Over several decades, Caparoso and her extended family have had a good track record with Hooker Furniture purchased from Flemington Department Store.
So when Caparoso was ready for a new dining set in October 2009, she returned to Flemington.
But that outing, and the many unsatisfactory service calls that followed, were anything but positive for the Berkeley Heights woman.
During her dining set shopping trip at Flemington with her husband, Caparoso said, they “chatted with our salesman about American-made, real wood products.”
Then, she said, they made the obvious choice.
“We bought a Hooker Furniture dining set from Flemington because that proved to be a winning combo in the past,” she said.
They said they fell in love with a cherry table and eight matching rung ladder back chairs. It would match their newly renovated kitchen perfectly, they said, and the two built-in extendable leaves would comfortably seat 16.
Caparoso said there was a slim chance they’d have the table by Thanksgiving, but Christmas was the real deadline because she was hosting her five grown children and seven grandchildren for the holiday.
She said there was no talk of a warranty, and given the positive history, she didn’t think to ask.
Time passed, and soon it was a few weeks before Christmas. They called Flemington for an update.
“Each time I called to check on things, I was assured that the delivery was only a week away. The excuses were always lame, and it felt like they were stalling for time,” she said. “They told me the factory in North Carolina was backordered.”
She didn’t get the table in time for Christmas.
After the holidays, Caparoso called to find out about the delay.
“Someone explained that they had to fill a container before they could ship it,” she said. “Confused, I asked why there would be a need for a container when it is coming from North Carolina. He explained it was coming from China.”
That was a shock to Caparoso. She said they asked how they’d get cherrywood in China.
“The man told me they ship the wood to a factory in China because it is too expensive to have it manufactured in the USA,” she said.
The set was finally delivered in February 2010.
Caparoso said after delivery, she immediately noticed the legs of some chairs were uneven and they wobbled on the hardwood floor.
She called Flemington, which sent a repairman.
“He put metal caps on the bottom to even out the chairs,” she said, “The metal washers caused the chairs to scratch the floor, and they still wobbled.”
The couple removed the caps and put soft material underneath.
“We had several other visits within the first few months of having the set for repairs,” she said. “One chair was so bad, they promised to replace it with a new chair. It never came, and when I called them, they explained that they no longer deal with Hooker Furniture.”
But Caparoso said that wasn’t true. Flemington still offered Hooker in its catalog, and the very same set she purchased was still for sale.
About nine months after the delivery, with multiple service calls for chair issues, Caparoso said Flemington said the set came with a one-year guarantee.
“At this point they had sent about six repairmen to the house to inspect or fix the chairs,” she said. “Frankly, I think they were tired of dealing with us, and decided to tell us that our year of free repairs was coming to an end.”
Before the year was over, Caparoso said, she asked for a refund, but Flemington refused.
That’s when the table problems began, Caparoso said.
“We became aware that the table was a veneer rather than real wood right away, but didn’t see defects immediately,” she said. “I made several calls to Flemington before they finally sent a rep out to take pictures.”
She said the repair rep saw the cracking and peeling of the table, which appeared to be a manufacturing defect, so she said Flemington agreed to contact the manufacturer.
Before long, Caparoso said she got a call from Flemington. There was nothing they could do, they said, because the table was out of warranty and Hooker was no longer manufacturing that type of table.
“That turned out to be a lie. Hooker does still manufacture the exact table, and the table and chairs are in their most recent catalog,” she said.
Indeed, the set is still advertised in both Hooker and Flemington catalogs and online, and Hooker later verified to Bamboozled that it still manufactures the item.
Within the last year, the table’s condition has gotten worse, Caparoso said. The sides have lifted up, wood is peeling off in some places, and sandpaper marks are visible under the smooth and glossy veneer.
Caparosa said she made one final attempt to resolve this last August. Flemington sent a repairman to the house, who reported back to Flemington, she said.
“The manager called me, and his answer to the peeling sides and raised veneer was to pour glue on it and put a clamp for a few days,” said Caparoso, who again asked for a refund. “He replied, ‘If I were to give the money back to everyone who complained, I’d be out of business.”
He offered Caparoso an exchange. She could get rid of her table and take another they have in storage for $200. Caparoso said she politely declined.
“They said the table was real wood. It’s not. They said it would arrive before Christmas. It didn’t. They said it was made in America. It’s wasn’t. They said that Hooker stopped manufacturing the table. They didn’t. They said they stopped selling Hooker furniture. They didn’t,” Caparoso said.
She acknowledges that most of the information she’s shared isn’t in writing and can’t be proved.
“Here is what I can prove: I purchased a dining room set from Flemington less than four years ago and it is falling apart, and has obvious manufacturing defects,” she said. “I think most people would agree that a $3,300 dining room set should last a little longer than that. Don’t you think?”
THE OTHER SIDE
Flemington’s rep, John Koziel, manager of the furniture division, disagrees with Caparoso’s report of what’s happened.
“A couple of things stand out to us,” he said. “I do know she was never told it was an American-made product.”
We asked if he was at the sale site.
No, Koziel said, but he said the salesman knows the product very well.
He said he had a record of only two repair calls, not six, and that his repairmen would never add a metal component to the chairs.
Koziel also said Caparoso was never told the table wasn’t made anymore, but the chairs were discontinued.
“(Hooker) didn’t feel it was a manufacturing issue,” he said. “They felt it was more of a usage issue. I won’t want to say abuse, but incorrect use of a table.”
Perhaps it was their cleaning product, he said.
“She said she just cleaned it with a paper towel, which it can’t be,” he said. “I don’t want to be harsh, and we try not to disagree with the customer.”
Koziel then offered the table in storage, previously offered for $200, at no cost.
We next turned to Hooker.
“That this kind of quality problem with our products is extremely rare,” said spokeswoman Kim Shaver, noting that Hooker has a very low return rate for its products.
She said the customer has “a very common misunderstanding about the term ‘solid wood.'”
Shaver said solid wood construction is rarely used anymore, but instead, a combination of solid wood and wood veneers over durable wood products offers several benefits. She said it “enables more decorative looks unattainable with solid wood,” and that the construction adds to “stability and durability,” and doesn’t expand and contract with heat or absorb as much moisture as solid wood.
Shaver said Hooker Furniture is based in Martinsville, Va., and its employees oversee the design and development and quality of furniture.
“However, our wood furniture line is actually produced — under our direction — in various places around the world, primarily the Far East,” she said, which she said is what 90 percent of American wood manufacturers do today.
She said Hooker once had five wood furniture domestic manufacturing facilities, and the overseas changes were made because it was “the business model our industry was forced to adopt in order to be competitive and meet the price points that retailers and the consumer demanded.”
She said Hooker’s upholstery divisions are “primarily in the U.S.”
Shaver then turned us to another spokeswoman, Shelbie Hundley, about the customer’s specific situation.
Over several weeks, Caparoso and Bamboozled went back and forth with Hundley, sharing damage photos and detailed descriptions of the flaws.
Finally, Hundley had an offer.
“She said she ran it past her quality control expert who said the only way it could have gotten like that was if water was poured on it for an extended period,” Caparoso said. “They agreed it was defective, and yes, they’re going to give me a new table.”
A Hooker sales rep will call Caparoso to make the arrangements.
“I don’t care that it’s made in China anymore, as long as it holds up,” Caparoso said.