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Are major retailers aware of these dubious advertising practises?

Our correspondent writes ...

Following a long and totally disabling illness I had to give up teaching and lecturing so I set up a very small IT business which is run on a part time basis as energy levels allow.

A salesman from WRT Group plc - also known as Service Point - telephoned persistently and I eventually agreed to meet him at my home. He was offering advertising space on a post box in our local branch of Sainsbury's.

Having heard him out, I declined the offer due to the very high cost. I explained that I could not possibly risk such a large sum of money as advertising in our local newspapers had failed to produce a single customer.

On his way to the door, the salesman turned round and misrepresented (and/or deliberately lied about) several important details. He was now offering a far more attractive deal with much lower costs, including the right to cancel at any time. He said I could have a full refund of all monies paid (except for initial deposit of £157.58 for artwork etc) if no customers came forward. This amount is roughly what I would have spent advertising locally and I thought it was a reasonably good deal. I again asked him to confirm that I could cancel if there were no customers and he once again confirmed the arrangement. That lessened the risk considerably so I signed up and he left. No copy of the "agreement" was left with me.

The artwork arrived after several weeks and it was of extremely poor quality. I decided to design my own artwork which I then sent to WRT. Unbelievably, WRT posted a copy of my own design back to me for approval. At that point, the salesman said the advertising campaign was imminent but they first appeared on the post box months after the suggested timescale he had set out.

The campaign commenced just before Christmas but not a single customer responded - not even during the busy Christmas period - so I wrote a letter of cancellation which I was told I was entitled to do by the salesman.

My first letter was ignored and I later had a phone call demanding money. I explained the situation and was told to email Customer Services. I sent them a copy of my letter.

Other people have since told me that all Customer Services are interested in is prohibiting people from cancelling their contracts and threatening them with legal action. "Don't touch them with a bargepole" is how one of their customers put it.

Eventually, Customer Services and the accounts department at WRT Group plc sent me a letter demanding the balance of the total sum (over £500) and said that I could not cancel. Then a further demand for payment arrived threatening legal action and warning they would use the services of a debt recovery company.

I again wrote to Customer Services repeating the information I had already given them and outlined the problems I had experienced with WRT. I warned them that I would expose them to Watchdog and others and would contact Sainsbury's.  Strangely, Sainsbury's seem to endorse this particular company - but for how much longer, I wonder, if they treat customers like this?

As WRT are still insisting on payment of the full amount I plan to contact the managing directors of Sainsbury, Tesco and all the other companies they deal with to let them know how this company treats its customers. I will also contact the OFT, Trading Standards, Which? Magazine and I am seriously considering taking legal action against these sharks. I will demand full repayment on everything plus compensation payments for harassment and the time spent writing letters etc.


Finally, a more detailed letter arrived stating that an investigation had taken place, that the salesman denied making such claims, that the artwork was satisfactory (don't forget I had approved my own copy), that the timescale was within reason (even by their calculations it was many months late), that I am locked into a full two year contract with them and that there is no facility whatsoever to cancel, despite what their salesman promised. They still insist that I owe them the full amount.

I think their attitude is indecent, dishonest, outrageous, greedy and probably illegal and will be taking legal advice in this matter. I am not on my own. It would appear that others have also experienced similar problems. Just look at comments made on the Internet about this company.

Take my advice - do not even consider dealing with these LIARS and CROOKS.

J Hillman, Gravesend

Editorial Comment:

The WRT Group - based in Kirkham, Lancashire - appear to have started life as printers producing Neighbourhood Watch leaflets for various police forces. Like several other print companies, they later expanded into web design and advertising/promotion.

In my "other" life, I came across many high-profile telesales companies and they all had several things in common. They made extravagant claims about the success of their services, they used devious sales tactics, they charged extortionate prices, and most seemed to be based in Lancashire. That's not said as a Yorkshireman trying to perpetuate the War of the Roses but simply as a matter of fact.

In this case, there are many similarities with cases I have investigated in the past. But the most alarming factor is that WRT use the facilities of major companies like Tesco, Sainsbury's, Debenhams, Focus, Wickes, Homebase, W H Smith's and retail shopping centres to sell a service that apparently produces little or no benefit for the paying client. In other words, they are taking money under false pretences using salesmen who have no qualms about lying to procure the business. So the question that arises is ... do these major retailers know how their "partners" work? Do they even care?

If you have had a similar experience, please let us know.

Neil Sutcliffe of Hastings writes:

I took out advertising with WRT in January 2008. I believed their salesman's pitch where he promised me the advertising would produce more work than I could handle.

For the entire 2 year period I received 2 leads from the advertising. It cost me over £800 pounds to generate £400 pounds of turnover (from the one of the two leads I converted into a job).

I stopped trading in September 2009 as I simply ran out of work due to having no new enquiries.

I am on state benefits and they are hounding for me for my remaining balance of £122.20 which I have refused to pay. I have told them to take me to the small claims court and I will inform the judge as to the reasons why I am not paying the debt and I am confident he will throw the case out.

I have used yellow pages and also the Friday-ad for other advertising sources, both of these are about the same cost and netted my company approximately £80,000 pounds of turnover....enough said.

Geoff Potts of Alnwick writes:

Is this the same company as Balmoral Advertising Services who place boards in Sainsbury's/Homebase etc?

Editorial Comment:

It is indeed. The Balmoral domain name shows WRT as the registrant though it is registered as a non-trading individual hence no address is revealed.

WRT Group is registered as a PLC with an address in Kirkham, Lancashire though they appear to have moved to Blackpool.

J Janes of Sandy writes:

I absolutely agree that this scheme is mis-selling and misleading small businesses or people looking to start a business. It generates no enquiries and each time I go in my local store where this is advertised, the leaflets with the advertisers details are turned round to show a space-selling feature for Servicepoint.

I am wasting my hard earned money each month and every month. I have today written to cancel and written to Sainsbury's to ask how they condone this scheme????

 Would be pleased to hear from anyone else.

Editorial Comment:

I would be pleased to see how Sainsbury's respond to your question.

Dave Steel of Torquay writes:

My ad went into Torquay Sainsburys two weeks ago. I'm a roofer and it may be because winter is on it's way, but I have 12 jobs on my books. All happy with the quotes and I'm on it! I'm going to get my outlay back within the month! Suppose it depends what the demand is and at what your price is. Meterials, disposal and labour costs. DONT RIP PEOPLE OFF, AND YOU WILL GET WORK!! I'm in the prime rip off business (a roofer) - believe me I can quote daft money - but I want to be recommended - got to start somewhere - DS.

Editorial Comment:

I have always believed that tradesmen who earn a fair day's pay for a fair day's work will never be short of customers. Unfortunately, as Dave says, there are too many traders whose sole ambition is to earn rip-off wages for doing as little work as possible.

Peter Beckenham of Chippenham writes (on 29th Feb 2012):

I was approached by a sales rep. to advertise business cards in Sainsbury's Chippenham. I was told of great success stories and quite liked the format.

I own a small snooker club and felt that people would respond to a card that resembled a membership card with various discount benefits. I was told that the board would appear in the main exit 'by the brochures'. The artwork was good and the campaign started early in January. By the end of January, I had received no enquiries so went to the location to see my adverts. At first, I was unable to find the board but eventually located it in a quiet backwater ... not where I was told it would be.

I complained to the customer services, only to be told that i 'would have signed a location sheet'. I signed no such sheet and, upon going through the duplicate forms left with me by the rep. there is no location sheet. I contacted another advertiser who was similarly mis-sold the product and they too have received back no enquiries (6 weeks later).

I have put my views in writing to WRT and have cancelled my DD. As yet I have not had a reply...but no doubt it will end up in court.

Be advised..stay away from WRT Group!!!

Beata of Southampton writes (on 25 June 2012):

Hi, we've got the same problem with WRT as Peter Beckenham of Chippenham (location in store!). Moreover the salesman lied to us about almost everything. We obviously cannot cancel our contract. I am desperate! Please, could you tell me what am I going to do? Sorry for my English this is not my first language.

Editorial Comment:

You should contact the store manger and tell him your story. If that doesn't work, contact their head office.

Stan Granty of Preston writes (on 1 October 2012):

Beware guys, because of their poor customer service and rip-off sales techniques they have been thrown out by Tesco..... and because of this they have now re-branded as Vicinity Group..... BEWARE OF VICINITY IN YOUR VICINITY!!

Keith Lennon of Focal Point Media writes (on 7th Feb 2013):

Reference:My Client : WRT Group plc
Letter of Intent:Online Defamation and Libel.
Without Prejudice Save As To Costs

Fao The Directors

Dear Sirs,

You are currently the “Publishers” of reckless, defamatory and libelous online comments in regards to my client WRT Group. Much of this content is unfair commentary that does not reflect honestly based opinions based upon proven fact, and is clearly in some cases based on malice. You should therefore be aware that the publication or broadcast of any libelous or slanderous statement about an individual or business that cannot be proven to be true and that is published with the intention of harming that entity's reputation is considered to be defamation.

WRT Group is clearly a Group of Companies and therefore it is beyond doubt that a number of the Companies within the group are the victims of commentary published by yourselves for which they cannot possibly share any culpability even if those comments were found to be probative.
Under Common Law and Legislation , WRT Group is protected from harm to it's reputation arising from false and derogatory remarks being made about their person.

You should also be aware that under The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) it is your responsibility as an ISP /host , having been informed of these infringements , to act , and remove the content or face legal proceedings. Failure to have done so by 9a.m. 15/02/2013 will result in my client seeking legal recourse through the UK courts or indeed seeking “perceived damages” through the US Judiciary by way of The Internet Protection Act A.8688/s.6779(Bill Pending) wherein and I quote,

I look forwards to receiving confirmation of the removal of any and all offending material pertaining to my client unless specific to an individual company within the Group and based upon a modicum of proof.

Yours faithfully
Keith Lennon

Editorial Comment:

Well Mr Keith Lennon (consultant), we have reviewed the article and feel it is a balanced presentation of complaints about certain employees of the WRT Group who have misled potential customers by making false claims about the success of the advertising and have lied about the terms and conditions under which the contracts are offered.

We give victims of such practises an opportunity to air their grievances and have no reason to believe that any of their comments are defamatory. If you feel they are, and are threatening to seek redress via the courts, then you should stipulate exactly which words you feel are defamatory. We will then reconsider your request.

As a matter of interest, I am familiar with the defamation laws having successfully defended myself in the Royal Courts of Justice against such an action recently. That action resulted in very heavy costs being incurred by the company and directors who brought the action. Consequently, I am not unduly worried about the prospects of facing another action.

Incidentally, your own background looks rather interesting. Your website was registered in August 2012 to a company called Chanson Ltd which was incorporated about a year ago with two directors but with no declared business activity. A company also called Chanson Ltd appears to have some connection with residential care homes in the Lytham area. We are curious to understand in what capacity you feel you are able to make legal threats on behalf of yet another company that appears to have no obvious connection to yours.

Tom Seymour of Haywards Heath writes (on 19/2/2014):

Had advertising with in local store in correct place but been without cards for over 6 month's. Just had a man visiting claiming to be handling refunds from them yet got my money back using direct debit guarantee, which seems wrong as well.

YM of Newcastle Upon Tyne writes:

Some time ago we fell for the miss-selling of the Balmoral Group / WRM services. We have had no referrals whatsoever and have now made contact with another 6 people who have leaflets in Homebase, Newcastle. I have contacted them and they are saying exactly the same as me - not one, either individually or collectively. Therefore we have decided to join forces and are about to write a letter withdrawing from the contact and stopping the direct debit. No doubt they will threaten to sue and we hope that they do as it needs bringing into a public forum. It is no more than a scam. We also intend to inform trading standards.

Paul Cadwallader of Coventry writes:

Yes I have been caught by WRT group. Seemed very good advertise in 2 Tesco stores a lot of initial outlay but sales person was very convincing - 65,000 people through the 2 stores each week (figures from Tesco). Tesco manage the advertising and 600 staff and can advertise in the staff room. I also took the dispenser for my own leaflets.
Started for 3 weeks and now Tesco have removed all advertising and have stated that they have a dispute with WRT and I am not allowed to put any advertising in their stores in Coventry until the dispute is resolved, if ever. WRT customer services can't answer any questions. I have stopped my direct debits and are requesting that the bank reclaim them from WRT as they have broken the contract.
Also they took the last direct debit 2 weeks early. In the next few days I will be taking the matter to trading standards and Tesco head office. I work for myself and it is time consuming and costly phoning WRT discussing matters with Tesco. Looking at what others have put I can see there is going to be a legal battle.

Brian Harris of Dublin writes:

I advertised with them 7 months ago in Tesco store in Dublin for building work. I must say I don't agree with the above comments. I did 1 year for 1100 euro, paid a deposit and the rest on dd. Gotta say I got 9 jobs so far after pricing up 17 which were referrals from Tesco store. Bringing in just over 5k. I think it's like most if not all advertising - it's just luck.

Matthew Slocombe of Bristol writes:

Their Salesmen - FULL OF LIES!
I have just signed up to this service based on the fact that the salesman said he worked for Wickes and that Wickes would recommend my company. I spoke to my local store the next day and they told me that they do not recommend anyone to customers and that the salesman did not work for them.
He took payment over the phone and we signed contracts in a pub. I have sent them a letter from my solicitor asking for a refund and to cancel my contract. The salesman has since phoned me and confirmed everything said in the meeting and said he does not know why the store staff would have said what they did.
Then I called their office and the lady I spoke to said that Wickes staff would not be able to recommend companies and the best they could do was point them at the board where cards are kept.
The salesman told me that the designers would give out my details directly to customers and this is not the case. The man did not work for Wickes, this makes the contract void. "My name" was clearly induced into signing the agreement as a result of the false representations by "salesman's name".
Taken from my solicitor's letter to WRT Group. Please do not sign a contract with this company and instead take 10 min of your life to write an email to the store they said they worked for.
Large stores will not be impressed by these cowboy salesmen's techniques. If you want any further information from me, please leave a message as I will check for new ones.
Google either Storemedia / Windsor Associates / Wickes Link a Trade - you will find unhappy customers on the first page of some search engines.

Joe Blogs of Kings Lynn writes:

I had taken out an advertising scheme with wrt group (link a trade) and after paying a £400 deposit wrote a letter saying I would like to cancel agreement. They said I cannot cancel as its a business agreement. I was offered no cooling off period.
They offered credit which the ombudsman said they are not registered to do. They are now sending debt collector letters to collect £858 after already taking £750. Can u help in any way?

Editorial Comment:

We can only suggest you see a solicitor or talk to CAB.

Joanne Williams of Witney writes:

I have unfortunately been stung by this company too. I was called by a salesman from supposedly Sainsbury's! He was very pushy and said he was from Sainsbury's and would like to offer great advertising at a great rate! I arranged a meeting with him of which he said over 75% of existing advertisers return. He offered me one price but when I hesitated he was quick to lower the price. As I was a new start-up business I said I could not afford the 6 consecutive months of payments, he said not a problem he could spread the payments over the two years. LIE! Anyway I said I would think about it but he wouldn't leave anything with me - just a business card which said the company name, service point and his name.
Anyway I thought I would give it a go especially spreading the payments out. I rang him back and he said he could be with me in 15 mins as he was just signing up someone else. LIE! He was back on my doorstep in 5 mins - must have been waiting around the corner!
Anyway he came in, filled out a form and asked me to sign it. OK I was very stupid, I just signed without reading the small print!
To cut a very long story short I have been conned. I have had no response whatsoever even though I am offering 50% of treatments to try and prove a point! Not even had a phone call!
They also started taking the payments monthly which was not what I agreed. I stopped the standing order and rang them to say this was not what I agreed. I got a very rude girl basically telling me my contract says 6 consecutive months. On looking at the small print no changes were made to the contract about the payments!
I have since been contacted by a debt collector who in fairness has been really nice. I have also done some research and apart from the hundreds of complaints about this company, their accounts on companies house are horrendous. They have had numerous directors, they were late with their accounts this year, there are numerous mortgage charges which would indicate they are not financially stable. And to top it all, today I have discovered on 18th Oct there is a proposal to strike off!!!
They also seem to trade under numerous names almost trying to disguise themselves! WRT Group plc, WRT Holdings Ltd, Service Point, and I think there is another.
This company is a complete con. I am about to write to the advertising standards authority and Sainsbury's head office. I am glad to hear Tesco have scrapped them, I hope Sainsbury's and the rest follow suit because this is really not doing their reputation any good! If we all do this I think can actually do something and stop any more people being ripped off!

David Harris of Consett writes:

I signed up in August and the wrong QR codes were put on my leaflets which advertised other companies. They have just (in the last 2 weeks) put my new advert in Homebase after nearly 3 months. They charged me double on my first installment and it took 2 weeks to get my money back. They agreed to spread the cost over a year costing £130 per month and just found out VAT on top of that too which they never mentioned. They have just charged me £628 this month and will probably take me 2 weeks to get a refund again.
I want to cancel but they say I CANNOT. What do i do?
Also they said i could go to store and pick up any amount of leaflets for my own use. When i asked for a bundle of leaflets from the store they just said: we haven't anything to do with the board - it's Balmoral Services who has the stock. So they lied to me. I took some out of the board and they haven't been to fill it up in the last week and a half !!!
Take my advice and stay way from them.
Does any one know how to get this cancelled? I feel like I go to work for them, not for myself, as also i haven't had any replies from advertising in the store.

Derek Brodie of Edinburgh writes:

I have just met with a Vicinity rep yet the telesales people who made the appointment said I was to meet a Sainsbury's manager. This is an obvious scam and Sainsbury's should be ashamed of associating with these sharks.
I told the guy to leave after a couple of minutes when it was obvious it was a scam. Just proved that business owners should NEVER respond to telesales calls - they all a big con in my experience. As if small business owners haven't got enough problems these days.
Come on Sainsbury's - get this sorted out!

Nic of Lancaster writes:

I have advertised with this company for over a year now and from about a week after the cards appeared in the store I have had a great response. My business is hairdressing so it is a very competitive business and I work very hard. As the other speaker says if you work hard and offer a good product well placed adverts WILL WORK.
If you are running a business you should be aware of reading the small print in any agreement you sign so to complain about T & Cs after you have signed the agreement is poor business practice. My WRT agreement states clearly you cannot cancel unless they have not upheld their part of the agreement - not just because your business has no customers.
I would like to remind anybody who reads these posts that most people who write on here have a complaint and that this does not mean that companies like WRT and local newspapers do not have many many happy customers like me. People whose businesses do not succeed always seem to find someone else to blame when more often than not its bad management, poor market conditions, inferior products or services, or simply wrong place; wrong time.

Roy of Sandy writes:

I wish we had found this website prior to spending £1040 with Promotional Post-box (another of their companies) Took weeks to get anything out of the company and when the leaflet arrived and was displayed a 2-year-old could have done better.
Been talking to Sainsburys again today and they just say it's nothing to do with them. I pointed out that they were still allowing them to use space in their Biggleswade store and was informed that they could not remove it as it was not their property. So it appears we could all advertise in Sainsburys for free as they won't remove it as it is not their property.

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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