The Ecphorizer

Hard-Assed Bargaining
Mike Snyder

Issue #29 (January 1984)



The following is an attempt to provide some food for thought on methods you can use to buy your audio equipment at a price that you'll feel good about. I have used these methods myself, and can attest to their efficacy. If there is enough competition in [quoteright'/>your market area, the methods will work, whether you're out to spend $50 or a thousand. Mention is also made of a few tactics commonly employed by the opposition. Assuming an adequate level of competition, there are three major subjects which you should consider in your war plans:

Timing. You must attack when the opposition Is most vulnerable. This is probably the single most important strategic element.

Market information. If you do your homework properly, you will be an informed negotiator. This will prevent the opposition from throwing any snow your way.

Attitude. This is where you throw snow back at the opposition, and where you make it very clear that each snowball has a rock inside it.

What follows is a detailed discussion of each of these subjects.

Timing Is brutally simple: catch the bastard near the end of the month, when he's thinking about his monthly sales quota, and he's half in the bag. I've had this personally verified by the victim himself, and if that isn't a testament, I don't know what is.

Market information takes a little more effort, but is always an interesting study. These elements are important:

Manufacturer's reputation. If you gotta have Bang and Olufsen, you'll have to arm-wrestle for every percentage point. Conversely, if you decide to buy speakers by an electronics manufacturer such as Pioneer, you're into a lower-emphasis "sideline" area where 40 percent off is obligatory. More specifically: the Marantz HD 880 was top-rated by Consumer Reports and credibly so -- however, Marantz is not an acknowledged speaker builder. Marantz speaker prices are softer than those of ESS.

New model. Just as with cars, the prices of new models are stiffer than those of year-olds. And the "substance" Is often as not illusory. Rather than waiting a year, though, why not go after the model being replaced? I'll not step further into the pride-of-ownership quagmire than to say that if you succumb, please do make it a conscious decision.

Level of competition. This is pure homework. To accurately assess this, you must select one or more brand names for consideration (the fewer the better), and then telephone every dealer in the area to make a list of who carries what you want. Then, when the hostilities are actually underway, you will not only know where-all you're going on your rounds, but can say so right out loud, thereby scaring the hell out of the opposition by demonstrating that you really know what you're doing. It not only saves time for you when out on the street, it shows you as a hard-assed bargainer. The opposition thinks that's their province, and will most certainly feel at a relative disadvantage in dealing with a fully informed customer.

Current list price. A favorite ploy of the opposition is to say, "Your offer would have been reasonable yesterday, but the manufacturer just raised the price." I got pranged falsely on this gambit, and it sure won't happen again. Check this out by telephone. List price is mostly artificial, but you've got to start somewhere. Phone at least two dealers, or as many as needed to get the true numbers. Then, unless you're on the market for esoteric stuff, the first thought you should have is "35 PERCENT OFF." In a good healthy market, 25% is absolute minimum, out of hand; 50% is attainable for such outrageously marked-up items as speakers and phono cartridges.

Advertising. Read the Sunday newspapers for a month or two, and save the interesting parts. Discount ads in audio magazines are also useful. If you're considering a high-volume manufacturer, you'll find lots of action here, and your purpose is to use these ads to bludgeon the opposition into submission. There's no quicker way to convince 'em than to quote an ad. If they astutely notice that the ad is from a dealer 20 or 2000 miles away, tell them that you just happen to be in this area, then ask if they'd rather see you shop somewhere else. Carry BandAids in ease there's any wrist-slashing.

Attitude is the asset you must employ in the event that the more easily employed elements mentioned above are not manifest. (Last is not least.) In fact, if you're of a somewhat more predatory bent, this is where the fun really starts. Morals and other forms of reticence do not apply, because there's sure as hell no sense in affording the opposition any sentiments which they'd never dream of wasting on you. My favorite elements follow:

No hangovers. If you can't behave on Friday night, don't expect to be able to spear the opposition on Saturday. Being really up to the task is important. Guess how I found this one out.

Decide ahead. Do all your comparison shopping with empty pockets, and do it before you go to war. No exceptions. If any dealer gives you good cause to change your mind and consider a different brand or model, you must go back to Square One. No exceptions. When the time finally comes to talk money, there is only one pertinent variable: money. You must state your objective as if it were carved in stone, and tolerate no deviation from the subject, which is, simply, bucks.

This is all the money I've got. This obviously is credible only for substantial purchases, and must be carefully integrated with all other tactics. Outside of heading for the door, little else is more stonewallish (see below). If a deteriorating situation demands such a crass display, flash a money order for your amount and say in a loud clear voice: "This is really it; if it won't do, I'll have to wait 'til next month and start over elsewhere." They know you're lying, but they are subject to a lot of rules that you aren't. 'Nuff said. I'm just starting. No matter how many places you've already hit (see "level of competition," above), let the opposition know that you have a list of dealers, and let them believe that they're the first on the list, that you've got plenty more places to go. They know the market as well as you do, so don't try this unless it's true.

Call your manager. A common ploy is for the opposition to say "I've got to clear this with the district manager." This is intended to make you think that you must sit and cringe and chew your fingernails while some bigwig is asked for permission to have you drawn and quartered. This is generally a bluff, and must be called without an instant's hesitation. Should push come to shove, be ready for "head for the door," described below.

Use a partner. If you have the resource, an "advisor" can be employed to bring pressure to bear. At the moment when negotiations stall, an apparently short-tempered companion can be cued to ask you why you're wasting your time messing with such clowns, let's quit this chicken outfit, and other such bad-guy routines. Fairly vehemently. You then speak some consiliatory crap while closely observing the opposition. This is an old torture tactic - one interrogator brutalizes the victim, then another plays it tender, and sometimes the victim cracks. Failure here can lead only to...

Head for the door. This is done at a non-conspicuously slow walk, preferably with a sparse expression of regret, then total silence. No doubt must exist as to whose turn it is to speak next. No exceptions. This obviously can work only in the presence of adequate competition, and must be played in deadly earnest. Sometimes it works wonderfully.

The uninitiated skeptic may tend to dismiss the foregoing as a parcel of psycho-babble, but I must reiterate that these are proven techniques, and are in fact observed by negotiators in enterprises more weighty than those concerned with mere audio gear. At any rate, if you've got this far, you have some idea as to whether or not your bucks are worth some hard-assed conservation. If so, I think you will feel good about the results. Happy listening. 

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Mike Snyder




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