Fireplace business has customers fuming

Fireplace & Chimney Co. in Fish Hoek’s Town Square.

A Fish Hoek business that installs fireplaces is being hauled over the coals by customers who claim they have been scammed.

One of them, Peter Nell, from Durbanville, took to The Real Hello Peter South Africa’s Facebook page urging others who feel they’ve been burned by Fireplace & Chimney Co. to mount a class-action lawsuit against the company.

“If we are enough people it will not cost a lot as we can make a huge case, put him in jail and liquidate his company,” he said.

However, the owner of the company, Djamile “Jim” Rossouw, says he isn’t trying to scam anyone – the business has simply been through a rough patch.

Mr Nell claims Fireplace & Chimney Co., which is based in Fish Hoek’s Town Square, owes him R24 000 after it fitted a “cheaper fireplace” than the one he paid for.

He said he had been waiting since November last year for the company to replace the unit or refund him the balance. It had failed to respond even after he had sent a lawyer’s letter, he said.

Fireplace & Chimney Co. advertised a promotion on Facebook last year for fireplaces, which required an 80% deposit.

According to The Real Hello Peter South Africa’s Facebook page and Google reviews, several people who paid the deposit are still waiting for their fireplaces to be fitted, and some are waiting on deposits to be refunded after cancelling their orders.

The company’s excuses have included Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, staff being in car accidents, and suppliers letting them down, according to the reviews and customers the Echo spoke to.

Lorna Evans, from George, said she and her husband had ordered a fireplace in October 2021 and paid R17 000 for the 80% deposit.

According to Ms Evans, the installation was to have happened in their newly built house at the end of that month, but they asked for it to be shifted to November 17 because the floors hadn’t been installed. Then, on November 15, she was told the installation team was unavailable so the job was shifted to December 6, but it didn’t happen then either because the company told her the senior installer and his assistant had tested positive for Covid-19.

“I was then offered two solutions. One was to have the fireplace couriered to us that week or a refund with an additional payment of 7.5% for interest and inconvenience.”

She said the offer had seemed sincere and she and her husband had decided to wait for another installation. However, after two more failed attempts to have their fireplace installed in January 2022, Ms Evans said, they had told the company to courier the fireplace to them and they would find a local installer.

“We also accepted their offer of a 7.5% interest on the money that they had of ours, totalling R880.37,” she said.

However, their fireplace had not been couriered on the date scheduled, she said, and Fireplace & Chimney Co. had offered “one excuse after the other” in the following weeks.

“At that point, enough was enough and I requested the refund and provided my banking details, giving them 48 hours to refund the R17 000 plus interest at 7.5%, failing which legal action would be instituted against them for failing to honour their obligations,” she said.

Ms Evans said she had been told that her refund would be made in 21 days, but when it wasn’t, she opened a criminal case and took the company to the small-claims court. The case was heard at the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court on Thursday May 26.

“We were awarded a default judgment against them for R17 000 plus 7% interest and cost of R4 536.25.”

But Mr Rossouw had ignored the judgment and she and her husband had not received their money within the 14-day period stipulated by the court, Ms Evans said.

The issue had been aired on CapeTalk on Wednesday June 29 and Mr Rossouw had then promised to refund her later that same day, but he hadn’t and she was still waiting, Ms Evans said.

Deon Vorster, from Somerset West, also claims to have been ripped off by the company. He said he had paid Fireplace & Chimney Co. a 60% deposit of R45 594 on November 10 last year, and installation was to have taken place on November 24.

He said the installation had been postponed twice because of rain. Then the installation team had wanted to start building work on December 2, despite the fact that the braai had not been collected from their supplier, Thermo Fires. He said a staff member at Fireplace & Chimney Co. had told him the Thermo Fires factory was closed due to Covid-19.

He stopped the work as he did not want a construction site over the festive season as the braai was “not available”.

Mr Vorster said he had then contacted Thermo Fires himself just to be told that their factory had not been closed and that they had only been asked by Fireplace & Chimney Co. to quote on the braai but no order had been placed for one.

Fireplace & Chimney Co. had ignored his requests for updates and he had asked for a refund, which had been due on December 29, but he was still waiting, he said.

He said he had since reported the matter to the police.

Alistair Press, from Kuils River, said he had paid R15 800 in December last year and had also had to endure “one excuse after the other” but had eventually had his fireplace installed at the end of April.

“Every time an installation was scheduled, they cancelled on the day. In one particular case, I was told that the installer had been in a car accident. I had to take off work every time just for no-one to show up. Their customer service really sucked,” he said.

Liza van Zyl, the owner of Thermo Fires, said their factory had not been closed in December due to Covid-19. She condemned Fireplace & Chimney Co. for taking customers’ deposits and then not delivering.

“Their lies are giving the many other honest companies in the braai and fireplace industry a bad name,” she said.

Due to non-payment on previous orders, she said, they had closed the company’s account and changed them to a cash-on-order-only customer.

Matthew Byron, owner of Southern Fires in Fish Hoek, said Mr Rossouw’s behaviour was hurting his business as customers associated it with Fireplace & Chimney Co. He said Mr Rossouw had worked for Southern Fires from 2015 to 2019, but had never owned or been a shareholder in the company.

He had asked his lawyer to send a demand to desist order to Mr Rossouw after it had come to his attention that Fireplace & Chimney Co. had been using his business’s name to place orders, he said.

Fish Hoek police spokesman Warrant Officer Peter Middleton said one case of fraud had been opened against Fireplace & Chimney Co.

Mr Rossouw, who has been the subject on Consumer Talk with Wendy Knowler on CapeTalk several times, told the Echo he was not scamming his customers, and the company was doing its best to either fulfil outstanding orders or pay refunds. He said he had three installation teams that worked for him full-time.

“I live in Fish Hoek, and we have two kids who go to school in Fish Hoek. I am part of the business community and have often hosted the South Central Business talks in Fish Hoek, have been a guest speaker on the business forum twice, have advertised in the Echo many times, are a sponsor of Blow the Whistle on Crime, sponsor prizes for the Give to Get campaign, have sponsored security cameras in Fish Hoek and put needy children through school. We repair our vehicles in Fish Hoek, we buy our medicine at Warren’s Pharmacy, we shop at Pick n Pay, and we are involved in this community. Some of my staff live in Fish Hoek. Why would a scammer be so public in such a small town?”

He attributes the problem to a backlog in supply after business “boomed” during 2020 and 2021, despite the pandemic.

Suppliers and manufacturers, he said, had found themselves unable to match the demand worldwide, and Covid-19 and the “war in Europe” had caused delays of up to six months from when orders were placed. He said one of his largest suppliers had 70% of their steel fireplaces manufactured in Ukraine.

While the Consumer Talk with Wendy Knowler was “fair and balanced”, he said, it had caused a huge social media backlash.

“Clients who were prepared to wait for the arrival of stock were suddenly cancelling orders,” he said.

He said he would refund Ms Evans last week (Monday July 4 to Friday July 8), but she told the Echo that she had not received a refund yet.

He said his failure to comply with the small claims court ruling did not mean that he had broken any law.

He said he had managed Southern Fires from 2015 until 2019 but denied that he had used its name for his own gain.

He described Mr Nell’s case as “a “strange one”. “He ordered a fireplace which we installed and he was very happy with his installation. A few days later he decided that he didn’t like the fireplace and claimed that we supplied the wrong fireplace, which is completely false.”

Mr Rossouw provided the Echo with screen shots of WhatsApp messages between himself and Mr Nell but they did not prove that Mr Nell ordered the unit that was fitted.