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Advice needed please!

Heya guys, I'm just posting an advice post here for the moment as I am not ready to do a full on beware with this customer and am hoping to get things resolved with them. No names are being mentioned at all in this post.

On 31st January 2012 I was commissioned by an individual to make a fursuit - I accepted the commission and gave an approximate completion of July 2012. Customer and myself got on well, became friends on facebook and exchanged several emails over the months of just general friendly chatty gossip with no mention of suits.

In April-May 2012 I had to stop suit work for over 8 weeks due to severe seizures - I have a dissociative seizure disorder which is not medication controlled as it is a psychological disorder and not a physical one (http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/AboutEpilepsy/Associatedconditions/Non-epilepticseizures). I was having up to 10 grand mal like seizures in a day and most days was confined to bed. My husband contacted all of my customers to make them aware of this as I was physically unable to. I will mention I did attend a convention at the end of May 2012 and the customer saw me there and we did discuss some things in person - I also collapsed at said convention and was pretty much stuck in bed for half the con. It was a further few weeks before I was able to continue work.

I apologised to the customer about this, explained the situation to them and I reevaluated to be able to start their suit in October. This was agreed and they paid their final payment and sent me their dtd. I was back on track with work after forcing myself to work longer shifts then at the end of August I had two family bereavements literally within days of one another and this triggered off my seizure disorder in a bad way again and left me unable to work again for a few more weeks. 

Time rolled past, I slowly started being able to work again and getting through my queue - all changes and updates were listed on my website and I advised customers to keep an eye on the site for any updates in my progress with suits prior to theirs. This is stated in my ToS to do this as all completion times are approximate, I do not work to set deadlines unless customers are willing to pay an additional fee - this is also mentioned on the site. 

The customer did not speak to me at all, I had no updates for them and as such did not email them despite having patterned a lot of their suit and started work on their foam base. As I had not physically had anything beyond an early WIP stage I did not send pictures to the customer. On Dec 7th I received an email out of the blue.... from the customers aunt demanding a full refund. I will not copy paste the entire email as it goes into some of the customers personal issues but here is a snippet:
"We now are formally requesting that the fursuit is supplied within the next 30 days or we want a full refund of all monies paid or we will complain to google checkout, the credit card it was paid on and we will contact trading standards. Please respond to this email within 14 days informing which option you want to take."

I responded back to them with the following:

I am sorry that your suit has been delayed so long due to my personal illness and family bereavement which has aggravated a disability that you are fully aware of as you are on my personal Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sadly as I am not a business and simply one person with a hobby, if such things happen it can increase the time delay on suits. At no time is a suit ever given a guaranteed completion date unless it was charged a rush fee (which you did not) and times are only ever an estimate. As stated on our terms of service which you read and accepted (http://www.hybridfursuits.com/termsofservice.htm) "When we accept your commission we usually give you a approximate completion month, any changes will be listed on our commission status page" As the current status page clearly shows (http://www.hybridfursuits.com/commissionqueue.htm) also as stated on the terms of service "All fursuit commissions require a 50% deposit to be paid before we begin work (this deposit is so we can order in materials). All deposits are NON REFUNDABLE!" so a full refund is not possible.
I am sorry if you feel we have been unreasonable or slow in your completion of your suit but while your suit has started to be created (as this was the reason we asked for the final payment) your suit is still third in queue due to delays already stated. At the time of writing this the first suit in a week from completion. I can ask the commissioner in front of you if its okay for your suit to be done next but there is no way that it will be done in the next 30 days due to the holiday season.
In regards to your latest email about Google shipping. As Google checkout are not geared towards commissioned work, unless the status is set to shipped, the payment would not process so materials can be ordered or work started. I'm sorry for the confusion on that part but I thought I had emailed all my customers about that website bug. But I can confirm that your suit work has actually started.
Hope we can work things out

I have since only received a one line email from them requesting my postal address for postal correspondance. I responded stating I would prefer to do things through email to keep it more organised and as of yet have had no response to the email sent above. The stress from this incident has caused me to have several incredibly bad seizures - one of which actually had me hospitalised as it continued for over an hour and I could just really use some advice here.

I just... don't know what to do here. I am WILLING to admit I was in the wrong for not keeping her fully up to date buit I genuinely don't know where to go from here. This was literally out of the blue, I'm good friends with her partner and neither herself nor him have mentioned ANYTHING to me about this prior to this email from her relative.   

Since I have been waiting for this to be approved I have been working to meet the 30days specified by the customer - the CUSTOMER however is refusing to respond to my emails asking for clarification on markings and some aspects of their fursuit. I have sent all emails to the customer and to their aunt and neither have responded to my requests for further information despite me stating I genuinely cannot work on some aspects of their suit UNTIL I have this information. To clarify, the customer is not unwell and has been active daily on Facebook, Twitter and FA - they are just not responding to my requests for information.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Is there a reason why this person's aunt is dealing with you and not the customer themselves? This sounds fishy.

That said, your conduct so far has been flawed. Not contacting a client with any updates and just assuming that they're in the loop due to social media sites is a terrible way to conduct business.

And since you are taking money in exchange for a product, you ARE a business. Statements like this "Sadly as I am not a business and simply one person with a hobby" rub me the wrong way to be honest. When you take money for it, it stops being a hobby and becomes a transaction.

Unless there is a legitimate reason for their aunt to interfere (like they're in the hospital and the aunt is next of kin or something), establish contact with your client PRONTO. Send progress images, apologize for the lack of contact and resolve the situation with them.

Edited at 2012-12-20 03:04 am (UTC)
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:16 am (UTC)
Everything here, especially the quip about this being a "hobby".
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
Agreeing here as well. From the fishy aunt contact to the needing to keep customers in the loop, even if it's biweekly updating. I would also recommend sending out WIPs of what you have right now and try and contact the main commissioner by FB or somewhere else. That aunt line is really bothering me.
Dec. 20th, 2012 04:27 am (UTC)
The email said something about a credit card company? Perhaps it was the aunt's credit card it was paid on. The customer might not even know because maybe the aunt asked since she'd know about it and they mentioned it was taking time and the aunt decided to shove their nose in. Just a thought.

Edited at 2012-12-20 04:27 am (UTC)
Dec. 20th, 2012 04:36 am (UTC)
Possible, it's also possible that the client themselves don't feel comfy telling such to Shirik. I usually get my man to do the talking if I feel like being assertive is required.
Dec. 20th, 2012 05:07 am (UTC)
At least if it's your man, it's someone you're in day to day talks with. The aunt, who knows? I go months without talking to either of mine. :P
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
This is why I have said I am willing to take responsibility and say I have been in the wrong here in regards to contact - I know better now and this whole situation, while not ideal has been a learning experience for me and I will be altering my work practices from now on.

Every email I have sent to the aunt has also been sent to the client, including emails asking for clarification on aspects of their suit that I need to be able to work on their suit - I have had no response from the client in any way.

The client is not unwell, in fact has been very active locally attending furmeets and visiting people - they have also been active daily on FA, Facebook and twitter. In case they were genuinely not reading my emails I also requested for the aunt to specify to her that I require information to continue working as there are details on markings I am unclear of due to the reference sheet not being 100% clear - I also asked her partner if he could just ask her to reply to the confirmation messages, if she was not wanting to read the rest of the correspondence just so I can continue and she can have her suit in a timely manner. I literally just need her to say "yes" or "no" to clarify something for me so I can continue.
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:45 am (UTC)
This is a horrible situation all around, I'm sorry things got out of control like that, and I hope you are well. :(

My thoughts are that if they weren't aware of your medical condition before commissioning, it seems unfair to spring it on them after they've invested money in the project. If you can afford to fully refund them, you may as well. It'll completely close the matter for good and hopefully will also help with your stressful situation.

I don't recommend taking commissions if you have such medical conditions that would prevent you from being able to work on customer projects in a timely manner. Premades would be a way to flex your creative muscles and generate a little extra income, and without stress of committment.
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
the customer was friends with me prior to commissioning me and was aware of my condition - we share a friends group including me being very close with her partner and several other friends of hers. As well as the social media contact she was aware of my condition before any money exchanged hands.

If I had the money to refund her right now I would in a heartbeat - unfortunately though I do not which is what has been causing me additional stress from the situation (hence the above statement of myself actually being hospitalized at the beginning of this incident).

Earlier this year (back in April) I stated to all customers that I will no longer work to a set deadline, the suit will be done when its done and when I get to your point in the queue. This was due to me being unable to work for 8 weeks and I knew I would not be able to recover the time from this easily. I did have some customers who obviously were unhappy with this - those that voiced their concerns to me I pushed myself with significant extra hours to get their work out for the time they initially requested. Those which said they were ok with this, I continued at my usual pace.
Dec. 20th, 2012 08:30 am (UTC)
I got epilepsy myself so I can relate to those seizures.
Its not always you know when a seizure about to happen, I have only had noticed it only 2-3 times.

I suggest that you take long breaks in between. I too get seizure because of stress.
art/fursuit+Epilepsy= Not always goes hand in hand x_x
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
normally my seizures will only make me need to take say, an afternoon off. It was exceptional circumstances which made me have a few very bad incidents this year (two bereavements within days of each other was a major factor with it as well as some other personal issues in April).

Even on "seizure days" if there is something I -can- do (such as paper patterning for instance) I get on with it. Its only when I physically cannot do something I don't do it.
Dec. 20th, 2012 12:17 pm (UTC)
After reading that I have to agree with Growly, that taking several commissions (as you mentioned the specific customer was 3rd in the list) when you have a condition that can leave you unable to do work for weeks, even if eight weeks would be a rare occurrence, sounds risky both for you and the customers. Unless this was something that happens maybe once per year?

I also agree with Shuki, especially since you have a site that advertizes you as a "studio". Also on related note, maybe it's just me but the "approximate finish date" thing is something that would worry me as a potential buyer, especially since you have nothing in your TOS that deals with "how long is too long" in terms of wait and refuse refunds of the initial deposits(unless I somehow managed to miss it). Like how long has this case gone over the estimate?
I mean I'm not saying that you would do this deliberately, but it's too easy for me to see someone buying a suit and giving the first deposit, you giving an approximate deadline, but then it takes several months/year over the approx. deadline before you start the suit, and the customer can't complain or get a refund because you never actually said the approximate deadline would be the deadline the suit will be finished.
I don't know whether those "no deadlines/no deposit refunds" are common in fursuit scene, but personally I'd prefer something that deals with really long waits.
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)
I have recently been directed to a "contract writing guide" by the Uk government which specifically deals with the "approximate finish date" issue you have stated. I've been studying this and my TOS is going to be updated to meet the guidelines stated in the document as to what is stated as an unreasonable time - UK law states that if a customer deems something as taking an unreasonable time the customer can request the item by X amount of days. If this time is unsuitable due to the construction process the "contractor" can specify their own deadline based on time it genuinely would take to make the product fit for use (so for example, if the customer specifies 30days and the work would genuinely take 40days you can say "I will have it by 40days made to satisfactory standard").

This is why I have changed the TOS to state 90days from -final- payment date - this was altered AFTER this situation began (I have specified at the top of my TOS page to state when this change was made) and as such I am working to the 30days stated by the customer. The customer initially paid their deposit Jan 31st 2012.

No deposit refunds are commonplace with fursuit work - the deposit money is used to purchase the furs, foam, glue etc required to make the suit. The deposit money physically CANNOT be refunded as it has been used to purchase everything required to make the costume.
Dec. 20th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
You mention in your ToS which I've just read to aim to complete a fursuit up to 90 days after final payment which you said was at some point in October, if this time frame would be more achievable possibly reiterate this part to them and say that that will be their deadline? Although obviously if they paid at the start of October then that only leaves you until start of January so that may not be better.

Also regarding your medical condition and furthering what Growly said, have you considered putting this fact in your ToS just so anyone you enter a business transaction with is aware of any circumstances that may hinder work on their suit. I know you've said in the past that your condition stops you from getting a 'normal' job so I wouldn't want to suggest you give this up, but putting that in your ToS would at least make people fully aware and cover you more in situations like this.

And unfortunately I've got to agree with Shuki on the 'you are a business' statement. A professional is defined as someone who makes their sole and entire income from one stream of work, which, fursuit making is for you (correct me if I'm wrong), so that does kind of render the 'its just a hobby' statement irrelevant.

Still, best of luck sorting this. I really hope it ends with both parties happy.
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)
The TOS change to state the 90days was done after this situation started - I have noted this at the top of the TOS page. I will also be entering a note into the NEW TOS I am writing about my medical condition after being advised to by several individuals following this situation. I have advised customers when I have had significantly bad seizures/illness but I fully agree with what people have stated here and I do need to add this into my TOS to make people aware of it.
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:57 pm (UTC)
Ah fair enough, will be worth it just to cover yourself and make sure everyone is as well informed as possible.
Dec. 20th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC)
Sounds like at this point you should broach the subject of a partial refund (minus mats) + sending along mats and completed work

Sounds like a lot of cruddy stuff happened you couldn't forsee, & I'm sorry to hear that, but your response to the refund / deadline request is pretty guilt-trippy.

Can't say what's going on with the new communication issues, how exactly are you asking them for the information? Posting the emails or texts or whatever would help.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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