Join Date: May 2002
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West Marine Customer service - a postive story!
Most posts about West Marine seem to be negative; I thought I would relay a positive story about their customer service.
A couple of weeks ago, my automatic inflatable pfd went off while it was in the back of my car. I went to order a rearming kit, and was able to find it in West Marine's on-line catalog. The kit comes in a few days, and I check the packaging; yup, it matches the make and model of my pfd (an older SOSpenders). However, when I go to install the bobbin and cylinder, I find that the bobbin doesn't fit. Not even close.
I call West Marine's customer service, and the woman I spoke with immediately sent me a package of bobbins that were also keyed to my pfd. No charge. Well, those bobbins came in a few days, and they too did not fit. Another call to West Marine, and this time, they say they don't know what to do; they suggest I call the manufacturer, and they give me the number. I do call the manufacturer and learn why the bobbins don't fit. It seems that my pfd must have been bought prior to the Coast Guard certification of inflatable pfd's as "approved" devices. During that time, SOSpenders (and other brands too I am guessing) used a different design for the bobbins. However, it was a different bobbin design that gained approval, and only that newer design is now sold. The confusion was compounded by the fact that SOSpenders did not change the model number of the pfd after the switchover. The upshot: my pfd can no longer be used as an automatic inflatable. It will work fine as a manual model, but I can't buy a bobbin to fit the triggering device.
Once I learned this, I called back West Marine to return the now useless rearming kit. I wound up with the same customer service rep I started with. She remembered my problem, and once I explained the story, she immediately credited my account for the full amount. She also told me it wasn't worth shipping it back to West Marine, and for me to keep it and use it to rearm the pfd as a manual unit. She also made some notes to share with her colleagues as she said this had come up before and they didn't know why the bobbins weren't fitting. While I wasn't happy that I need to buy a new auto pfd, I was pleased with West Marine's response and the service.
One more important piece of info to share: Coleman (the owner of the SOSpenders brand) is offering a discount to those in the same situation as me. They will give you 25% off the price of a new pfd if your old pfd is a pre-Coast Guard approved model that cannot be rearmed. Pick out a new vest from their website, call them and they will give you directions on how to ship your old vest to them, and how to get the discount.
btw, careful readers will realize that I waited quite a bit of time to replace the bobbin in my pfd. After all, the Coast Guard certified inflatable pfds years ago; just how long did this dope wait before servicing the unit? I know, I know; I was supposed to replace the bobbin after a year or two. Live and learn. At least now I have four replacement bobbins on hand.