Svea Leventon waited patiently for someone to answer the phone. She had been on hold for roughly 40 minutes, hoping to speak to anyone who could answer questions about an order she placed with OCM for bedding at the end of July. It was now August — and getting closer to her move in day at SF State.
She was worried. If she didn’t get her bedding soon, she would move in without blankets, sheets, pillows or towels.
An automated voice told her no one was available — the line disconnected. Every day for two weeks, Leventon called the OCM, On Campus Marketing, customer service line, and each time, the call dropped after nearly an hour. She had attempted to use OCM’s automated chat feature before calling, but that had been unsuccessful.
“When I couldn’t get ahold of them through phone call or through the chat feature, I literally thought that I was never getting that $200 back — that I was scammed,” Leventon said.
Leventon, a second-year student and first time on-campus housing resident, said that as she tried to track her package for weeks, no information was available. She said that she waited until the absolute last minute to buy bedding elsewhere because she didn’t want to spend more money, and considered bringing a sleeping bag and waiting, before ultimately buying bedding from Target.
Her OCM bedding did not arrive until a week after she moved in.
OCM has been in the business of dorm life since 1981. Based in New Jersey and owned by private equity firm Spire Capital, the business operates by marketing to college and university students moving into student housing offering bedding and linens, as well as care packages.
We got all of the other dorm supplies elsewhere, which is probably a good thing, because we still don’t have them [from OCM].”
— Ashley Gream
Its marketing strategy is part of a partnership with over 900 colleges and universities, including SF State. It includes mailed packets with university logos, flyers addressed to families and emails directly to students. However, the ordeal is less than convenient for some who order from the company, such as Leventon and Ashley Gream.
Gream, whose son is a first-year student at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, said that she received OCM advertisements in a packet during her son’s orientation. She wasn’t planning on ordering anything, but the convenience factor persuaded her. On July 23, Gream placed an order for sheets and a mattress pad, but by Aug. 19, had still not received the order.
“We just ordered bed sheets and a mattress pad-type thing through them. And that’s all we ordered,” Gream said. “We got all of the other dorm supplies elsewhere, which is probably a good thing, because we still don’t have them [from OCM].”
Like Leventon, when Gream had not heard back from OCM, she began reaching out to the company to no avail. At the beginning of August, she tried contacting OCM through email, phone calls, online chat, text and social media — only through social media did she get a response.
“When I started commenting on their social media, that’s the only time I got a response, and the response, basically was they would look into it,” Gream said. “Then they told me that it had shipped. And it should be here today. It is not here today.”
OCM’s communication and customer service has led to a rating drop from A to F between July and September, and a loss of accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization for consumer protection and industry regulation. In the last three years the BBB has received nearly 600 complaints regarding OCM, the bulk of which focus on issues of delivery.
Of the 596 complaints, the BBB lists 346 delivery issues, 221 product or service problems, 14 billing and/or collections complaints, 12 relating to advertising/sales, and three regarding warranty or guarantee.
Dawn Robertson, CEO at OCM since 2018, acknowledged consumer dissatisfaction with OCM’s customer service and product. When asked for solutions, Roberston said the company has been giving discounts, express shipping, and rerouted orders to homes or schools.
“Of course I know how the ratings are, and I understand what’s going on in our company,” Robertson said. “This season has unfortunately been kind of a perfect storm for us. So we’re doing everything in our power to make things right for our customers.”
Robertson said that for OCM, “our mission is to support students as they go to college.”
When asked about the relationship between OCM and SF State, Robertson would not comment further than saying that OCM gave a portion of money spent by students back to support residential life. At the time of publication, SF State had not released any documents to Xpress, and it is unclear who oversees the relationship between OCM and the university.
At the time of the interview with Robertson the BBB had 192 complaints regarding OCM, since then those complaints have more than tripled.
Robertson said that the company has offered refunds, discounts and other options for those who made purchases but experienced shipping delays. Robertson also cited the pandemic for customer service issues and said that, as of Aug. 19, there were no more back orders. Xpress has been unable to confirm this.
Teressa Lawrence of Brooklyn, New York, said she ordered from OCM on July 31 for her daughter, Tia, a freshman at University of Albany. Lawrence said that she was happy when she got her products from OCM; however, this was after weeks of no contact and continued efforts on Lawrence’s part.
“I tried reaching out to the customer service team. Very difficult. I spent about 90 minutes just waiting to get to someone on the [online] chat,” Lawrence. “When I got to, I think when I got to number 21 in line, the chat terminated.”
Having no luck with the online chat, Lawrence said she started making phone calls. After waiting for over an hour, she was able to reach someone and was told that her order was waiting to ship. By Aug. 12, she had still not received her order and tried contacting OCM again.
The linen order Teressa Lawrence placed for her son with OCM on July 31, 2021. Lawrence said struggled to reach OCM customer service. and her order was delivered late. (Screenshot courtesy of Teressa Lawrence)
“I woke up at 8 a.m. and I tried to get on, and they said no customer service representatives were available. So I waited until 8:30 and then I tried it again, and lo and behold, I was number 18 in line [for the chat],” Lawrence said. “So I waited close to about two hours and then someone came on, and I waited there and I said to him, ‘When can I expect my order?’ He said, ‘I have checked on your order, and it looks like your items have been packed and are waiting ship out.’”
This was the same answer Lawrence received in her previous communications with OCM, only this time her daughter was set to move in the following Monday. The next day, Aug. 13, Lawrence received her package.
Robertson also cited the resurgence of the COVID-19 Delta variant as part of the reason the company experienced issues in customer service, delivery times and product availability.
Robertson added that when she joined OCM, the company was not experiencing the same issues with shipping, customer service and product quality. However, testimonies and complaints from students and parents suggest otherwise.
Third year SF State student and Towers at Centennial Square lead mail clerk, Iese Esera, said that three years ago, they ordered from OCM. Although Esera said their experience was not overall bad, they still experienced issues with their order.
“Overall, it was pretty smooth. I mean, I did have to call customer service a couple times,” Esera said. “And then they ended up sending me like, six months later, while I was already moved in, like a different care package.”
Students at SF State have had issues with OCM dating back to the 2018-19 academic year, according to Bradford Phelps, former national communications coordinator for the Residential Housing Association at SF State. Phelps, who worked directly with OCM to facilitate the company’s care package program during that school year, said the issues ranged from late delivery of care packages to missing items to no contact from OCM.
“When it came to care packages more specifically than linens, there was a lot of delay when we expected shipments versus which shipments would actually come in,” Phelps said.
According to Phelps, the complaints about linens were not as numerous or as extreme during his time with RHA. He added that he could not speak too much about the linen program because to the best of his knowledge, that was handled through SF State’s Residential Life.
Xpress has been unable to confirm that Residential Life has any connection with OCM, only that it receives complaints from students and families, which are then passed to OCM. Several students spoke to Xpress about their experiences arriving on campus without bedding but declined to be interviewed for this article.
“I want our customers, the students, the schools to know, we want this to work … but with the issues from COVID … we’ve run into issues, and we’ve run into communication issues, and we are doing the very best we can,” Robertson said.
On Sept. 15, exactly one month after Leventon moved in, she received an email from OCM in response to an Aug. 9 inquiry on her order. “It’s like, great. Thank you,” Leventon said.
Part one in a series on OCM, Residential Life and transparency at SF State.