Some of Jim Crawford’s happiest moments are when he relives his college days by singing in an alumni group with Ivy League buddies he’s known since the 1960s.
Recently, Crawford was looking forward to lending his baritone to the a cappella group in a performance in Philadelphia. But sweet anticipation turned sour when the pants he ordered for the event arrived in the wrong color, wrong size, and too late to be exchanged.
“It annoyed the hell out of me,” Crawford told me. “But then I found out I wasn’t the only one getting jacked around by these guys. That’s when I figured I should do something.”
“These guys” are the Big Men/Stout Men retail store and its online outlet, Bigmen.com. The Framingham-based operation claims to be the country’s oldest and “premier” purveyor of clothing for men requiring large sizes.
“Our goal is to ensure that the big and tall man has the same wide clothing selection as anyone else, without sacrificing fit, comfort, or price tag,” the company says on its website.
Bigmen.com’s website initially impressed Crawford enough for him to whip out his credit card and pay $125 for the pants he needed — gray, short rise, no cuffs, and 3-day delivery (for an extra $12).
But the pants arrived at Crawford’s Colorado home eight days later. And everything was wrong: the pants were black, with cuffs, and with the wrong rise (the measurement from the top of the inseams to the top of the waist). He demanded an explanation in an e-mail and asked, “For my next purchase, can you recommend a competent big men’s store?”
Bigmen.com never responded, prompting the retired public relations executive to do a little research online. On the Better Business Bureau website he found something absolutely stunning: The respected rating agency had given Big Men/Stout Men and Bigmen.com an F, the lowest possible rating. The website reported 82 customer complaints, 15 negative reviews, zero positive reviews, and zero neutral reviews. (The reviews aren’t much better on Yelp and other such sites.)
Crawford e-mailed me a link to the Better Business Bureau website, including his own newly posted complaint: “Nobody answers my repeated calls, and voice mail messages are not accepted. What kind of company is this?”
I trekked out to Framingham to find out.
What I found shocked me. American’s “premier” big men’s store operates out of the dank and messy basement of an office building off Route 9. The floor was covered in debris and there were piles of clothes everywhere. Total disorder.
I introduced myself to Chuck Brown and Joanne Green and told them I had come out to talk about Crawford’s unhappy experience. Both immediately recalled his e-mail (the one they didn’t reply to).
Brown then launched into a long-winded and somewhat emotional declaration that Crawford “got exactly what he ordered.” He jumped up and swept some clothes away to reveal a pile of thick binders. He opened one of the binders to show me color samples. It quickly became apparent that Brown wanted to convince me that Crawford got charcoal pants, and that charcoal is gray, so what’s the problem?
“But what color did he order?” I asked.
Brown continued to expend great energy lecturing me on black, charcoal, and gray, and all the colors in between. To him, I was just plain wrong and Crawford was wrong.
“Well, let’s look at what he actually ordered,” I suggested. “What color does it say on his order? Does it say charcoal?”
“Oh, we can’t show you that, that would violate customer privacy,” Brown shot back.
Later, Crawford sent me a copy of his order. It was for gray pants. I went on the Bigmen.com website and found the wool slacks Crawford ordered. The pants come in camel, olive, navy, slate blue, black, gray, and brown. No option for charcoal.
The picture showed a man wearing gray pants. I think I can be trusted to know the difference between gray and charcoal. Besides, what Crawford got didn’t even look like charcoal. What he got was black.
Crawford recently lost 30 pounds, so the gray pants he’d worn in dozens of performances no longer fit. I asked him to send me a picture of his old gray pants next to his new black ones. The picture makes it abundantly clear Crawford didn’t get what he wanted.
During my visit, I asked about the shipping delay. Green insisted that Crawford got the promised three-day delivery. With a flourish, she opened a file on her computer to get the tracking history on Crawford’s pants. She printed it and circled “out for delivery” and “delivered,” on Oct. 24 on Oct. 26, respectively. Then she handed it to me.
I think she wanted me to believe the tracking history proved Crawford got his pants within the promised three days. But one crucial date was missing: the date the order came in.
I asked to see it.
Oh, no, she said, the customer’s credit card number was on it. (Only the last four numbers, I later learned).
“Well,” I said. “Just read me what date it says on the order form.”
Of course the order form, when Crawford sent it to me, showed the order came in on Oct. 18. Delivery took eight days.
Brown and Green professed great sensitivity toward Crawford’s privacy. But Brown brought up the “notorious” practice of “theater people” ordering a piece of clothing, wearing it once for a performance, then falsely claiming a defect and demanding a full refund. Crawford had written in his e-mail to Bigmen.com that he needed the pants for a performance. It seemed an unscrupulous comment meant to divert blame.
And Green felt it necessary to tell me when talking about Crawford’s complaint that, “We deal with a lot with people who are unhappy about their weight.”
Brown eventually told me that Crawford would get a full refund.
“We do a pretty good job, but we’re not perfect,” he said.
I had no trouble believing the second half of that sentence.
Short and plump, Crawford always gets positioned in the front row when performing. All the men are supposed to wear a blue blazer and gray slacks. (Crawford prefers to not name his alma mater.) When he realized the bind he was in, Crawford called the music director in a panic and asked what he should do.
The reply was direct, simple, and compassionate.
“Just come and sing,” he was told.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.