The Art of the Deal

Jessica Rodriguez
How can a retailer be assured they're getting a fair price for a palette of DVDs or the monthly rent they pay? Strong negotiating skills.

In the book "Getting to Yes," professors Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project offer strategies for people who find themselves in negotiations where common ground seems thin and areas of agreement are hard to find.

Fisher and Ury argue against what they call "positional bargaining" — that is, taking a stance and sticking to it simply because that's what you think you're supposed to do as a bargainer: the take-it-or-leave-it mentality. Positional bargaining, they say, quickly becomes a contest of wills, engendering resentment and endangering future relationships between parties.

As an alternative, they advise "principled bargaining," in which the bargaining parties focus on interests, including shared interests, rather than positions, and negotiate toward the goal of "a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicably."

Human Factor
According to Fisher and Ury, the best course of action is to view the person with whom you're dealing as a fellow human being with problems and moods like anyone else's, and don't make assumptions about him or her. For example, just because the owner of a shopping center is reluctant to rent space to a retailer of adult toys and lingerie doesn't mean he's a religious fanatic or a blue-nosed moralist.

Also, they say, if the other side behaves badly, relate the impact that behavior has on you instead of calling names. If a vendor promises to sell you goods at one price, then charges you a higher price when the items arrive, a statement like, "I feel let down," works better than, "You're a crook."

Building relationships is key, Fisher and Ury say. Once you know a bargaining partner personally, it's harder to see him as the diabolical "other side." When there's a conflict, they counsel, be tough on the problem, not the people involved.

"I don't think I've ever been turned down for a discount," Tamara, proprietor of the Home Party Network, tells XBIZ. Calling her negotiations "a process of education," Tamara says, "We just go in and talk about what we do, which is selling to multiple people at once."

As soon as manufacturers and distributors understand that home parties for adult toys, lingerie and other erotic accessories permit their items to be sold to a dozen or more consumers at the same time instead of one by one, "We can convince them to lower the price, and they'll still be competitive with stores," Tamara says.

Just as important, she and suppliers "always go back to relationship-building; they can trust us." It doesn't hurt to be charming, either, she adds.

Employing charm doesn't mean caving in, though. "You say, 'I know you can do better,'" Jessica Giordani, co-owner of the Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis, says about haggling over prices. "It's kind of like buying a car, when you know the dealer can do better, and usually he does."

Within the adult world, there may be enough of a small-town feeling to grease the wheels of commerce. Asked how she deals with difficult vendors, Giordani says: "That hasn't been my experience. We're all in the same business. We want to keep ordering, and it's in the distributor's interest to keep the retailer happy."