D+AS MAGAZINE

FEATURES — Trouble in Denver

© 2006 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2006
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 44-46


Trouble in Denver
TV Exposé Reveals Wide Range of Repair Charges

By Tom Wadsworth

“For $657, I could’ve put in a new garage door!” said a surprised Leo Vargas, owner of Arko Garage Doors of Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Vargas turned out to be the “good guy” in a recent television hidden-camera investigation in Denver that gathered quotes from more than a dozen garage door technicians to fix a broken spring. Vargas’ quote was $135, while most quotes exceeded $225, all the way up to $657.98.

The five-minute investigative report ran May 21 and 22 during the local news on KMGH-TV Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Denver. To top it off, May 21 was a peak night for TV viewing, as ABC ran the season finales for its hit shows, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Hiding in the Garage

Tony Kovaleski, Channel 7’s veteran investigative reporter, set up a garage with four hidden cameras. With the assistance of a door expert, the garage door was prepared so that the only repair needed was a broken spring. The door’s 10-ball-bearing steel rollers and its torsion shaft were all pre-inspected by the expert and reported to be in “good shape.”

The expert, who had been repairing and installing garage doors for 13 years, said that the cost of a spring replacement should range between $160 and $225. Then, after 14 inspections and quotes from Denver-area garage door technicians, Kovaleski broadcast his findings. (As of this writing, his five-minute video report was viewable at www.thedenverchannel.com.)

Kovaleski reported that only four of the 14 quotes fell below $225. The highest quote came from a technician from the Garage Door Guys. He proposed to replace two springs, change out the rollers, and replace the torsion shaft for $657.98.

Scott Koerner, president of the Garage Door Guys, quickly issued a written response to Channel 7’s report. His response, posted on the Channel 7 Web site, said his price included a coupon discount, free labor, and a lifetime warranty. Koerner’s statement criticized the report as “bad TV” from “some Jerry Springer knock off.”

Kovaleski, however, is no young upstart. He has received a long list of distinguished awards for his investigative reporting, and his work has been featured on CNN, ABC’s “20/20” and “Primetime,” and “Larry King Live.”

The Spring Thing

Koerner told Door & Access Systems that comparing his quote to the $135 quote was unfair. Vargas admitted that he quoted only one spring, but Koerner contended that both springs should be replaced.

“We’ve never had a complaint about replacing things that don’t need to be replaced,” said Koerner. “If I had a technician doing that, I’d fire him in a heartbeat.”

Vargas, however, defended his one-spring proposal: “Normally, we replace both springs, but the other spring looked brand new.”

Getting the Shaft?

Koerner also maintained that the rollers were “worn” and that the torsion shaft was “egg shaped.” Kovaleski told us, though, that Koerner’s contention is at variance with the garage door expert who set up the door and with 10 other techs who saw no need for rollers or a new shaft.

Leo Vargas said that he took his time to do a close inspection. “The shaft was brand new, and the rollers and cables looked brand new,” he told us. “I told the customer that it looked like somebody had just done some work on this door, maybe less than a month ago.”

Gary Lombard, a past president of the Institute of Door Dealer Education and Accreditation (IDEA), has spent 30 years installing doors and training installers throughout the nation. Lombard, who lives in Denver, told us, “Of every 50 springs that need to be replaced, you might see one shaft that also should be replaced.”

In Koerner’s Corner

Nonetheless, Koerner strongly defended his business practices. “For Colorado, we use the best parts we can get. And we don’t get callbacks on our work.” He said he uses only zinc springs and 11-ball nylon rollers (he charges $10 each for rollers).

“We don’t go in to make a killing and get out,” he added, citing a kind deed he recently did for an elderly couple in their 80s who were trying to raise their grandkids.

“Their opener was shot, and the rollers were shot,” he recalled. “We replaced the opener, the rollers, and tuned their springs, all for $200. We gave them a deal, just to help them out. Most companies wouldn’t do that. But that stuff never gets mentioned.”

Learning the Door Business

Koerner said he’s been in the door business for five or six years. He started his company about 2-1/2 years ago when he left America’s Choice, which he said has locations in 18 states.

America’s Choice is also known in the Denver area as Affordable Garage Door, Garage Door Service Co. (GDS), and possibly other names. In Channel 7’s report, GDS came to the garage twice. One GDS tech quoted $289, and, a day later, another GDS tech quoted $466.

Regular readers of Door & Access Systems will remember America’s Choice. In 2004, America’s Choice was fined $20,000 for “unfair and deceptive practices” by the state of Georgia. In 2002, its Dallas operation was exposed by Dateline NBC for urging its technicians, “Work those tickets so they stay high. Stay around $400.”

Slippery Ads

In Denver, America’s Choice (alias GDS) has two full-page ads in the Dex Media phone book, brandishing at least a dozen phone numbers. One of the two ads sports the Good Housekeeping Seal.

However, Susanne Williams, a Good Housekeeping official, told us that this is “an unauthorized use of the Good Housekeeping Seal.” She added, “We will be sending Affordable Garage Door Services notification that they must immediately discontinue use of the Good Housekeeping Seal in all advertising and promotional materials.”

The ads also claim “40 Professional Technicians to Serve You,” “Celebrating Over 40 Years of Quality Service,” and “Rated #1 in Customer Service.” Further, it is believed that the firm has only seven technicians, that the owner is only 38 years old, and that no such ratings are known for Denver garage door businesses.

America’s Choice may have some explanation for these details, but our calls to the company were not returned.

Big Ads = Big Tickets?

The Garage Door Guys’ full-page ad in the Dex book avoids most of these statements, but it does boast, “Nobody beats our prices, NOBODY!” The Channel 7 report may influence some text changes in next year’s ad.

The Garage Door Guys and America’s Choice (GDS) quoted some of the highest prices for the repair in the report. Ironically, they also have some of the largest Yellow Pages ads in the Dex phone book.

Leo Vargas, the “good guy” in the report, also runs an ad in the Yellow Pages, but it’s less than two inches square and has only one phone number. “It’s expensive!” explained Vargas.

Consumers who watched the hidden-camera investigation may wonder if there’s a connection between large ads and large service bills.

The Moral of the Story

Tony Kovaleski said that his report has received a “very good reaction,” with “a lot of people calling and thanking us.”

“We exposed … technicians that are basically freelancing, and the price structure is fluid,” he said. “They are trying to get whatever they can get.”


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