"I say, 'How much you want for that?' (I go into a store). Man says 'three dollars.' 'All right," I say, 'will you take four?'" – Bob Dylan, "Po' Boy"
When the junk is on the table and the deal is about to go down, there's an endgame before the money changes hands – the subtle and delicate dance known as The Haggle. It doesn't work in the modern world of thrift stores, those armies of salvation and Will-marts that slowly are turning the junker world into a slower and stinkier version of strip-mall America – their prices are fixed at corporate levels and forget about getting them to come off 'em.
Out in the junker wilds, the haggle is still danced with various degrees of skill and precision. But like most any folk tradition you can name, I sometimes get the feeling that the art of the haggle is becoming a thing of the past. Good old-fashioned horse-trading has rules, and it's a two-way street.
In my mode as a junk dealer, I hate the haggle. I prefer to figure what I think is the lowest, fairest price I can stick on something, and then stick it on there, not the lowest I can take plus 20 percent wiggle room. So if I'm on the goods side of the transaction, the haggle is a hassle.
What customers need to remember is that it takes two to haggle, and that while the customer gets to lead, the seller gets to decide how far you get. Start with too outrageous a step and your partner will leave you stranded on the floor. If I've got $20 on something, don't start out with an offer of $4. This happened to me at my recent yard sale and I wanted to kick the guy off my porch. Starting at anything below 50 percent of asking price is insulting. Also, don't bother trying to talk someone down on a 50-cent item. I know this is a game of nickels and dimes, but if you're really wondering whether or not it's worth 50 cents, you don't need it.
However, in my mode as a buyer, I love to haggle – but I try to be a good partner. What you have to remember is that the seller is another human being who needs to be treated with respect, not a piece of meat to be bullied and mocked. "Can you believe he sold me THIS for THAT?!?" is nothing any dealer wants to hear and it's likely to leave lasting scars. Next time someone wants to haggle, that dealer will be reluctant. If you get over on a dealer, don't dicker and tell.
A friend of mine (we'll call him Ed) told me a hilarious haggle story about a trip to Smiley's. As Ed was walking into the flea market, he saw a guy starting to unload boxes of 45s out of his car. Being even more of a 45 fiend than myself, Ed walked over to the records and started looking at them before they were even out of the trunk.
The guy said to Ed, "I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse, buddy. You can take all of those 45s – there's over 600 there – for $150 dollars! It's a great deal! You can't say no!"
"OK, let me take a look and see if I can do that or not," Ed replied. He started to look in the box, flipping through to see if it was worth it to him or not. This was not an unrealistic price for a guy like Ed to pay for such a big bunch of records, if they were the right records. A few records into the box, Ed could tell they were '60s rock 'n' roll records, and started to get happy.
"OK, man, you drive a hard bargain," says the dealer. "I'll sell you all those records for $100! You can't say no!"
Ed said, "OK, hang on a minute, just let me see if it's worth it or not…" and tried to resume digging through the 45s.
"OK, you really are a tough customer," the guy said, still not letting Ed look at the merch. I tell you what…"
Eventually the records were 40 bucks, and Ed hadn't had to haggle at all. The guy had done all of the bargaining for him. Ed told me later that the records were good enough that if the guy had just waited until he'd looked through them he'd probably have spent the $150.
So to heck what I said about a two-way street. You don't haggle with the other guy – ultimately, you haggle yourself.