Eight months after Better Business Bureau (BBB) first warned consumers about the questionable operations of a Missouri office supply company, BBB says the company appears to be continuing to deceive businesses across the nation.
In recent weeks, complaints have accelerated against SVT, Inc., based in Columbia, Mo. BBB logged 17 complaints about SVT in November. At least one Southern Arizona consumer has filed a complaint against SVT.
Businesses most often complained that company salespeople lied about knowing top company officers in an effort to make sales. Others said SVT salespeople erroneously told businesses that SVT was relocating and that it was liquidating supplies at significant savings. The businesses also complained that SVT overcharged them for supplies and shipped far more products than were ordered.
An employee of a Utah boat parts and accessories business said SVT billed his company more than $5,600 for supplies estimated to be worth about $250.
Kim States, BBB President, called the sales methods used by SVT marketers “seriously misleading and completely unethical.
“Based on the complaints we are seeing, anyone receiving a telemarketing call from SVT should hang up immediately and warn others with their business to do the same,” States said.
On March 26, BBB issued an alert describing similar tactics used by SVT phone solicitors. At that time, Michael O’Keefe, who described himself as an owner of the company, said the complaints to BBB represented only a tiny fraction of SVT’s 11,500 customers. He said most complaints were a result of communication problems between customers and SVT salespeople. “We had to let some people go when we had problems,” O’Keefe said then.
By March 26, BBB had received 14 complaints and reports involving SVT. Since then, BBB has logged an additional 80 complaints and reports involving the company, 17 of those in November. The previous monthly high was 11, in June and September. A recent call made to O’Keefe was not returned.
SVT, Inc., has an “F” grade with BBB, the lowest grade possible.
An application for a business license for SVT, which has a warehouse and offices at 2313 D Industrial Drive in Columbia, Missouri, shows O’Keefe as the owner and Richard Holof of Coral Springs, Fla., as a “partner or officer” of the company.
In the Utah case, an employee charged with ordering office supplies for the business in Draper, Utah, said a telemarketer from SVT called the business on Oct. 26 and claimed that she had spoken to the company’s chief financial officer, who had authorized a large order of supplies. The employee said he learned later that the officer had never authorized the order. The caller said SVT was relocating to Missouri and had to sell a large quantity of items at a reduced price.
When the supplies arrived in Utah, the employee said the shipment included 80 pounds of Post-It notes, enough to last for two years. The total price: $5,683. When the employee called to inquire about the order, SVT immediately dropped the price to $2,800. The employee said a fair price would have been about $250. The employee said he contacted the business’s delivery service, explained that the business had been defrauded, and the delivery service returned the supplies to SVT.
An employee of a sheet metal fabricating company in Washington, Pa., told BBB that she was contacted by a salesperson on Nov. 2. The salesperson said she was an owner of a business supply company that was relocating and offering cut-rate deals on supplies. The employee said she expected the bill to be between $400 and $500 and was dumbfounded when SVT sent her four to five times more than what she ordered, at a cost of $3,900. “Who in their right mind would pay these kinds of prices?” she said. She contacted BBB Nov. 30.
The director of operations for a small Bible school in Jackson, Mich., said that an SVT salesperson called the school’s office on Sept. 15, saying the business office manager had approved a large purchase of office supplies. The operations director said the caller claimed SVT was moving from Michigan to Missouri and needed to liquidate its inventory before moving. He said he was stunned when he received a bill for $5,600, but sent payment to the company, believing the products had been previously approved. When he learned that the school’s office manager had not approved the order, he said he tried to contact SVT, but got only a telephone answering machine. Four weeks later, he said he has still heard nothing from the company.
Records with both the Arkansas and Florida secretaries of state also list O’Keefe and Holof as officials with the Dardanelle, Ark.,-based Tornado Office Systems, Inc., which has produced more than 100 complaints with BBB.
BBB offers several suggestions for avoiding problems when dealing with office supply companies:
• Deal only with known and reputable companies.
• Make sure you get in writing exactly what you are ordering and what it will cost. Insist on the ability to sign off on any agreement before items are shipped.
• Do not take a salesperson’s word that a company official has authorized you to do business with the company. Check with the official first before finalizing an order.
• Once the supplies are received, check them carefully to make sure you have received exactly what you have ordered. Make sure the invoice total is correct.
• Contact BBB for a company Reliability Report by calling (520)888-5353, or by checking our Web site at www.tucson.bbb.org