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Customers' complaints take back seat at Tampa furniture store

TAMPA - At the Home and Mattress Revolution USA, a furniture store on East Busch Boulevard, customers are up in arms. The business offers discounted prices and quick delivery. The prices are low, but delivery is slow and in some cases, the merchandise never arrives. "They've given me every excuse under the sun why they haven't," said Amber Curtis of Wesley Chapel, who paid $1,200 for a sofa in March. "It went from the wife having food poisoning, to a death in the family, to being out of town, then to the vendor. It's just an excuse every time." Taurean Toliver of Tampa purchased a bar unit in May for about $225.  He claimed he was told it would be delivered within three weeks.
"They told me that they don't do refunds if you cancel your order, which I was trying to tell them it wasn't a cancellation," Toliver said. "I never got my product so I asked for a refund, but they continuously told me the owners aren't here." There are 14 similar complaints about Home and Mattress Revolution USA on file at the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency. "The pattern is: People order furniture and it doesn't come. You know, it's a long delay before they get it or they get the wrong stuff," said Kevin Jackson, a chief investigator with the agency. Jackson said the agency has had some success resolving complaints, but he called it inconsistent success. "They've made some promises and haven't lived up to their end," Jackson said. Jackson, the county agency's inspector, said it is not uncommon for furniture stores to expect full payment upfront. He suggested using a credit card for such purchases instead of cash. That way, if the furniture doesn't show up, a customer can dispute the charge with the credit company. James Thompson, a former Home and Mattress Revolution USA salesman, said customer service is not exactly a priority at the store. "I have actually seen the owners slam the door, the office door, on the customers that had issues," Thompson said. He said many customers paid in full and received nothing. When store owner Jacqueline Bone learned that Thompson spoke with News Channel 8, she left a message demanding her side of the story be told. But she failed to return phone calls. News Channel 8 confronted Bone as she drove up to the store Sept. 7 and she agreed to do an on-camera interview if she could first talk off camera. This exchange, though, soon disintegrated into an emotional confrontation. Bone said she had never planned to be in the furniture business. She said she moved into the building at 2010 E. Busch Blvd. planning to open a children's theater. She said the Tampa fire marshal's office demanded expensive safety improvements and she was denied a building-use change. Acting fire marshal Milton Jenkins says when Home and Mattress purchased the building it was not up to fire code.   "We came along and did an inspection.  There were sprinkler issues, fire alarm issues, they were sleeping in the back.  That makes it a mixed-use occupancy, unless they have proper fire barriers we told them they couldn't do that," Jenkins said. Jenkins claims Bone installed a sprinkler system that still does not meet code.  It was not connected to city water.  He says she has until March to tie it in to city water. He added that Bone wasn't treated any differently than anybody else. "This has been going on since 2008.  It's 2012 going on 2013," Jenkins said.  "The focus of this office is protection of life and property." Bone never did explain why her customers didn't get their furniture. Then, during the interview, customer Curtis showed up at the store. Bone became emotional, refused to go on camera after all and hurried to a nearby bathroom. She called a reporter on a cell phone to say she was having a medical issue. She declined the reporter's offer to call an ambulance. Bone called a second time from the bathroom and said she would have to delay the on- camera interview, but that Curtis – who had waited five months – could take anything in the store she wanted up to a value of $1,200. As Curtis made her way to the sofa section, another customer, Antonia Medina, stood next to some dining sets and loudly demanded her money back from a store clerk. "I don't want furniture. I don't want nothing. All I want is my money," Medina said. Medina said she paid $1,300 for a dining room set and the furniture was two months late. The clerk was on the phone with Bone, who was in the bathroom. She informed Medina there is a no-refund policy. "I don't have time for this," Medina told the clerk. " … She's woman enough to come down here and give me my money." Jason Hall of The Morgan Group, a Houston company running a "survival sale" for Home and Mattress Revolution USA, stepped up to resolve Curtis' issue Curtis asked about a sofa that was part of a set selling for $3,800. For her troubles, Hall gave the set to Curtis. "The owners are not here; they should be doing this," Hall told Curtis. "Please accept my apology; this should never have happened and dragged on like this." Medina's money was refunded a week later. As of Monday, Bone had not provided an update on orders for any customers News Channel 8 inquired about.

sandrews@wfla.com (813) 221-5779

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