Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Art of the Deal

While it has been a largely score-less summer, I have had a couple of decent buys.  At one church sale, I got a stack of 16 DVD's for 8 dollars, or 50 cents each.  I like to sell DVD's but I use them as a draw to get people into the booth, kind of like a loss leader, except that I don't actually lose money on them.  I can't afford to do that, so I sell my DVD's at the bargain bottom price of .99 each.  This acts as a draw to encourage people to look around and shop more in my booth.  It also serves as a way to help people remember my booth and shop with me again.

While I don't have any real data to support this conclusion, I do think it works.  It seems like on days when I sell several DVD's, I also sell lots of other items.  Of course, I don't have anyway to know who is buying what, but my gut tells me I'm on the right path.

Since I refuse to actually sell anything at a loss, I have to get my DVD's at the right price in order to sell them this cheaply.  For me, that means 50 cents or less.  I know that seems like a tall order, but it happens more than you'd think.  These are yard sales after all.  I've seen them for as low as a dime or a quarter before.  And when they aren't that low, then sometimes I can bargain to get them down.

Take the batch of sixteen mentioned above.  The original price on them was 3 for five bucks, which is not a bad deal at all, but wouldn't work for me.  It was a good batch of movies, too.  Lots of Oscar winners and other accolades.  I decided to take a chance and see if I could get the price down.

First, I counted them out at their original price.  16 movies at 3 for 5 bucks = 5 batches of 3 movies and one left over = 25 bucks and maybe the last one thrown in for free.  Then I did it at my desired price of .50 each.  !6 movies at .50 each = 8 dollars.  Quite a drop.  Over two-thirds, in fact.  In other words, my chances to get them at that price looked pretty slim.  Still, I decided to go for it.  Nothing ventured; nothing gained, after all.

The next step was to devise a strategy.  I figured I wouldn't get anywhere by offering .50 each.  That has worked for me in the past, but the DVD's have to already be a buck each.  Then, an innocent "If I buy all your DVD's, can I get them for fifty cents each?" will usually work.  I thought these were a little too much for the direct approach, so I decided to go another route.

I figured that if I asked the seller what kind of deal they would make me for all the DVD's, then we'd have a new platform from which to work.  After all, they were naming the price, which would leave me free to make a counter-offer.  I was thinking they would either say 12 bucks, which would be half-off, or 10, which would be the best case scenario.  It's no problem to counter a 10 dollar offer with 8 and get what you're going for.  12 is a little iffier, but it can be done.  Of course, there's always the chance I'm guessing wrong and they'll say 20, but that's the chance I'm taking.

So, I ask, and they say 12, which is better than 20, but not as good as 10.  It's not always easy to get from 12 to 8.  They can counter with 10, which would lead me to counter at 9, which, while acceptable, is not as good a deal for me.  So, I offer my 8, and they accept.  I pay and collect my DVD's.  They got money.  I got DVD's.  We all won.

A little later on that same day, we were at another sale, where I saw two adorable child-sized chairs with the cutest paint job on them.  They were marked four each, which is a little steep for me. It was getting late in the day, so I offered four for both.  The seller had announced that she was taking offers when I walked up, and she was making deals for other people, so I decided to give it a shot.  And got shot down.  I was rather brusquely informed that she had "paid more than that" for the chairs.  I resisted the urge to remind her that this was a yard sale and she had "paid more than that" for everything in her yard! 

I could have countered with six and probably gotten the chairs, but the way she responded to my first inquiry really put me off.  I decided I didn't want to deal with her any more and left.  She didn't get money. I didn't get chairs.  We both lost.

So, what made the difference in the two deals?  I think that with the first one, the combination of the right approach and the right seller attitude made the deal happen.  In the second case, I misread the seller and the situation.  If I had started with a six-dollar offer, I probably would have gotten the chairs, but I tried instead to maximize my bargain based on the lateness of the hour and the perceived willingness of the seller to bargain.  She wasn't as willing as she seemed to be, so I struck out. 

On the other hand, the way she responded to me threw up a wall that I wasn't willing to try and climb.  If she had countered with a five or six dollar offer, I would have jumped on it.  Instead, I moved on.  She effectively shut down the negotiation and I decided to head on down the street.  After all, it's easier for me to find more stuff than it is for her to find another buyer.  Bad approach plus bad seller attitude means no deal.

I've been yard saling for years, way before I ever had a booth.  So, I've been bargaining and dealing for a long time.  At first it was to get a good price and stretch my spending power.  Now, it's to maximize my potential profit.  Regardless of the reason, here are some of the things I have learned over the years.

Timing is everything.  If you come into a sale making offers right after it opens, you're more likely to get shot down than if you try later in the day.  I tend not to try and bargain until at least after 9.

Bulk buys get you better bargains.  Offering to buy all of a certain item, say books or movies, will often get you a better price.  Buying many different items also work, especially if you're not trying to get a discount on everything.  I started the DVD negotiation as I was paying for several other items that I paid the asking price for.  This gave the seller a better impression of me and made them more willing to deal.


Don't ask for a discount on everything you pick up.  You'll only get on the seller's nerves and appear greedy and obnoxious.  Pick and choose your requests.  If something is already a good deal, buy it without haggling.

Be reasonable in your offer.  Offering a dollar or two on something marked ten dollars is only going to irritate the seller.  Sometimes, even a half price offer, like mine on the chairs, will have the same effect.  Bargaining is one thing.  Tacky lowballing is something else.

Be polite.  Ask.  Don't demand.  Don't tell them what you're going to give them.  If they turn down your offer, don't get rude.  It's not going to change their mind.  Last Friday, I saw a man tell a seller that he "really didn't want the item anyway" after the seller made a sensible counter to his ridiculous low-ball offer.  In the meantime, I got a dollar off something at the same seller just by being polite and reasonable.

Be prepared.  You may get a counter-offer.  Be ready for it. Know how high you are willing to go.  Remember, this is a negotiation, not an ultimatum.  If you need to do any math, do it before you make your first offer.  I nearly lost a deal on a bunch of vintage travel guides one time when I started to count them out to see if the offer a guy made me was a deal or not.  It was embarrassing.


Let them make the first step.  Asking what they're willing to take for something opens the door and gives the seller a little more control in the negotiations.  This is sometimes helpful when you are dealing with big ticket items.  It also helps you get a feel for the seller's willingness to barter. 

Know when to move on. I've heard horror stories of sellers being hounded by persistent buyers to the point that it ruined the whole selling experience for them.  If it's obviously not going to work, head on to your next stop.  Remember, there's stuff everywhere.  For everyone who won't deal with you, there are several who will. Why waste your time and energy generating bad yard sale karma?


Expect to fail sometimes.  It's always worth a shot, but you won't always succeed.  Don't take it personally, even if the seller gets rude.  It's not worth getting into arguments with strangers over their stuff.  I had a blow up with a seller who got smart with me one time over the price of a comic book.  I thought he was high, given the condition, so I put it back.  He then informed that I ought to know that was a good price, so I informed him he should have noticed it looked like an elephant gored it, ate it, then coughed it up.  It didn't help things and really didn't win either of us any points.

Remember, the goal is not ultimate victory.  It's to come to a result that both sides are happy with.  You have to be willing to give a little sometimes to get what you want.

2 comments:

Kym said...

Hi Eddie
I have been trying to follow you for weeks and kept getting an error message.
Finally let my click to follow.
Just want ya to know you have a fun and interesting blog and I enjoy keeping with all your adventures.

Lynn said...

Eddie, great blog on the art of getting what you want! Very thoughtful and it probably took you 10 times for time to write it all out than to think what to do at the yardsale. Have a good week and I hope some good stuff comes your way!