Like many people, I found Chris Marshall while looking to buy a piano. For most that meant his Sydney store, or via newspaper or his quirky television ads. For me however, it was on my mobile phone at a seafood restaurant (Fish Heads, Byron Bay) as I discussed buying a grand piano for my wife Anna – her lifelong dream.
I clicked on a poorly written Google Ad and came to his slightly dated website and looked at a few listings. He had a Yamaha grand piano in our price range (10k) and I made an enquiry. The next morning he called and was already talking me up to a 15k piano. I declined but he was keen for me to make a 50% deposit immediately. He was charismatic, a strong salesman and just slightly odd enough to forgive his overly familiar style.
Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t have given him the money. But he was an established vendor and promised delivery as soon as the shipment from Japan arrived. Lots of people got the story apparently. I helped him improve his online advertising which went some way towards the remainder of my debt with him but despite his requests for more money, I insisted he would get the balance when I had a piano in the house.
The estimated delivery date came and went. Weeks passed, and then months. Every time we spoke the story got more complex. “It’s on the boat”, “It’s held up at customs”, “It’s being fumigated at quarantine.”, “I’m waiting for another delivery in your area” etc etc. I had some advantage others didn’t – I was helping him advertise. The service I provided him brought him many leads he would sell pianos to. Or at least, thats what I assumed. I also had the balance to pay him on delivery.
Our piano did eventually arrive, but to our surprise – it wasn’t the one we ordered! How do you deliver the wrong piano to someone who has paid over $10k? Lucky for us, it was an upgrade of sorts. An equivalent model Kawai we actually preferred. I paid the balance. I even took a video of the delivery and installation. The installers rolled their eyes when I mentioned the name Chris Marshall. They’d heard it all before many times.
Despite the dramatic story of the pianos oriental sea voyage, the Kawai that arrived clearly had a sticker from the 1980′s showing it was traded it been traded in Sydney around that time.
Soon after that, he stopped paying my invoices for work we’d done for him. He stopped paying Google too. Only a few days ago I wrote it off as bad debt in my accounts software and was happy to forget about him, when one of my colleagues recognised his name on an A Current Affair Report “TV Salesman Exopsed“. In the end, I was one of the lucky ones. Perhaps one of the few remaining people who actually received a piano at all.
Turns out Chris has traded his whole lifetime career of selling pianos for the ultimate classic long con and has taken all the money from outstanding orders and his own unpaid debts and is now living in the Philippines. His Sydney shop is deserted, and his house has been repossessed by the bank. Many customers have been left significant losses for outlays on pianos that never arrived.
The sad thing is Chris had talent, charisma and a solid business. He was an accomplished pianist, a gifted salesman and sold a big ticket product with good margin. It was easy to promote his products online via Google Adwords and we sent him hundreds of customers. What went wrong? At what point did his own business management and cash-flow fall behind so badly? I suspect it may have happened gradually over years.
Instead of facing his responsibilities and perhaps go bankrupt (maybe he was already?), he has apparently chosen to flee Australia and try his luck in the Philippines, presumably living off the remains of the money he duped from customers at the end of over 30 years selling pianos. A very long con indeed.