often, buyers responsible for administering contracts don’t know what terms and conditions apply to disputed situations.  Or they lack the contractual skills to interpret the terms that apply.  So, they treat the supplier’s response as the final word.

And, if their suppliers behave like Euro-Pro, those buyers are getting ripped off!

Buyers need sharp contract administration teeth to bite back when their suppliers aren’t honoring what is in writing.

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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