This is a bit overdue, but we wanted a good long time to test out this product before I wrote an online review about it.
Back when we were starting to really flesh out the whole “wipe out our built-up equity in the name of home improvement” thing (a lie, by the way: we spent about 60 grand on home improvement, while our house has increased in value about a hundred and fifty g’s since we bought it. Yay, insane Puget Sound real estate market!), one of the things that neither of us had any question would go onto the chopping block was the guest bathroom. Our house’s former owners, while stalwart and detail-oriented in their maintenance, boasted an esthetic that was, to put it kindly, wildly divergent from our own. Many attempts at a description have been tendered by friends and family: “Looks like the place is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Holly Hobby”; “The walls look like they are all decorated with the contact paper from Grandma’s underwear drawer”; “All that’s missing is the saw blades painted with winter farm landscapes”, undsoweiter.
The bathroom was, in some ways, the piece de resistance: Pepto-Bismol pink walls alternating with maroon floral wallpaper, maroon-and-white linoleum, yellow trim and sink cabinet, and the uh-huh-HUGLIEST dual cut-glass-globes-with-attendant-dangling-crystal-pendants light fixture you have ever seen. Oh, and a single saloon-style batwing door separating the toilet are from the rest of the bathroom. Rustic yet excruciating, homey but tacky and oh so cheesy, a true assault on the senses for anyone with functioning retinas.
So beyond the necessity of hooking our house to the municipal sewer system, nuking the guest bathroom and starting from scratch was our top priority.
As long as we were going to gut that room, we decided that we would like to replace the serviceable but long-in-the-tooth bathtub with a shower enclosure of some kind. Neither Margaret nor I are particularly keen on taking baths (if we want a long soak, well, that’s what we got the hot tub for), and a shower stall seemed to be a better use of the relatively small space with which we had to work. We had a basic idea of what we were looking for. We wanted something made of an easy-to-clean synthetic product; fiberglass, acrylic, perhaps cultured marble or granite, no repeat no tile (hear my shout: grout is out) with sliding glass doors. Early on in the process we decided that we would really prefer to hire a specialized outfit to install a system rather than having a contractor install a kit or an ensemble of his own design; at that point our contractor was still something of an unknown quality, and we both felt more comfortable having a single entity with a broad presence and an established reputation at whose feet we could lay blame should something go wrong.
There are a few such outfits in the Puget Sound region. We found ours through the most unlikely of happenstance; for perhaps the first time in my life, I actually looked through one of those annoying multipage newspaper-sized collections of ads that arrive via the mail twice or thrice weekly. An outfit called Bath Fitter was advertising in this particular one. We decided to go check out their showroom.
We both liked the look of Bath Fitter’s products from the get-go: solid acrylic walls and pans with textured floors, substantial-looking soap shelves and grab bars, attractive doors and hardware. The look was like that of the bathroom in a three-star hotel that didn’t want to spring for marble. So far so good. We arranged to have a sales person come out and give us an estimate.
We also checked out another local company that specialized in—ugh—Formica surrounds, but it didn’t take us long to rule them out. “Trailer Park Chic” is about the best way I can think of to describe the majority of their wares. And while they did offer a cultured granite product as well, I think it’s safe to say that the initial stigma of the kitchen-countertop-as-shower-wall esthetic, combined with the bumbling, harried nature of the guy who came out to give us an estimate, put us right off our feed.
Later that week a bright, easygoing woman named Kristin from Bath Fitter came out to do us an estimate. The whole approach of Bath Fitter was very professional and left us with a good impression. Bath Fitter is a franchise outfit, and they have their schtick down to an art: polo shirts with their logo on ’em, specialized cases for their high-tech measuring equipment, and a very impressive-looking print campaign. It’s an extension of the slick presentation you experience when you enter the showroom, and it leaves one feeling that you are in the hands of “professionals”. The price Kristin worked up for us was a bit steep, but not out of our range. We gave her a check for half of the total in order to qualify for a 200 dollar discount and agreed to further solidify the installation in the following week.
It was only at that point that I really had the time to do some research online about Bath Fitter. What I found was not very reassuring. While the company generally had a decent rating with the Better Business Bureau in every state where they operated, to type “reviews ‘Bath Fitter'” into a search engine was to risk poaching one’s eyes in a sea of flame. Nearly every review I uncovered in various consumer advocacy and public bitchfest sites seemed to warn the prospective buyer away from this company. Their products leaked; they misled people regarding cost or quality; their installers damaged walls and flooring and left garbage everywhere; they took much longer to install than they claimed. And particular to the East Coast, there were many, many complaints about management failing to make good on repairs to property such as water-damaged ceilings and broken bathroom fixtures.
Needless to say, we kinda panicked. We’re not spring-loaded to believe everything we read on the Net, and we’re both fully aware that someone who has had a bad experience with a company is many times more likely to let the world know about it than someone who has had a good experience. But still, the general opinion on this particular company seemed overwhelmingly negative. I called Kristin and told her we were having second thoughts based on what we had seen on the Web. She was extremely sympathetic, told us she had heard that sort of thing before, and offered to drop our check off at our house on her way to work that Monday. I said that would be great and thanked her for her understanding. I have to say, Kristin’s complete lack of hesitation in returning our check, coupled with her sympathetic demeanor, was not lost on us. It was a big indicator that this company might not be the predatory monster that the reviews we read on the Web would have one believe.
When Kristin appeared on our doorstep that Monday with our check she offered us another potential source of input, suggesting that she bring the company’s binder full of customer satisfaction surveys to our house on her way back from work so we could look it over. That book was quite an eye-opener: over fifteen hundred surveys reaching back over about six years, the significant majority of which were positively gooey with praise. We sampled at random for over an hour—perhaps two hundred in all—and found less than a handful that rated Bath Fitter less than a 7 out of 10 on a wide variety of aspects of customer satisfaction, from value and appearance to the courtesy and competency of the installers. Even those people who gave low marks for certain areas of the experience (the timeliness of the install, say, or minor damage experienced during same) still rated themselves at least “satisfied” with the whole affair. I think we may have found a single “unsatisfied” in all of the surveys we pored over. We decided to re-take the plunge. We called Kristin back, got her a new check and scheduled our intall.
I won’t bore you with the details of the installation, save to say that it took place over two days, day one being the plumbing and day two being the actual shower. On day two a quiet, cheerful, efficient man named Arjo walked into our bathroom at around nine o’clock that morning and by the time he left at three that afternoon we had a complete shower (we had to wait 24 hours to allow all the industrial strength, chromosome-unwinding adhesives used to bind the acrylic bits to each other to cure, but that was no biggie: the rest of the bathroom was still Contractor Ground Zero and totally unusable anyway). He concluded this seemingly miraculous warping of both space and time by sitting down with me to give me an intense lecture on the care and feeding of our new shower.
Now, some month-plus later, I can say without hesitation that this shower is one of the real show(er)pieces of our remodeling adventure.
It is roomy, with plenty of room to stretch out; infinitely better than the old tub, whose gently upsloping side walls consumed much of the useable space side to side. The two four-level corner shelves hold pretty much everything we use in the shower. The floor is textured in a way that is pleasantly nubbly on the feets, and keeps your feet securely on the ground. It is gently sloped both length- and widthwise, encouraging water and suds to sluice into the huge drain that never seems to clog. The doors slide easily on the track, and everything feels solid and looks beautiful, pretty much exactly as it appeared in the showroom.
The total cost for this shower was just over 4800 dollars. That’s a lot of money, but buying similar high-quality shower walls, pan, trim and shelves from another company like, for instance, Swanstone would have easily cost us twenty five hundred. The glass doors and hardware would have run another eight hundred to a thousand, the plumbing would have been another hundred, and the labor to have the contractor to put it in would likely have cost us another nine to twelve hundred. That’s 4300–4800 bucks right there, without the integration we got by working with a single company all the way through. On top of that, our experience with every representative of our local Bath Fitter franchise was top-notch. They were to a person friendly, knowledgeable and interested in making us feel like valued customers.
I’m hoping that this post will help in its own small way to stem the tide of unfavorable reviews found online. Should anyone out there in the Infosphere come across this post while trawling for information to help them decide whether to choose Bath Fitter, here’s a few tips from our experience: ask the sales rep to see their customer satisfaction surveys. Ask them to provide some contact information for customers willing to talk about their experience with bath Fitter. And don’t necessarily believe everything you read online. Just this. 😉