St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 22, 2012 – A Michigan-based company, Run Local Locksmith, is the focus of several complaints from St. Louis area customers who say they were lured by low advertised prices, but then charged much higher fees by workers who responded to service calls.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests caution when dealing with the company, headquartered in Center Line, Mich. The company has more than 150 complaints nationwide and an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible. Meni Agababayev of Sterling Heights, Mich., is the firm’s president.
“I was stunned,” said a Chesterfield, Mo., man who said he was charged $265 by a Run Local Locksmith worker who spent five minutes breaking into his daughter’s locked house shortly before Christmas. The man said the family had been attracted by a website that advertised a $15 service call.
“I could have gone over there and broken out a window and replaced it for 40 bucks,” the man said.
The BBB has registered more than 20 complaints involving the business from Missouri and Illinois. Most of the Missouri complaints are from the St. Louis area; most of the Illinois complaints are from Chicago or nearby communities. The company failed to respond to nearly 100 of the complaints.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, urged Run Local Locksmith and other businesses that use bait-and-switch tactics to be more honest with consumers about their pricing. “For an Internet site or a call center to quote a $15 service fee is misleading when their charges are typically $100, $200 or more,” she said.
“If the cost to get into a house or car could run into the hundreds of dollars – even for relatively simple jobs – potential customers have a right to know that in advance,” Corey said.
A 64-year-old woman from Florissant, Mo., said she called Run Local Locksmith last fall after locking herself out of her home. She said an employee who answered the phone told her that charges start at $25. Based on that, she estimated her maximum expenses at about $100. When the locksmith handed her a bill for $235, she said she told him, “you’ve got to be kidding,” but gave him her charge card. She said she believes she was a victim of bait-and-switch advertising.
A woman from Ballwin, Mo., said a company representative told her by phone last July that the cost of opening her locked car would be no more than $50. But when the locksmith arrived, he told her the price would be $210. She said she agreed to the cost because “I was desperate to get into my car.” She said the locksmith did $700 in damage to her passenger side door, causing a water leak. “I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone,” she said.
Other customers recounted similar stories, saying they felt pressured into paying much higher than expected costs. In some cases, they said, workers intimidated them, needlessly damaged their homes or cars or did not provide upfront estimates before doing the work.
Juan Tolbert, a spokesman for the company, told the BBB in a written statement that Run Local Locksmith has “always given the customer the chance to accept or decline charges, as we have never performed a job and then requested an extra fee to be paid.” He also said that the company has paid out thousands of dollars annually in refunds and credits to customers “where there was merit to the claim or complaints.
“In any industry that services thousands of clients, it is expected to have a margin of unsatisfied customers and our margin runs below two percent,” Tolbert said. He said the company tries to perform its work to “the best of our abilities and expertise.”
On its website, Run Local Locksmith calls its rates “considerably lower than our competitors. We are proud to drive our costs down to serve you more efficiently.”
Agababayev, Run Local Locksmith’s president and owner, has a website named for him, www.meniagababayev.org, which describes him as an “online business pioneer,” “king of the online world” and a “renowned business tycoon.”
“He is a trustworthy businessman who believes in nothing more than customer satisfaction,” says the site. “He has taught his workforce to treat all his customers humbly and with patience. This is the reason he is adored by all his customers and his workforce too.”
Registration information identifies Agababayev as administrator of the site and Run Local Locksmith as the name of the administrator’s organization.
The BBB and Federal Trade Commission offer the following tips for consumers looking to hire a locksmith company for emergency work:
- If you are locked out of your car and have roadside assistance service such as AAA, call them first.
- Research locksmith companies before you need them. Keep that information in your purse or wallet in the event you need such services in the future.
- Get an estimate from the locksmith for all work and replacement parts before work begins. Do not trust estimates given over the phone.
- Ask for identification. Make sure you have a locksmith’s full name, the company name and contact information before agreeing to work. Reputable locksmiths should ask for your identification before accessing a vehicle or building.
- Make sure the locksmith has insurance coverage in case there is damage to your home or vehicle.
- Pay by credit card in the event you want to challenge the charge.
- Contact the BBB for a company’s Business Review by calling 314-645-3300 or going to www.bbb.org.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com; or Bill Smith, Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org