This is a story about a couch.
Actually, this is a story about a search for a couch, and what it taught me about doing business the conventional way.
This weekend, my husband and I had to find a replacement for Horace, the couch that currently sits in our living room. Horace, unlike most couches, has a name. He’s been named because although he’s beige, he has acquired a lot of character in 30 years. Too much. So much, in fact, that my brother cannot sit on him without wheezing. Horace, bless his beige, cat-scratched heart, has got to go.
We started looking for a new couch on Friday. We had a small budget set aside for it. Neither one of us is new to furniture shopping. Both of us, when we were living singly, got a lot of stuff from the Goodwill and Salvation Army. I once furnished an entire apartment for $40, thanks to hand-me-downs, Freecycle, Craigslist and tag sales.
I will admit that we did hit some Goodwills and vintage stores, mostly out of habit. But we didn’t want a secondhand item this time. We wanted a nice couch. A new couch. A couch that no butts – canine, feline or human — had previously rested upon. Our very own brand new comfy couch, scotch-guarded, covered in a color that we had selected, and possibly delivered by burly men who would carry it over our threshold. Why? Because we are homeowners, tax-payers and grown-ups, and that’s how grown-ups buy furniture.
We started by going on down to the discount furniture showroom. The couches were in our budget, but the selection was limited and the sofas seemed cheap. Then we went to a furniture store where the furniture didn’t seem cheap. For good reason; it was twice what we could afford. We skedaddled before anyone could ask if we were being helped. Then we went home and did a quick Google search. As it turned out, a major department store had a furniture section. Who knew? We headed to the mall and quickly found out why we’d never heard of this particular furniture department: it’s a dimly-lit grotto in the back of the store’s basement, behind the section where they’re keeping the Christmas trees for the next month. It’s staffed by a very strange man, who probably doesn’t see other humans very often, and followed us around as if he was planning to feed on our souls. And the furniture is cheap-looking, which probably why the lights are so dim back there. We departed from that cave in a hurry and we didn’t stop, or look back, until we reached the latte shop in the food court. Lastly, we decided to hit our state’s other discount furniture store, which hooray, had sofas in our price range and also seemed to have items that we liked. We decided on a couch almost instantly, but thought we’d wait a few hours, measure our house to see if we could get it through the door, and then call in our order. We were elated. CouchQuest 2011 was over.
When we got home, I looked up the couch and on a whim, decided to look at the customer reviews, because I loved the couch and I wanted to see how many other people loved it too. I wanted to join the cult of love for my new couch. I wanted to hear all about its snuggly pillows on cold winter nights, and about how I could take naps on it on autumn afternoons.
I clicked. The first reviewer described her couch pillows falling apart within the first year. Maybe her couch was a fluke. I clicked again. The second reviewer said that her couch only looked new for the first month. Click. The third reviewer loved his couch so much he gave it five whole stars. But his review sounded exactly like ad copy. “It’s so easy to clean,” he crowed. Really? In the store, we read a bit of fine print about chenille being dry-clean only. Click. The fourth reviewer was angry. “In six months it looked like I had a 10 year-old couch.” Click. “Mine arrived damaged.”
I yelled down to my husband not to call the store. He didn’t want to hear it. He was in love with the couch too, but after reading two pages of bad reviews, he agreed with me. There was no way we were blowing our couch fund on a lemon. And there was no way we were going to give business to that store. I had checked online review sites for the business itself. I found scathing comments written by the spouses of employees who were forced to come in during dangerous storms, comments from customers who felt cheated and comments from people who felt all the furniture was cheap. We felt bad that the salesman, who seemed like a nice guy, was not getting a commission from us but we simply could not do it.
We were bummed. My husband, looking downtrodden, made dinner. That was when my rage kicked in. I went into the other room, slammed my butt down on Horace and opened my laptop.
What the hell had I been doing? Why did I feel the need to buy furniture – probably not even made ethically and definitely not made in this country – from stores that abuse their employees and cheat their customers? Why? Because this is what people do? That is no reason to do anything. That’s how unethical behavior gets to be the norm. I typed in a search on Craigslist. It was Sunday night. All the tag salers were cutting their losses. Someone in our town was getting rid of a 100-year-old velvet couch, for free. It’s in our living room right now. We’re using the couch fund to reupholster it, and we’re hoping to use a small local business for that.
And if the cost of re-upholstery is too high? We’ll do it ourselves. Not because that’s what we’re supposed to do, but because it makes the most sense for us.