Everything I Needed to Know About Negotiating I Learned Watching My Dad Make a Huge Buck on Some Old Furniture
My father, Bernie, passed away a couple of years ago, and yet he lives on in so many practical life lessons that he taught me over the years.
While he couldn’t spell "banana" (he always spelled it “banna” on his grocery lists), he could negotiate a mean deal. Sometimes, his method of choice was annoying the hell out of the other party, but in this example, it was something quite different.
In the early 1990s, my parents got divorced and my father had to sell our house. Because the lawyers ended up with a good chunk of what was a fairly small asset pool to begin with, that meant downsizing. So my father had the task of selling off some furniture that wouldn’t fit in his new, smaller digs.
One of the pieces was a “gorgeous” wall unit from the fine French furniture company “The House of Tackee.” It was a late 1960s or early 1970s piece, complete with “luxurious” orange drapery behind wrought iron and wood, smoked mirror accents, a built-in turntable and sound system and a flip-on faux fireplace.
I am sure you are entirely shocked to hear that there wasn’t a lot of demand for this type of furniture (this was before hipsters became a thing), so my dad had to be resourceful. When he was at the local bagel shop one Saturday morning, the lady behind the counter mentioned that she was looking for some furniture and my dad asked if she wanted to come over to view the wall unit.
Apparently, she had been smoking a very powerful substance, because when she came to view it, she liked it -- a lot. She looked it up, down and all around and finally asked my dad what he wanted for it.
“Why don’t you make me an offer?” my dad asked.
She paused, pursed her lips in deep thought and finally held up two fingers.
“Two hundred dollars?” my dad thought to himself. It was significantly less than he paid for the piece and half of what he’d expected to get for it, but he knew he probably would have a hard time finding anyone else to buy it.
He finally spoke, “Well, it was less than I wanted, but if you throw in some free bagels for a few months, it’s a deal.”
She agreed, handed him a wad of cash and said that she couldn’t pay for it all at once, but that she would pay it off in installments within a few weeks. My father was confused and counted the cash. She had given him $500.
He remained silent. After another few seconds, it occurred to him that when she held up the two fingers, she had meant $2,000, not $200. He put the $500 in his pocket, smiled and said, “No problem, you can pay the rest in installments.”
He actually got $2,000 for something that he should have paid someone else to haul away. How did he do that?
1. He didn’t negotiate against himself.
He had the buyer make the offer first. This way, he didn’t place any limits. He had only wanted about $400, but by letting her go first, he didn’t cap out the upside.
2. He held his greed at bay.
As the saying goes, pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. If he held out, he may not have found anyone to take the darn thing. In this case, by not being greedy, he got more than he ever dreamed of.
3. He thought before he spoke.
My dad kept his cool until he understood the circumstances. When the buyer handed him the cash, he could have blurted out, “I thought you said $200?”
By taking the time to process the scenario and understand what the buyer may have been thinking (which was obviously different than he initially thought), he ended up with a deal that they were both very happy with.
4. He enhanced his win by asking for an easy add-on.
He even got the buyer to throw in some free bagels, which was something that was easy for her to do, but still added value.
Thanks to Bernie for this great lesson. I myself have used this same strategy with much success many times since.
As a side note, when he was selling his king-size bed, the first guy that came to the house looked at the bed and said, “How many people can this sleep”?
My dad responded, “How many people do you want it to sleep?” (Do you notice a pattern here?)
The guy said, “Eight.”
Without hesitation, my dad sized up the bed and said, “Funny, I was just going to say that it could fit eight.”
Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.