Now sitting in our sunroom is what has to be a strong competitor for the title of World’s Ugliest Chair. (Picture below.)

We recently decided to get a new rocking chair to accompany one we already had. We’ve had the old rocker for several years and been happy with it, so we decided to get the same brand (Flexsteel) and model (Las Cruces) with a different fabric.

Waunakee Furniture ETC handles Flexsteel so we decided to give them a try. They did not have this particular chair on the floor but they did show us a picture of it and it looked fine. So we ordered it ($1,032.30 with tax).

When the chair was delivered to us a couple of months later I could not believe my eyes. The fabric was what we ordered but the wooden parts looked atrocious.

Left side: New (World’s Ugliest) chair that was supposed to match the one on the right (our old chair).

The wood – some kind of lower grade oak (maybe) – has the appearance of scrap lumber. The stain is blotchy and irregular. It looks like it was done by a five-year-old having a temper tantrum.

Flexsteel chair joint coming apart
Flexsteel chair from Waunakee Furniture ETC. (1) Mar in finish caused by sloppy gluing of the faux tenon. This will eventually flake off and look even worse that it does now. (2) Faux tenon glued on crooked. (3) Gap in joint. Not coming apart, it was actually glued this way so I can’t even re-glue and close it up. How do they get away with selling this crap?
New chair (Flexsteel) from Waunakee Furniture ETC showing shoddy joinery (nothing really fits) and exceptionally poor finish work.

I immediately called the store to tell them the chair was unacceptable and ask what they were willing to do about it. Cassandra “Sandy” Taylor (one of several owners of Waunakee Furniture ETC) told me to take pictures and write what it was I was unhappy about. Send all that to her and she would forward it to the Flexsteel quality control department and blah blah blah . . .

In other words, Waunakee Furniture ETC did not consider themselves responsible for delivering an unsatisfactory piece of furniture. Not their fault.

While talking to Cassandra Taylor I kept thinking about the Cassandra in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon who reneged on a deal she had made with Apollo. I know how he felt. There is an implied contract between customer and business in any purchase. When a business says an unsatisfactory product is not their problem, I feel they have violated our contract.

American retailers used to feel responsible for what they sold. Not so much any more. Many conveniently (for them) consider themselves mere conduits between manufacturers and consumers. Once the goods are delivered they feel no further responsibility. That is scandalous at a time when bloated retailer profits in some cases are as high as sixty to eighty percent of the retail price. They simply take the money and run.

But forgive me; I digress.

The rigmarole Waunakee Furniture ETC’s Taylor prescribed for me, I was pretty sure, was going to be an exercise in futility. You know, get all exercised, jump through an endless succession of hoops, wait a long time, then nothing happens. The objective is to drag things out and wear the customer down until he finally gives up.

This attrition strategy was perfected decades ago and became known as the Kmart strategy. Their business philosophy was that it was more profitable to buy new customers (with advertising) than to go to the expense of making an irate customer happy. Kmart shuttered hundreds of stores last year.

So even though I resented the strategy and didn’t have much hope for anything meaningful coming of it, I didn’t have much choice. I started taking pictures and making notes as soon as I got off the phone.

I had been at it less than an hour when I got a call from Waunakee Furniture ETC’s delivery guy for that day, Eric Myhre (another owner), who was calling me “from the truck.” He acted like he didn’t know what the problem was, only that I had a complaint. He told me to explain the problem to him.

Now, why was he calling me I wondered, less than an hour after Taylor had spelled out at some length the convoluted procedure I was to follow? Taylor had obviously immediately called Myhre and I was sure she had told him all about my complaint. But he was playing dumb, a role I assumed not totally unfamiliar to him.

This was another strategy, the one where you get an unhappy customer to repeat their complaint as many times as possible. That’s because most complaints sound better when thought than when spoken out loud; they tend to feel weaker with each repetition.

I knew what he was doing but once again I figured I didn’t have much choice so I briefly stated the problem to Myhre. His response was that the chair had looked okay to him. Another strategy. It is supposed to shake your faith in your position if someone else cannot see what you are talking about. None are so blind as those who will not see. Or if seeing and acknowledging a problem will cost them money.

He was waxing strong with his strategy when I interrupted him. I’d had enough. I told him I wasn’t interested in listening to a bunch of brochure blather, that I just wanted to know what they were going to do about the abomination they had delivered to me.

He didn’t like that. Told me to “settle down” and “keep a level head.”

This was yet another strategy. Get the customer irate then show who’s boss with a command like “settle down.” This is a form of condescension where the intent is to infantilize the customer.

I told him I’d had enough of their insulting strategies and who-struck-John evasions. I permit no one to order me to settle down, especially merchants who take all the profit and none of the responsibility for what they sell. Our conversation was at an end and I terminated the call.

That was a week ago. I have not heard from them since, nor do I expect to. Why would they want to waste any time getting back in touch with me? After all, they’ve already got my money and they clearly intend to keep it. [Update: It has now been over six months with no word from them so it is pretty obvious I will not hear from them again. Pathetic!]

My experience is not an isolated example. American manufacturers and businesses have for years engaged in a headlong rush to ever greater profit with cheaper and cheaper (but expensive) products. It has long been nearly impossible to buy the same thing twice if more than a half hour has transpired since the first purchase. Whatever it is will inevitably have been changed in some way – diminished in quality, of course – and sold at a higher price as “new and improved.”

So I guess I should not have been surprised by the degradation by Flexsteel of their Las Crucis rocker, that it would be nothing like the one we bought a few years ago. What else can one expect in the land of profit über alles?

As for Waunakee Furniture ETC? Caveat emptor!