Back in September, I received a marketing letter from the Handyman Club of America. The letter offered me an opportunity to test tools and give them a review of what I thought of the tools. As compensation for my time to test and review the tool, I would be allowed to keep the tools free of charge. There was a $ 12-a-year membership fee that included a subscription to Handy magazine, with a money-back guarantee if I was not completely satisfied with any aspect of my membership.
I thought, wow, what woodworker doesn’t like to get free tools to play with? Now I figured the tools would probably not be the high quality tools I was use to from Lee Neilson, or Lee Valley tools. However, they advertised that they had given away more than 4.5 million dollars worth of free tools. The advertisement showed pictures of an array of tools featuring a very expensive-looking generator.
I also figured that I would be subjecting myself to their email marketing department, getting newsletter emails, and trying to sell me additional products, but hey, that is what my spam filter is for.
To sweeten the deal, they offered two free gifts, a 35-pocket bucket organizer and a 3-pc screw extractor. So I thought to myself, for $12 I get two free gifts with no obligation to return them and a 100% money back guarantee, I mine as well give it a try. I filled out the Send No Money Now flyer and sent it back.
The first thing that came in the mail was a welcome letter with instructions on how to set up my membership account and pay my membership fee. I paid the membership fee, thinking they were being a bit sneaky with it. They advertised $12 a year, which was true, what they failed to mention, was that they bill for two years at a time. Now, my $12 risk just went up to $24, but I thought to myself, “Whatever,” and paid the $24.
I continued reading through the welcome package and came to the part on how to get my first free gift, the 35-piece bucket organizer. From the original information they sent me, it sounds as if they would ship the two free gifts as soon as I sign up. Not so; I had to go to a webpage, be bombarded by pop-up ads, and fill in my information again to get them to ship the bucket organizer. By the time, I completed all this I was starting to get a bit irritated.
I continued on reading more of the welcome package, looking for what kind of other hoops I would have to jump through. After all, there were supposed to be two free gifts, where was the 3-piece screw extractor. Well, as I read, I found out. “You will be sent your first product to test a 3pc screw extractor”. What? I have to give a tool review on the 3-piece screw extractor. How tacky is that? They said it was a gift for signing up. My mother always taught me to give without the expectation to receive. Apparently, their mother did not teach them the same level of manners. Asking me to work for the free gift they promised, how tacky.
A week or two passed, and a package came in the mail. I opened it up, and in it was the 3-piece screw extractor and a how-to-do home repairs book. Let’s talk about the screw extractor before we get to the book. The screw extractor came with a postcard to review it. If I remember right, the card had three questions on it, two of which were multiple choices. The first one was “How satisfied are you with this product?” and had the standard choices ranging from unsatisfied to very satisfied. The second question was yes or no, “Would you recommend this product to a friend?”. The final question was for additional comments. Now, this postcard was so small that the additional comment section could hardly fit one sentence on it. Clearly, they do not want an actual, meaningful review. They really just wanted your information to try to sell you additional products, which brings me to the unexpected book that came in the same package. The book came with a letter stating that if I liked the book, I could purchase it now and agree to be sent additional books to have the opportunity to purchase, or send the book back and miss out on future opportunities. Now I was getting really irritated, I have to waste my time to package it back up and take it to the post office to mail it back or pay for it.
They failed to mention in any of the information they sent me that I would be mailed unsolicited products to purchase or be responsible for ensuring they were sent back. The occupy Wall Street protestors complained about predatory lending from banks, well this was predatory selling from unethical businesses. I read on another blog that a guy did buy the book, and when he wanted to ship the 2nd book they sent back, he discovered that he had to pay for the shipping. He was under the impression that the club covered the shipping because the 1st book that he received came with a prepaid shipping label to ship it back. It was just more deception.
I dove deeper into the deceptive business practices of the Handyman Club of America to see how this tool review really worked. I wondered how do you get to review the big-ticket items like the advertised generator. As of now, I`m sure you have figured out that getting to review big-ticket items would be extremely time-consuming and difficult. Nowhere could I find any information on how many times I would be sent unsolicited products to buy or be responsible for sending back. I did find out, if you want to do further tool reviews past the 3-piece screw extractor, you have to sign up for a third-party service. So yippy, you now get to be deceived by someone else! Once you sign up for the service, you have a choice from some low-level entry-level tools to review. For each review you complete, you get points, and you can then use those points to buy more tools to review and get more points. The point system is not clear on how many points you get for reviewing the different level items. However, it was clear to me that you do not get very many points per review. Scrolling through the different tools you can review, most of them are the type of products you would make fun of on really stupid infomercials. There were not what I would consider high-end tools available like what was advertised, only a promise that new tools would come available to review on a regular basis.
Their whole operation seemed to be set up to send you unsolicited products in hopes that you buy them from them or forget to send them back so they can bill you for the products at a later date. Their website, which they promote as a great resource for finding out information geared towards the handyman, is more advertising than quality information. Their magazine, like most magazines these days, has more pages dedicated to advertising than actual content, and the content that is provided is of low quality. If you want a magazine subscription that is worth something, try subscribing to Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, Or Popular Woodworking. You will learn a lot more from them than from Handy.
I wrote them a letter explaining my dissatisfaction, asking them to honor their 100% money-back guarantee and refund my money. A few weeks later, I received an email stating that they had received my request and processed it. I no longer received the Handy magazine subscription or unsolicited products to buy. I also did NOT get my money back. A few days later, I received a letter from them that looked like a check was enclosed. I opened it up, and it was not a check, but a voucher made to look like a check for $24, wanting me to change my mind and resign. Over the next several weeks, I received three more similar vouchers, but still no refund. I went to their contact page on their website, looking for a phone number to call so I could talk to a real person. No phone number was listed. Obviously, they do not value their customers enough to want to talk to them. There was only a contact form. I filled it out and got an automated response saying someone would respond to me within 48 hours. At this point, I felt that was not a sufficient response. After all, it has been five months. I went to their Facebook page and messaged them through Facebook. There was no response, so I went to their Twitter page and called them out on Twitter, but again, no response.
I guess I should not be surprised, as free tools sounded too good to be true. Overall, their sales tactics are deceptive and aggressive. I just do not do business like that. I have worked many commission sales jobs over the last 10 years, and I have never had the need to use deceptive sales tactics. I just could never bring myself to treat my customers that way.
I consider companies like Handyman Club of America to be scammers and their business practices to be deceptive, underhanded, and unethical.