That's not my bag, baby
Local business owners upset over company’s failed eco-friendly promises
By Chris O'Neal 05/08/2014
On a typical afternoon at the exotic bird emporium Birds & B’s in midtown Ventura, Kimberly Federico lists cleaning, feeding and even picking up after the wandering chicken as part of her duties. Lately, however, she’s had a bit extra to consider: chasing down the man that sold her ad space on a bag that couldn’t carry its weight.
Federico, along with 15 other local businesses in Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo purchased advertisements through a company calling itself Project2GOGreen that promised exposure through several local outlets, the first being the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Ventura’s Day for Kids event in October of 2013 and finally through distribution with the VC Star.
After months of waiting, emailing and promises made by the company that the bags would soon arrive — Federico was at a loss, until the last week of April, when a mysterious box appeared at her doorstep. Inside were upward of 100 neon-green plastic bags with her and others’ advertisements on them, but the quality was not what she had expected.
“I want a full refund and I would love to stop them from doing this to other people,” said Federico. “I don’t even know if there’s any money to get back.”
Federico had been told that the bags she was ordering would be made of high-quality canvas and built for reuse. The bags she received were made of polyethylene with heat-applied handles.
It all began in September 2013 when Federico was phoned by the Vice President of Sales and Marketing John Stone of Exposure Marketing Consultants Inc., operating under Project2GOGreen.com. In an email, John assured Federico that her ad would be seen on 10,000 bags.
“In an effort to stop the use of single-use plastic bags, eco-friendly reusable grocery bags will be distributed by the Ventura County Star,” wrote Stone. For the space, Federico paid $299.
Across town at üYogurt, owner Steve Kerby says that he is not happy with the bags and that communication between him and Project2GOGreen was frustrating. Some of the business owners not only had dealings with John Stone, but Damian Stone as well and finally with a Shirley Stone — all originating from the same email address and phone number. For Kerby’s ad, which is the same size as Federico’s, he paid $239.
Prices for the advertisements varied from $149 for the nonprofit Saving Lives Camarillo to $400 for Le Monde Emporium in downtown Ventura.
The Boys & Girls Club did in fact receive bags from Project2GOGreen for the event but club CEO Patrick Davidson says that the bags received in April by Birds & B’s and other businesses do not resemble the bags used at the event.
The bags used at the Day for Kids event “had a funny smell” and were not of great quality, according to Branch Director Lea Cobb, but because the bags were donated, they were put to use and handed out to visitors.
Inserts promised by John Stone, that were to include coupons from area businesses, were missing, however. Cobb said that when the bags arrived and the inserts were not included, John pointed Cobb to a printer in Saticoy where they could be picked up. Upon arrival, the inserts were not there nor did the printer know of the inserts.
To further complicate matters, none of the business owners the VC Reporter spoke to have ever met John Stone in person. John all but disappeared from conversation with Federico after November 2013, instead replaced by Damian Stone, who signs his emails with the title account entry representative. Eventually, he too was replaced by another Stone, this time Shirley, calling herself the CEO/president.
Project2GOGreen and Exposure Marketing Consultants Inc. list their business address in Phoenix, Arizona, with different addresses depending on which invoice is being looked at, one of which is an apartment complex.
In an email to Shayna Carter, former director of Saving Lives Camarillo, dated February 12, Shirley claims that John no longer works with the company and that she has become the new administrator for the program. In her email, Shirley promised to have the bags ready for Earth Day, and claimed to have already delivered “tens of thousands of bags.”
John listed several references in an email to Federico, including a member of the Santa Maria California Chamber of Commerce who said in a voice message that the product received for the Chamber’s Green Business Energy Efficiency Forum “were good, sturdy bags.”
Same for an auto body and collision center in Watsonville, whose owner says that the bags were fine; though a comment on the business’s blog, from someone claiming to be “Shirley” from Shanghai Z&P Industrial & Trading Co., says that “From the moment we have delivered the [bags], he stopped payment for the balance.”
Dialing the phone numbers listed on the invoices for the business yielded a “number disconnected” message.
Shirley Stone, however, responded to our inquiry using the same email used by John.
“I personally setup and had the reusable bags delivered to all of the businesses that were promised bags,” said Shirley. “Although my performance under contract was delayed, for business reasons, I nevertheless performed.”
Shirley goes on to say that the deal between the VC Star and Project2GOGreen fell apart when a “new VP for the Star decided against it.”
In a follow up email, Shirley names a VC Star sales person as her contact. The VC Star employee said in a phone conversation that yes, he had spoken with Project2GOGreen late last year; however, there was never an agreement for distribution, a quote was never generated for the price of insertion of the bags and that the Star passed on the proposal.
Furthermore, Shirley’s claim that several of the businesses that bought ads on the bag had called the Star to “verify in fact that the Star was going to insert the bags in the paper” was denied by several business owners themselves.
Questions regarding the quality of the bags, the distribution of the bags and whether or not the businesses would be receiving refunds went unanswered.
All of the business owners contacted for this story say that they regret agreeing to the service and have attempted repeatedly to reclaim their payments.
“We have a plastic bag ban about to take effect next week,” said Cecilia Johnson, vice president of Sun Pacific Solar Electric Inc. Johnson paid between $200 and $300 for the bags. “I’m not going to put my name out there with those bags.”