Framed: Talking bedroom set-up blues

If you wanted to chisel a set of Consumer Commandments on a tablet of stone but only had room for two, I would suggest making "communicate clearly" the first and "don't get towed" the second.

Lack of communication was at the root of this week's contretemps– as it so often is– and the upshot was an expensive lesson for Hank Jones.

Jones bought a queen-sized bed frame from Mattress King on May 14. He paid $52.50 for the frame and $45 for what he described as "delivery and installation" in a letter he wrote the store on May 23, in which he pronounced himself "very disappointed" with Mattress King's performance.

"I have a problem with my shoulder," he wrote, and "[am] unable to lift heavy objects like headboards and frames, so I did opt to pay extra for your installation (set up) service." Jones wasn't home when the frame was delivered to his residence in Boyd Tavern on May 21, but someone was there to oversee the operation.

Except there was nothing to oversee. Instead, Jones claims, he got a phone call in which he was told that the truck had arrived, but the men "would not remove the old headboard from the existing bed frame." The reason given, he says, was that "customer equipment" such as headboards cannot be removed and reinstalled as part of setting up a new frame due to "the danger to employees."

"I called the store for clarification," he wrote, "and depending on who I was talking to, the non-removal policy is due to [either] 'danger to employees' or 'liability for damage to the headboard.' Make up your mind– which is it? Either way, for a bedding concern, the policy seems absurd. When I paid extra for delivery and installation, there was no mention of store policy one way or another."

Had the "headboard-policy restriction" been explained, Jones wrote, he could have either removed the headboard himself before delivery or taken his business to a store "that offers a set-up service based in sanity."

When I spoke with Jones, he said that he would be satisfied if Mattress King would allow him to return the frame (which never even made it out of the box) for a full refund of $92.50.

Anne Weaver, who took over as manager of the Charlottesville store on June 1, said that that wouldn't be possible. The $45 fee, she explained, was for delivery alone and did not include set-up– though in most situations, the delivery men are willing to put the frame together and transfer a mattress and box springs.

They didn't do that in this case, she claims, because Jones didn't have a place to put it– but clearing enough space for the new frame may have been dependent on removing the old headboard first.

In any case, she said, Jones probably could have struck a deal with the men; his mistake was in assuming that the $45 fee included additional labor. What surprised Weaver most about the situation, she added, was that anyone would pay $45 for delivery of a $50 item, especially one as light as the frame in question (which is just two L-shaped pieces of metal that slot together).

"I carry them around here all day," she claimed; "two or three at a time."

If Jones decides to return the frame, she said, the $45 cannot be refunded; that's because the delivery men are independent contractors and not Mattress King employees. Also, a 25 percent restocking fee will be deducted from the price of the frame. Jones rejected that option, saying that he's "really irritated" with Mattress King.

"It never dawned on me," he says, to ask what the $45 did and didn't cover– and that, of course, says it all.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.