A Bushwick startup that made headlines last year with its real-time subway countdown clocks stylishly made for your home is being accused of swindling its customers.
NYC Train Sign burst onto the market in August 2017, but the company quickly proved it could not deliver on its promises, according to several customers. The company’s co-founder admits to mistakes in his business model but insists he will still satisfy orders.
Anthony Sylvester, of Woodside, said he ordered a train sign in November as part of a beta test promotion he found on Facebook.
The deal: Customers would receive a train sign, which retailed for $300 to $400, at a discounted price of $100 plus tax and shipping in exchange for filling out three surveys about the product.
But Sylvester and a number of other customers say they never received their signs.
“I bought it and January rolls around; I gave them time. I waited until the end of January before I sent them an email,” Sylvester, 28, said. “Things started getting fishy in April because the buzz was that some people would have to wait until June.”
On April 6, following complaints of poor communication and a photo posted to Facebook showing an empty NYC Train Sign office, the company warned that it could be another six months before customers received the product and suggested frustrated customers could dispute the charge with their credit card company in lieu of a refund.
“The biggest thing where everyone is getting upset with is with telling everybody to go to their credit card companies to get their money back,” said Justin Zaleski, 34, of Syosset.
Zaleski purchased his train sign under the beta tester program on Nov. 25 and has not yet received it. He has since asked for a refund and disputed the charge.
“I probably would have held off, if they didn’t say to go to your credit card company to get your money back,” he said.
NYC Train Sign co-founder Timothy Woo, speaking by telephone Wednesday, said his company is not shuttering and that his team is working to resolve each order individually.
“I don’t want anyone to feel scammed,” he said. “We’re not closing our doors or anything like that.”
The issue, according to Woo, was that they chose to hand-make the product in-house while outsourcing customer support. After falling behind on orders and realizing customer complaints weren’t being addressed, NYC Train Sign tried to right itself by flipping its business model — hiring in-house support and moving production to China. That decision, Woo said, is why customers need to wait several more months to get their signs.
“It was poor organization, and I’m doing everything I can to correct it,” he added.
While Woo was unsure exactly how many orders his company had left to fill, he said a large number of refund requests since the April 6 email will likely translate to a significant drop in wait times for the customers who stuck with the company.
Jared Bohlken, 25, a hopeful beta tester who bought his sign in December, decided to wait it out.
“I do like the product. I just think it’s a unique item to have,” Bohlken, of Chicago, said. “I think if I don’t hear anything from them within the next six months I’ll be done. They gave me that timeline so I’m going to hold them to it.”
Some customers, however, questioned why NYC Train Sign would continue to advertise and sell signs — purchases were closed off on April 6, according to Woo — if the company knew it was in trouble as early as January, when the first delivery deadline was pushed back.
“The most insulting and infuriating thing is that they market like crazy. . .and they can’t even fulfill their orders properly,” said Sam Lawrence, 41, of Roslyn.
Lawrence received a train sign he bought when the company first launched, but he said it was broken upon arrival and the wrong model. He was able to recoup his money by disputing the charge with his bank and sent the faulty product back to NYC Train Sign on his own dime, he said.
Sylvester, Zaleski and Bohlken said after April 6, requests for more information about their signs went unanswered despite the company continuing to post on social media, prompting backlash on Twitter and Facebook from at least a dozen frustrated customers.
“It seemed very dishonest and very deceitful. They weren’t responding to anything,” said Sylvester, who received a notification for a refund after amNewYork reached out to NYC Train Sign for comment.
Customers also have left negative reviews on Google, resulting in a 1.4-star rating. The Better Business Bureau gave the company a D+ rating.
Woo said he regretted some of his business choices, particularly the decision to hand-make the signs, but vowed that everyone who asked for a refund would receive one — eventually.
“Our refund policy has always been really liberal,” he added. “I’m trying to refund these things as fast as possible.”