|Posted on April 30, 2011 at 6:46 PM|
Warranties are generally one of those things that you cram into the back of a random drawer and then totally forget about until that day comes when something finally breaks. Then you frantically struggle to remember where you put the paperwork, anxiously opening and closing cabinets and drawers while shouting, “DANA! Where is that warranty thing for that thing that broke!”
And she says, “You can NEVER find anything! Have you even looked in the drawer marked ‘Warranties’?”
“Yes! That’s the first place I looked! It's not there!”
“If I come out there and immediately find it the drawer sitting behind a single piece of…”
“Oh! Never mind! I found it! It was in the warranty drawer! It was under another paper!” and finally pull it out only to discover that the damn thing expired like a month ago. That’s pretty much what usually happens with a warranty.
But when we’re buying something new, that warranty is like a cozy, Linus-blanket, wrapping us up in good feeling-ness. That warranty says, “Hey! Don’t worry! I got you covered! Anything breaks, I got a brother’s back!” That warranty performs a moving, lighter-waving, Sarah McLachlan acoustic set with an encore of “I will remember you." You can practically feel it looking into your soul...and it totally gets you.
And most times -- when needed and within its coverage period -- that warranty is like a Secret Service bodyguard. It hangs out quietly and unassuming in the background, staying out of the way and being all unimposing, and wearing cool dark glasses and wrist-mics, but is ever ready to vigilantly spring into action, an Uzi magically appearing out of a thin-air briefcase handle, in the event of problem. As long as that problem is NOT lightning. Even hinting or *thinking* about lightning or electrical surge damage when trying to get some service is enough to get an immediate denial and full-on Warren Commission report into your warranty claim. That is essentially page 1, section 1, item 1, rule 1, clause 1, paragraph 1 of the warranty claim denial handbook. (We’ve sadly learned this over – and OVER – at Custom Theater. To the point where we tell our guys, “When you call in for a repair, just say, “It is broken.” That’s it. That is it! You don’t know anything more than that. It…is...just…BROKEN! I don’t care if you happened to be in the home, watched the storm clouds form, actually SAW the lightning bolt energize and then come out of the sky, and time magically slowed down into some incredibly super ten-thousand-frames-per-second-slo-mo where you literally saw the bolt streak downwrds and the millions of joules of electricity specifically hitting and frying the component. Even THEN, you still don’t know why it broke!)
But recently I had two little warranty run-ins. First, was my little laptop coffee fiasco. After the initial rush of “Oh NO!!!” I recalled that I had purchased the extended warranty. Then after I retrieved it – right where it was supposed to be in Dana’s warranty drawer -- I saw the damning sentence of full deniability under item 3 of “Exclusions.” Apparently their idea of warranty didn’t include introducing any foreign objects – a la a full cup of scalding hot coffee – into the machine. And, well, I have to say, I *kind* of understand that. Sucks to be me, but I can’t entirely blame the laptop for being in the way of an errant cup. (I’m still struggling over exactly who I CAN blame. I can’t help but feel like I’m gonna end up having to bear the fullness of this weighty burden solo.) (And while you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, I believe it is entirely acceptable to cry over a spilt cup of coffee, especially when that is a delicious, freshly ground cup of cop that is spilt into your trusty laptop.) (And, follow up to that, the computer guy DID get it back up and running. Except my monitor screen now has these weird blotchey areas where it is like 33% brighter. Imagine typing through a screen filled with mini solar flares and aurora borealis-is and you’ll be close.)
My second warranty run-in was with Niles Audio. Now we’ve been a Niles dealer for a good long while and even though I’ve occasionally had my questions about their path and longevity – I mean, who hasn’t compared a major company to the Titanic? – I really do like the company and respect their president, Mike “Sparky” Detmer, who knows how to take a little criticism and respond with style. He’s, as we say in the south, good people. (OK. I’m not sure anyone here actually says that. Salt of the earth? Maybe...?)
So a couple of years ago, Niles changed their speaker policy and instituted a LIFETIME WARRANTY on all of their speakers. Now, and I’ll be honest here, most in-wall and in-ceiling and surface mount speakers are all pretty much alike. (Yes, yes, there are the ultra-high end models like those from BG and Thiel and CAT that have premium parts and build quality and offer amazing sound, but generally these are not the kinds of things that you are installing 10-20 pairs worth in a home.) Every company offers the same sizes, they all have adjustable tweeters, they’re all at similar pricepoints, blah-blah. Sure there are some subtle differences, but for the most part, these speakers are WAY more alike than they are different. And the architectural speaker is most often sold by prescription; you tell me how many rooms and a rough idea of the budget, and we’re spec’ing something in. Maybe 2 pair or larger driver models in big rooms and step up models in more critical listening areas. And usually you use the same speaker as the electronics; Elan speakers with Elan, Russound with Russound, SpeakerCraft with SpeakerCraft, Sonance with… You get the idea.
But, with the LIFETIME WARRANTY there was a compelling reason to start selling the Niles speaker line-up. Because LIFETIME WARRANTY is the kind of thing that people understand. It has a, “I’ll never have to worry about this again!” vibe going for it. It says, “Love is a many splendored and beautiful sounding and forever lasting thing.” LIFETIME WARRANTY does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This warranty is righteous and omnipresent. It love all things, it repairs all things. If LIFETIME WARRANTY started a commune, you'd seriously look into what it took to join-up.
And is an especially easy concept to sell when installing outdoor speakers, say on decks or pools or in gardens. Especially in the ultra-high humidity and ocean air environment of the Myrtle Beach south, it isn’t a stretch to think that maybe – one day, sure, maybe way off in the Chinese speaking, cyborg-run future when your speakers not working will be the least of your worries – that a speaker could fail. And then Niles will be there. Giving you a new one. With their LIFETIME WARRANTY. (Provided the cyborg overlords still allow music and not some kind of weird modem dial-up tone that is constantly playing through large klaxons placed around the people internment camps.)
So, even though we have been selling Niles speakers for a while now, and have sold an ass-ton of them, we have a massively low failure rate of them. It just seems like these speakers never fail, and I've never had to call in the good ship LIFETIME WARRANTY. They’re outdoor model passes some military weather rating test, which I'm not even totally sure what that means. They have an Apache helicopter blast it with a 20mm water cannon? They strap it to some SEAL's back and make him take it through Hell Week and rock portage? I don't know how the military tests its audio gear, but I'm sure its impressive. And I can say, even with brutalizing rain, heat, salt, and angry looks from neighbors, they just keep working. But the other day my installer goes to a job that is about 2 years old to check a non-working system (they had turned the amp off. A button push and sixty bucks, thank you very much!) and while he's checking the system he notices that the four speakers around the pool, their grilles have *completely* had their paint baked off. Instead of being all shiny and black they are now even more shiny and silver. Like a DeLorean. But now, not back in the '80s when that would have been cool.
“No problem,” says Sciacca. “They’ve got a LIFETIME WARRANTY! Just get me the serial numbers and I’ll call it in.” Except the serial numbers are also weatherized and unreadable. “No problem,” says Sciacca again. “I’m sure we’ve got it written down in the file.”
So I retrieve the info and send in a request to my Niles rep. Diddly-bop, move on with my day. Another problem solved, another wrong righted, another brick in the wall. Except then I get an e-mail back from my rep. “I’m not sure the grilles are covered. It is a LIMITED LIFETIME WARRANTY and I don’t know if that includes the grilles. I've attached the spare parts price list. Do you want to buy them?”
No. No I most definitely do NOT want to buy them. I do not want to buy one, and I do not want to buy four. I won't buy them by mail and I won't buy them in a store! I want to wrap myself up and have a nice cuddle-coze in the belief that a LIFETIME WARRANTY (even a snot-nosed, can’t even tie his own shoes limited one) is going to stand behind paint baking off the grilles of outdoor speakers.
So, while I wait for the ruling, I look at the Niles warranty and see this:
This Warranty does not include service or parts to repair damage caused by improper use or handling, including but not limited to damage caused by accident, mishandling, improper installation, commercial use, abuse, negligence, or normal wear and tear, or any defect caused by repair to the product by anyone other than NILES.
Hmm... Could full and brutal exposure to the southern sun be considered “abuse”? It sure feels abusive. In fact, it feels downright villainous at times. An occasional IED by the side of the road, rows of strip clubs, tattoo parlors and cheesy tourist souvenir stores along with a hundred plus golf courses is pretty much all that separates us from the Middle East. Or perhaps it was “negligence” on the homeowner’s part to leave the outdoor speakers, uh, outdoors all the time. Maybe they are supposed to provide shade and occasional still water spritzings and cool, refreshing alcoholic beverages with little mint sprigs and umbrellas during the height of summer, or a frost blanket in the winter and a custom fit Gore-tex cover if there is even the merest suggestion of rain. And the “normal wear and tear” bit sounds like just the kind of Blue Cross-ey type lawyer speak that *might* imply deniability. “You USED these speakers…OUTSIDE…in the SUMMER? And that sounds like NORMAL use to YOU? Would you drive your lawnmower in your living room? Or use your vacuum in a swimming pool? And you say we’re crazy? No, sir, none of this is normal behavior. Now I’ll kindly ask you to leave.” But, paint broiling off to base metal in two years doesn’t sound abusive or neglectful. I’m pretty confident my customer didn’t take a steel wool to it or spray it down with any Acme “Niles grille paint remover.” It also doesn’t *feel* "normal," espeically when none of the other speakers we've installed have ever done it.
I had my snitty little e-mail all mentally prepared to send to Mike Detmer. We’d broken bread together. (Well, not bread, technically, but sushi. Delicious, fresh, tableside prepared, actual wasabi root tinged sushi. OK. There was no breaking of anything, either. But I still feel like we’re simpatico.) I was sure he didn’t know about the limited part of his LIFETIME WARRANTY, but I was going to let him know what I thought about it. Especially after they had handled our previous service issues so awesomely. I was preparing for battle. I was...preparing to rant blog! And then this box showed up.
Totally free. Totally covered. Totally warrantied. Totally smiley and sweet. It’s nice to know that you can still count on some companies handling things the right way and fully standing behind and supporting their products. Now, if only Mike could do something about my laptop...