Robert Krughoff, founding father of Customers’ Checkbook, dies at 80

Not lengthy after he pulled out of a Prince George’s County auto store for the third time in two weeks, Robert Krughoff realized that his automobile was nonetheless not mounted. Quickly, he knew, he’d have to return a fourth time — or, higher but, discover one other store.

“There should be a strategy to discover who does good service work, not simply what the great merchandise are,” he later recalled pondering.

Mr. Krughoff, then a 29-year-old federal official, had at all times preferred to discover a deal. He was, he acknowledged, the sort of one who would get estimates from a half-dozen corporations earlier than shopping for lumber, putting in carpeting or waterproofing the basement of his townhouse on Capitol Hill.

If Client Studies might check and assessment merchandise nationwide, he figured, there was no motive an area publication couldn’t assessment space shops and companies, serving to readers keep away from the sort of fiasco he had encountered whereas making an attempt to get the engine of his Opel Kadett coupe mounted.

4 years later, in 1976, Mr. Krughoff introduced his shopper’s information to life, placing out the primary concern of Washington Customers’ Checkbook, an ad-free, semiannual journal launched by a nonprofit group that he led on Okay Avenue NW.

Lengthy earlier than the creation of internet sites like Yelp and Angie’s Record, the publication served as an indispensable useful resource for readers in search of suggestions on service suppliers starting from plumbers to funeral properties to dentists.

Mr. Krughoff, who was 80 when he died Feb. 26 at his dwelling in Washington, spent the subsequent half-century constructing his group right into a power for readers throughout the nation.

Checkbook, as it’s recognized, now covers seven areas, from Boston to Seattle, and says it attracts greater than 190,000 distinctive guests a month to its website. The group continues to be making an attempt to maintain clients from getting ripped off, a problem that Mr. Krughoff believed was “each bit as large an issue because it was” when he received began.

“Astoundingly, there’s little or no relationship between high quality and worth,” he informed The Washington Publish in 2022, just a few months after retiring as president of Checkbook’s mum or dad group, the Heart for the Research of Companies.

Earlier than he began Checkbook, Mr. Krughoff had little expertise in publishing, other than serving to to launch a scholar newspaper within the Bronx throughout a brief stint as a junior highschool instructor. Nonetheless, he knew one thing about evaluating companies. On the U.S. Division of Well being, Training and Welfare, he was the director of the newly fashioned Workplace of Analysis and Analysis Planning, which studied the effectiveness of neighborhood well being facilities and childhood education schemes, amongst different initiatives.

“I didn’t know totally what I used to be going into,” he informed The Publish in 1979, trying again on the transition from authorities work to a bare-bones, nonprofit operation through which he and his workers typically resorted to salvaging workplace furnishings from the road. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment going from having two secretaries ready to take dictation from you to having to hold your individual mailbags to the put up workplace.”

Inside just a few years of its founding, Checkbook had 20,000 Washington-area subscribers and 6 full-time workers. Its guides have been primarily based on reader surveys in addition to unbiased analysis, with staffers engaged in “undercover purchasing,” as Mr. Krughoff put it, to match costs charged by native companies. The publication additionally talked to individuals within the know, interviewing members of the clergy for a information to funeral properties and EMTs for a report on emergency-room care.

Some companies complained in regards to the outcomes, questioning Mr. Krughoff’s vetting course of or complaining that their scores have been too low. However subscribers remained loyal, and Checkbook finally expanded to launch a car-buying service, CarBargains, and a information to prime medical doctors and different health-care suppliers.

Checkbook’s work was continuously cited by mainstream information retailers, and Mr. Krughoff was quoted by publications together with The Publish and New York Instances, providing steering meant to assist readers select a retirement account, well being plan or long-distance telephone line. Wanting to share his findings, he was even prepared to talk with individuals on the telephone — about auto outlets, maybe, or exterminators or tailors — no matter whether or not they subscribed to Checkbook.

“I’d relatively discuss to all of them day lengthy,” he informed The Publish in 2006, “than have them not use this useful resource.”

The youthful of two kids, Robert Merrill Krughoff was born in Dallas on Oct. 11, 1942. He grew up in White Plains, N.Y., the place his mom was a highschool English instructor. His father labored for the Group Chest nonprofit charity community, now often known as United Means.

Mr. Krughoff mentioned he realized the significance of discovering a superb service supplier as a young person, when he went to the dentist and had what he later described because the worst client expertise of his life. “There ought to have been an image of my backside tooth within the paper that mentioned, ‘That is the work of Dr. …,’” he mentioned.

In 1964, he obtained a bachelor’s diploma from Amherst Faculty in Massachusetts. He graduated from the College of Chicago Legislation College three years later however found that he was extra within the idea of regulation than the observe and gave up his authorized profession to attempt educating. In 1969, he joined HEW, now the Division of Well being and Human Companies.

5 years later, he fashioned the Heart for the Research of Companies, launching the group with assist from about $50,000 in grant cash from the Cafritz Basis, the U.S. Workplace of Client Affairs and the Customers Union, which allowed him to survey its Washington-area subscribers by an advert in Client Studies journal.

“That was an incredible increase,” Mr. Krughoff mentioned. “All we needed to do was pay for the printing of the questionnaire itself, however the entire journey, out and in, was free.”

The primary concern of Checkbook, devoted fully to well being care, ran 112 pages and offered at newsstands and bookstores for $4.95. The subsequent few editions have been additionally organized round a single topic: automobiles, dwelling upkeep, finance. Checkbook expanded to the San Francisco space in 1981 and added 5 extra areas in 2003.

By temperament alone, Mr. Krughoff was maybe ideally suited to run the group. Obsessive about analysis and intensely skeptical of “too good to be true” enterprise claims, he was dedicated to discovering the perfect service or product, no matter comfort. “He’ll drive to Philadelphia for a used automobile,” The Publish reported. “His workers joke that he would journey 5 instances farther than the common individual to avoid wasting $10.”

Checkbook made headlines after it sued the federal authorities in 2006, in search of entry to Medicare claims knowledge as a part of an try to check doctor efficiency nationwide. The group hoped the information would make it doable to establish medical suppliers with particular experience and to uncover fraud and abuse whereas analyzing which medical doctors ordered pointless assessments or hospitalizations. Medical teams mentioned the disclosures would violate physicians’ privateness and result in an inaccurate image of their work.

A prolonged authorized tussle ensued. A federal choose in Washington sided with Checkbook, however his ruling was reversed by an appeals courtroom in 2009. 5 years later, Medicare officers introduced that they have been altering their knowledge coverage, and started releasing statistics that supplied perception into doctor billing practices.

Mr. Krughoff’s dying was confirmed by his spouse, the previous Gayle Gehring, whom he married in 1966. She mentioned his well being had declined since late December, when he suffered a fall. Along with his spouse, of Washington, survivors embody two kids, Alex of Washington and Anna of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua; a sister; and three grandchildren.

Earlier than the autumn, Mr. Krughoff was nonetheless enjoying tennis and dealing round the home and neighborhood. He arrange a group pickleball courtroom on Capitol Hill, in accordance with his spouse; poured his personal concrete within the yard; and did his personal portray.

He most popular to do the work himself, he mentioned, even when Checkbook beneficial loads of individuals he might rent.

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