"Brides bash store: claim fraud, not couture
Some brides-to-be describe it as the bridal shop from hell.
Complaint records and interviews show that Bridal Couture and Evening Wear of Scottsdale has been accused of bait-and-switch tactics, luring customers with designer labels the store is not authorized to sell, cutting original tags off of wedding dresses, bouncing customer checks and refusing refunds.
“They sold me a dress and tried to switch it with one of their own,” said Erica Galietta, a 29-year-old Queen Creek resident who plans to be married in August. “The only reason I got my money back is because the attorney general's office got involved … I want to make sure no bride has to go through what I did.”
The shop's co-owner insists the allegations are untrue. He says customer service is first priority but some brides can be fickle and make impossible demands.
“We do a tremendous volume. Most of our advertising is word of mouth,” co-owner John Madonia said. “If those things were all true, how could we stay in business?”
Consumer protection and business Web sites show that Bridal Couture has racked up an extensive list of complaints from customers.
The Better Business Bureau of Phoenix gives Couture an “unsatisfactory” rating due to unanswered complaints. It shows 29 people have filed complaints against the store in the past three years, citing issues with contracts, billing, sales practices, product quality, customer service and refunds.
Of those, the BBB says the company resolved 10 complaints, failed to resolve two others and did not respond to nine.
Web sites such as Insiderpages.com and Citysearch.com, where local businesses are reviewed by customers, also show more than two dozen complaints about Bridal Couture, with warnings like: “Buyer beware,” “horrible experience” and “worst bridal store on the planet.”
Among the complaints is that the store only accepts cash or checks, so there is no way to dispute a purchase with a credit card company or cancel a charge.
Madonia said he doesn't believe all of the complaints are real and might have been posted by competitors. He said he recently hired a lawyer to look into the complaints and determine their veracity.
The Madonia family has been in the bridal business for 20 years and has several stores across the country. Madonia said Couture doesn't accept credit cards in order to keep overhead down at its new and expansive Indian Bend Road location.
He denied engaging in any deceptive practices and said his staff has “never once” tried to pass off a knockoff as a designer dress or trick a customer into buying something that they couldn't get.
Not so, according to Galietta. She said she put down a $600 deposit for a Paloma Blanco dress only to find out from the designer that Couture was not an authorized dealer, had no pending orders and would not be able to supply her with the dress she had a contract to buy.
Madonia had a different take. He said Galietta bought a dress that was modeled on a Blanco design but made by their in-house designer.
“There was never a day that this girl was told that this was a Paloma Blanca dress,” he said, adding that his own designer carries more cachet. “It would be like saying you are passing off a Rolls Royce as a Ford.”
Many Web complaints mirror Galietta's with claims that Couture sold one thing and delivered something else.
“We finally went to pick up our dresses only to see a nightmare alternative that they tried to force us to buy,” one woman wrote in a posting last year. “Turns out, our choice, that is still on display in the store, is a discontinued dress.”
The woman says Couture agreed to a refund, but never sent it. When her family went to the store, they found the doors locked with a sign saying entrance was by appointment only “due to security reasons.”
Galietta said when she demanded a refund, Couture owners threatened her with lawsuits that would cost her “thousands and thousands” of dollars.
“They said it was going to cost me big,” she says. “That's when I filed a complaint with the attorney general.”
Walter Nottleman, a volunteer for the Arizona Attorney General's consumer information and complaint division, confirmed that he helped Galietta get her money back.
“Apparently (the owner) promised her something he was not an authorized dealer for,” Nottleman said, adding that Couture promised a refund after several phone calls.
He said complaints filed against businesses are monitored by regulators looking for patterns. If any are detected, an investigation could follow.
Madonia contends the only pattern involves fickle brides-to-be.
"We will do whatever it takes to make the customer happy," he said. "Unfortunately, you can't please everybody."
Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 09:08 AM AZCentral Blog