You Don't Have To Ask

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When I was a younger lad, I sold insurance for boats.  It was one of those funny situations where I was really effective at it when I did it the way I naturally did it, which was to go to boat races and marinas and just generally hang out with people and be in the loop, but my place of employ preferred my presence in midtown Manhattan, wearing a suit and tie.  This marked me for two reasons - the first is that it instilled in me a lifelong appreciation that your time is well spent out among the madding crowds (see below).The second was this annoying phrase that I hated called "leaving money on the table."  My boss ALWAYS used it.  "We don't want to be leaving money on the table!"  Yeah, I got it.  I just didn't like it then, and I still don't now.  A big part of the stupidity in it for me then was that it didn't fit my scheme.  Getting paid meant getting a large volume of clients.  Getting a large volume of clients meant spending a lot of time networking and being in the field, and closing deals quickly.  I was doing a lot of sailing then so I wasn't anonymous in the market, and then as now, a lot of customers wanted to do business with me and not my price.  Price would win me some customers, and it would be a high but not top priority for the heart of my audience.  But it wasn't the story, and the incremental few dollars I might have "left on the table" didn't change my commission very much at all.  Whether I got the deal or not was the compensation issue, and it was far easier for me to just do it at the carrier's best quoted price rather than worry about a few extra bones - I figured I was working for my customers, not my boss or the carrier,  and their best interests were mine as well.

I know that there are a lot of people who would cringe and tell me I'm an idiot for this approach.  Apparently some of the work in the bike industry.  The other day I read a review on one of the sites I read because I love to hate it, and the bike being reviewed was referred to as an "x" dollar bike.  Now, I'm at the point where if you tell me that maufacturer, the frame material, the place in the brand's hierarchy the frame occupies (ProTour level, "sport" series, etc), and the primary component spec, I can pretty accurately guess the retail.  Well, price "x" of this bike instantly sounded incongruous to me, so I went to the manufacturer and found that the actual MSRP was 150% of price "x."  Makes perfect sense, right?  When there's enough room in the MSRP for the street price to be 2/3rds of the MSRP, someone's made a pretty daring attempt not to leave any money on the table. 

This all leads the typical consumer to want to seek a better deal.  If situations like that are happening all day every day, and you can get 1/3 off just by doing the most basic amount of digging or asking, you're darn right when you say "I had to ask."

Mike and I, being the crotchety bastards that we are, and having done what we've done in pricing how we have, have often gotten offended by these requests.  To be honest, every single one has caused some degree of "what the hell do people think we have left to cut out" type of banter between us.  We make money on every sale, maybe not a lot, but we're never going to pay you to buy stuff from us (unless we heinously screw something up).  Conversely, we're not concerned about "leaving money on the table."  Our general philosophy on prices is that if our price for something is $485, we're not interested in selling it for $484.98, and we won't.  Both parties in the equation have the right to say "no thanks," and if your offer is below our price, "no thanks" is our answer.  Among the many other things we don't like about "don't leave money on the table" pricing is that negotiating takes time that we haven't got. 

Even with that, we lose when we step onto the field because it's in our nature to artfully craft a diplomatic response to each of these requests to enter negotiation.  And we get A LOT of them.  And that takes A LOT of time, time that we would rather spend doing almost anything, including pulling out our own fingernails with vice-grips.  It sucks for us.  So we've decided not to do it anymore.  We're going form letter.  So from here on, requests of the "I had to ask" variety will be answered (with our usual promptness) with a very boring DREADED FORM LETTER, suitable for framing, explaining simply that the price is the price. 

It seemed kind of anathema to me that we would stoop to the DREADED FORM LETTER, but time is a zero sum game.  If we spend 3 hours a week in wordcraft, making personalized, pithy explanations of why we won't give you a nickel off the price, that's three hours we can't spend on some thing that benefits us and our customers.  In actual fact these requests take time that could otherwise be spent doing more for our customers, so in a pragmatic view of customer service, responding with the DREADED FORM LETTER is actually better customer service. 

When you want to get our best price, you really don't have to ask. 


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  • Tom on

    I think it was either Roadie or BikeSnob's book (or both?) that made the observation that roadies will do everything they possibly can to find gear at any tiny discount, while Triathletes will gladly amble up and pay full price without a second thought. I once bought a pair of winter gloves at MSRP because I feel sorry for Takoma Bikes. I once bought a patch kit at CitySports for MSRP because my tire was too flat to get somewhere where I had a discount. Other than that?

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    I'd write a lot of form letters for $160k/year!

  • crashprone on

    Triathletes don't crash like roadies and muddies.

  • Mike on

    A couple of years ago I believe the average annual income of an actively competitive (age-grouper, not PRO) triathlete was in the neighborhood of $160K a year…that's nowhere near eff-you money, but you don't worry about saving $5-10 here and there at that income.Plus I think tri-guys are conditioned into thinking a couple grand for a frameset is normal…

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    You want a form letter? Cuz we gots one for you.



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