Pippin McGee’s owners say they are ‘taking care of our business ... not running from anyone.’
By Heather Miller and Leslie Turk
For Pippin McGee children’s furniture store owners Kim and Robert Crouchet, a weeks-long liquidation sale on all floor models that’s been repeatedly blasted through email alerts should have served as a sure sign that the Ambassador storefront was planning to close.
“This wasn’t a shocker for anyone,” says Crouchet, who recently closed her third Pippin McGee location and says she now plans to move to an office for a smaller custom design business and online furniture store. “We were selling our floor samples. Everyone knew what was going on over the last three weeks.”
But news of the store’s closing came as at least a small shocker to the Better Business Bureau of Acadiana, which issued an alert Dec. 27 announcing Pippin McGee’s shuttered and empty store.
“After receiving several calls from customers awaiting back-ordered items and replacement of delivered damaged items for several weeks ... the BBB confirmed the store was empty of all merchandise, the doors were locked and the company website was down,” the BBB says in its alert. “Calls into the business line resulted in an answering machine message saying calls could not be taken because all representatives were with customers. The company recently had its BBB accreditation revoked [on Dec. 14] for failing to respond to two complaints filed with the BBB. As a result, the company currently has an F rating. This is the lowest possible rating the BBB can give a business.”
A day later, BBB issued an update to its previous statement after Crouchet contacted BBB staff members to “clear up a misunderstanding.”
“In the spirit of cooperation and communication, Mrs. Crochet [sic] immediately contacted the BBB and explained her business plans to continue as an online store in the future,” BBB states in the release. “She also provided an email address ... and a cell phone number for past customers to contact her.”
The store is still listed as having an “F” rating on the BBB website for failing to respond to two out of five complaints the BBB received, though a quick business search on the BBB website reveals numerous furniture stores in Acadiana with D and F ratings.
“The update [to the Dec. 27 alert] really had nothing to do with the rating,” says BBB representative Robert Jones. “The rating is based on things that were reported throughout the course of the business.”
As for the BBB complaints and subsequent media coverage on BBB’s alert, Crouchet says, “They jumped the gun and reported some incorrect things.”
“We had two people that we had an issue with that we’ve been dealing with through the Better Business Bureau,” she says. “These are not huge things. The Better Business Bureau said I had no comment, but they called me the Monday after Christmas. I wouldn’t have been open anyway. We didn’t go out of business. We just closed down our storefront so we could continue to stay in business, change our business model and be profitable again. I have seven orders outstanding that are going to be complete within a five- to 10-day window. I’ve been working with them. We walked out with 99 percent of our orders all taken care of. People even picked up from us the night before Christmas.”
Pippin McGee opened in 2005 after the couple experienced firsthand how difficult baby shopping can be for first-time parents, Kim Crouchet told Kids Today Magazine in a 2007 article.
“When we had our first child, we walked into Babies ‘R’ Us and had no concept of anything,” Crouchet says in Kids Today Magazine. “We were still in the mind set that having kids wouldn’t change our lifestyle. So when they handed us the scanner, we had to guess. We picked a car seat that best matched our car. There was nobody in town that would spend time with us to find out what kind of stroller we might need or car seat or crib.”
Crouchet, daughter of Home Furniture owner Ged Fleming, based her business model on offering product information, guidance on designing children’s bedrooms and one-on-one help for first-time baby shoppers and customers looking for kids’ accessories and other gear.
But the stroller ride has been a bit bumpy at times.
Pippin McGee is the named defendant in two lawsuits filed in state district court, though BBR Creative says the years old lawsuit it filed for money due has been settled for quite some time.
The other lawsuit against Pippin McGee, filed in March 2011 by local contracting company C.M. Miciotto & Son Inc., may hint at bigger financial problems for the retailer. The contractor sued the children’s store to recoup more than $58,000 it never received for extensive work done at Pippin’s former location in River Ranch. Unable to make a go of it, the children’s store relocated from River Ranch’s Main Street development more than a year ago to 3814 Ambassador Caffery. The River Ranch location has been vacant since then, the window awnings still painted with the Pippin McGee logo.
River Ranch developer Robert Daigle says Pippin McGee did get behind on its rent, but he declined to offer specifics on what was owed. “When she left, we voluntarily released them of any obligation that they had,” Daigle says. The landlord for Pippin McGee’s Ambassador store, Mike Hamner, could not be reached for comment on how much back rent Pippin owes him.
In the contractor’s lawsuit, the court sided with C.M. Miciotto in June and awarded it a judgment of nearly $60,000 plus interest and attorney’s fees. Court documents reveal that in September, the Crouchets and C.M. Miciotto’s attorney, Emile Joseph of Allen & Gooch, met privately to review the couple’s business holdings and assets.
Joseph declined comment beyond what is already stated in the lawsuit but did say he made an installment plan offer to the Crouchets in early December. When Joseph did not receive a response by his Dec. 15 deadline, he asked the court to seize Pippin’s bank accounts. On Dec. 20, a week before Pippin closed, a district judge ruled in favor of the request for First National Bank of Crowley to turn over any assets held in Pippin’s bank accounts for garnishment, according to court documents.
Joseph says that since he moved forward on the seizure, “there has been no offer or proposal to try to resolve the matter.”
“We’re a business that was struggling. Yes, I have debt, just like most other businesses do,” Crouchet says in response to the lawsuit. “But we’re not hiding from it. When we built in River Ranch a lot was promised to us; a lot got muddy. We did major improvements to the building, then moved out because we couldn’t survive there. We still have to pay for those improvements. We have no intentions of not paying him. I can’t pay it back staying in business the way I was before. I had to downsize.
“I’m not W. Home Furnishings,” Crouchet continues, referencing the now defunct upscale furniture store in River Ranch whose owners, Rene and Nina Ward, skipped town in the middle of the night owing tens of thousands in unfilled furniture orders, many of which were prepaid. “We’re taking care of our business,” Crouchet says. “We’re not running from anyone.”
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