22nd SEPTEMBER, 2006
This one is so quirky you couldn't make it up. Raymond Brunt is the retailer and he tells me that he often gets reps calling at his store, Penningtons at Leigh in Lancashire, offering everything from cheaper power to double glazing. He says he has a hobby that usually dissuades salespeople. He will agree to a deal if they in turn will sponsor Leigh Hockey Club, a non-profit making organisation run for the benefit of mainly young and/or unemployed locals. In the past he's had help from some very big names.
"Following the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, our first 11 were fortunate enough to be able to play against the Pakistan team; for this match they wore 'Celebrations' shirts provided by Mars," says Raymond. "And for two years Nestlé has donated Kit Kat shirts."
So when he got the phone call from RTA, business sales specialists, offering a free estimate, he said he wasn't up for sale. They persisted so he said: "Okay you can come and quote if you agree to supply 36 green polo shirts for the club."
To his amazement, she agreed. The agent duly showed up and started talking fees. Raymond claims: "I made it clear to him that I had only agreed to a free valuation, that I had no money and was not taking a wage. Knowing that I could only afford a fee if the shop was sold I would never have agreed to pay a signing-on fee nor a fee if the shop was not sold. We agreed no-sale, no-fee."
He thought the paper he signed was for the company's records only. For the next year, he says he had no contact with RTA except when the company sporadically rang to ask if they could sell his shop and he had to point out that he thought they were already doing that. In 18 months no-one came to view.
By July 2005 times had got tough and his bank manager suggested selling the shop. When he said he had tried that, bank manager said try another agent. So he wrote to RTA to cancel whereupon he was referred to clause 11 which imposes a withdrawal fee of, initially, £500.
He wrote in dispute, pointing out the agreement to supply polo shirts. He received two letters on separate occasions (I have copies of all correspondence: the file's an inch thick) from the company calling his claim "bizarre" and "unbelievable clap trap". The company then commenced legal proceedings.
In May Raymond rang me, for something like the third time, to keep me abreast. "It's going to court in Wigan on July 27. We've turned the shop round since last October and it's doing quite well now. But if I lose I won't pay. I'll go to jail."
Afterwards we spoke again. The court was quite informal. The judge asked Raymond what he thought he was signing. In summing up he said that Mr Brunt didn't seem to be a liar and that the gentleman from RTA had either forgotten a lot or kept poor records.
The verdict was: no award made, nothing to pay.