The back of a van isn’t a typical place to shop for new stereo equipment, but numerous Spokane Valley residents are getting the opportunity.
The Sheriff’s Department has received dozens of calls from concerned citizens over the last two weeks about a fleet of unmarked, white mini-vans working its way through the Valley offering home stereo speakers at reduced prices.
Deputies have stopped the vans several times and determined the salespeople on wheels from Whirlwind Entertainment are operating lawfully.
“They are legit,” said Deputy B.A. Garrett. “They have got a legitimate business.”
However, their sales methods are questionable, he said. A common practice for the hard-sell sales representatives is to drive down the street yelling at drivers, hoping to get them to stop so they can show them their product, deputies said.
“You don’t do that,” Garrett said. “You are going to create an accident. It’s a dangerous situation.”
Sellers have also approached people in parking lots.
Whirlwind Entertainment sales representatives refused to comment on their Valley operation. Numerous attempts to reach management at the Whirlwind Entertainment office at 934 N. Lake and on the phone for comment were also unsuccessful. Messages left at the office were not returned.
John Anderson and Jeff Goodwin said Whirlwind Entertainment sellers sold them each a pair of overpriced speakers.
Anderson said he bought a pair of Acoustic series 3311 speakers from Whirlwind Entertainment and “got taken for $600.” Goodwin paid $200 for a pair of Acoustic Response 707 speakers from Whirlwind Entertainment and said he had to have his speakers rebuilt because they blew out after 15 minutes of use.
Once the sellers attract a potential customer, they put on the full-court press, delivering a fast-paced sales pitch about reduced-price speakers.
In several cases, they have told consumers the speakers were worth as much as $1,000 a pair. But Steve Brethauer, who repaired Goodwin’s damaged speakers, said their value is not even close to that.
“They were literally junk,” Brethauer said. “All of the (speaker) components equal about $10, that’s how cheap that speaker is.”
Brethauer has worked in the audio and video business since 1983 and owns Advanced System Design, which specializes in home security.
“I have never seen such a cheap set of components in (speakers),” Brethauer said. “I really can’t compare it to anything.”
To set the hook for Anderson, who bought his speakers on the South Hill, and Goodwin, who purchased his near U-City Mall, Whirlwind Entertainment sales representatives swung open the sliding door on the van, revealing a back end full of speaker boxes. One of them quickly touched on some of the outstanding features of the speakers, including how much they are worth.
“They will actually show you a laminated piece of paper that shows how much they are worth,” Anderson said. “And then they ask, ‘How much will you give me for them?”’
Finally, sales representatives pulled a speaker out of its box and dangled a warranty in front of Anderson and Goodwin.
And they bit.
“I don’t know much about speakers,” Anderson admitted. “I got dumped into it. It’s my fault, I should have known better.”
Both paid cash and neither received - or asked for - a receipt.
“They don’t offer a receipt, but I guess that’s my fault for not asking for one,” Anderson said.
After Goodwin told his friend Anderson how long his speakers lasted, Anderson called Audio Technology Warranty Service Dept., the company listed on the warranty as the company to contact in case of problems, to find the steps he would have to take to repair his speakers if they broke. The message on the recorder said to send any speakers needing repair to the company in Anaheim, Calif.
Anderson had heard enough. He and Goodwin went to the Whirlwind Entertainment office to get Anderson’s money back.
But when Anderson tried to return the speakers, he said Whirlwind Entertainment told him the speakers were probably not ones they had sold. Anderson said he was told they were probably sold to him by somebody else that was selling bad speakers in the area and trying to make Whirlwind Entertainment look bad.
However, the company refunded $200 of the $600 he paid and Anderson turned over the speakers.
“They worked,” Anderson said of the speakers. “It’s just the setup - it’s not what they say it’s worth.”
Lisa Stephens, president of the Inland Northwest Better Business Bureau, said Anderson put himself in a bad situation by not asking for a receipt.
“We always advise consumers to protect themselves by getting something in writing,” she said.
Stephens said Federal Trade Commission rules state that a company must tell consumers of their right to ask for their money back for any sale of more than $25 made away from the company’s normal place of business. Consumers have up until midnight of the third day to cancel the sale, Stephens said.
“If you cancel (within three days), you’re supposed to be able to get your money and any documentation back within 10 days of the cancellation,” Stephenson said.
Sheriff’s deputies said there is little they can do about the operation. The business is properly licensed with the state and the speakers are not stolen.
“As long as they aren’t creating a nuisance, there’s nothing we can do right now,” Garrett said.
Spokane County relies on state licensing requirements to regulate retail businesses. The state requires retail businesses to have a Washington State Master of Business License to show they are registered with the state Department of Revenue.
According to Department of Revenue records, the company is licensed to Anthony Cristofaro and Christopher Davis. Attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.
Garrett, who had just stopped two sellers in a van near U-City, said Whirlwind is slowly getting the message.
“I just told them they’ve worn out their welcome in the Valley,” Garrett said.
The Sheriff’s Department urged anybody who is interested in buying stereo equipment from Whirlwind Entertainment to contact the Better Business Bureau at 328-2100.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos
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