An Open Letter to Peter Harris, President/CEO of West Marine, Inc.
Below is a letter I sent to West Marine CEO Peter Harris. I urge people to stand up to West Marine's pricing arrogance and service indifference by purchasing their boating supplies elsewhere...
April 29, 2007
Mr. Peter Harris
President and Chief Executive Officer
West Marine, Inc.
500 Westridge Drive
Watsonville, CA 95076
Dear Mr. Harris:
I know there are other avenues within your company for correspondence such as mine, so I apologize in advance for attempting to impose upon your time. However, even at your level, I’d hope you’d want to hear about how things are going at the individual store level, especially when a customer’s experience may reflect a broader trend. It’s one thing to lose a customer such as myself; quite another when the numbers may be adding up. I note from your SEC 10-K filing, and analyst reports that, financially, things aren’t stellar at West Marine. Perhaps my story can be useful, especially when I know it’s not unique.
On Saturday, April 28th, I entered your store in Tracys Landing, MD, intending to buy a variety of lines for my sailboat. Specifically, I needed Sta-Set Polyester 7/16” @ $1.29/foot, total 110 ft. = $141.90; 5/16” @ $.76/foot, total 55 ft. = $41.80, and a 20 ft. dock line @. $2.09/foot = $41.80. According to your catalog prices, I was about to spend $225.50. I assume that would be an above-average single purchase, even by West Marine’s standards.
I arrived early – before 9:00am, because my experience at this store is that it’s difficult at times, particularly on a busy Saturday, to find someone to help you when you need assistance. Upon arrival, I approached two sales representatives and asked, “Who would like to help me get some lines cut?” A gentleman named Norman offered to help me and we went to the back of the store where spools of line are stacked. I had brought an old line with me to ensure I got the right size. I pointed to the Sta-Set lines Polyester lines and stated that’s what I wanted for my jib sheets. We determined my size was 7/16”, but that size was not in the group. He suggested another line of the same size and I had to inform him it was a dock line, not suited for my purpose (something a knowledgeable sales person would have known). He then spotted a spool up on a shelf that appeared to be what I wanted. He brought it down, it looked right, he cut two 55’ foot lengths, helped me with the other lines and I proceeded to the checkout counter.
When the cashier totaled the order, with tax, it came to over $400.00. I questioned the total, noting the jib sheets rang up at $2.83/foot. Norman told me he was sure he had written down the correct SKUs. I said there’s no way the lines I wanted cost that much and we returned to the back of the store where we discovered the lines he cut were XLS Extra-T Double Braid, a superior quality line that was not what I had requested. Norman, confused as to what to do, went and got the manager.
When the manager arrived, the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, it looks like you just bought those lines.” I began to object and he clearly wasn’t having it. Eventually, with Norman standing by, I was able to explain what had happened. The manager finally said, “Oh, now I understand. Tell you, what I’ll do. You don’t have to buy the lines if you don’t want them.” I had already made it clear I had no intention of buying them, became very angry and berated him and his attitude quite loudly, pointing out this was not the first time he had been rude to me and I walked out of the store, telling him I’d never be back, and leaving all of the lines I had been prepared to buy behind. I returned in a few seconds and informed him the matter was not going to end there. He had nothing to say except to try to return a $10 Rewards coupon I had left on the counter. I told him what he could do with it. By the way, I note you appear to have reduced the normal “reward” from $15 to $10. Cost cutting?
In isolation, while I would have been offended by his attitude toward a regular customer, I would not have reacted as extremely as I did. However, as mentioned, he had been confrontational with me previously when I tried to use an online discount code that I had just checked on your web site (where it was accepted). The only reason I didn’t order it on the web site was because I figured I’d rather give the local store the business and I could get the item immediately. He refused to accept the coupon, saying it was fraudulent (BradsDeals.com) and he had been informed by corporate Internal Affairs (or some similar sounding organization) not to take it. When I showed him my printout from WestMarine.com, he relented. However, he clearly was not happy and had caused me to feel embarrassed as though I had tried to do something wrong.
Further, I have witnessed him being rude or confrontational to other customers and have had conversations with people who have had unfortunate experiences with him in the store and either go to competitors’ stores, or online, or to the West Marine in Edgewater, MD, where the manager has been building an excellent reputation for her customer service.
Another problem I’ve noted with the Tracys Landing store is that there appears to be excessive staff turnover. It is rare to find anyone who is knowledgeable about the products in the store. I’m now wondering, if Dave treats his customers the way he does, how does he treat his staff?
Again, in isolation, I wouldn’t bother to send this letter; I’d simply stop patronizing West Marine. However, it seems patron dissatisfaction with West Marine may be a bit of an epidemic. I live in a waterfront community and have asked around my neighborhood. Some have personal stories re the local store; others go out of their way to shop elsewhere because of the prices.
Further, I subscribe to an email group of owners of a particular manufacturer’s boats. I’m enclosing a few samples of their enedited comments (minus names, to respect their privacy). These people have demonstrated by their participation in the email discussions that they are among the most knowledgeable sailors. As this is just one group, I have to assume you’d find similar discussions taking place all over the internet. Surely, you can draw your own conclusions from their comments. At minimum, you’re beginning to suffer from a significant image problem.
Sorry for taking so much of your time here, assuming this actually reaches your desk. But I think it’s important to speak up now and then. This is one former customer’s story, one who spent, according to my credit card records, over $1,000 in your stores last year – in what was a “light” spending year (in the previous year I spent that much on one purchase). Multiply this by who-knows-how-many, and you may want to be concerned.
(Discussion group comments attached)