I have now been staring at the terrace at the back of my house for 3 straight months (thanks, global health crisis!). Obviously, I’ve been flat to the boards at work on my many screens too but like computer screens, the view has become a little jaded.
So in a moment of inspiration I decided to organise my veritable ‘outside kitchen’ (Big Green Egg, Savage Grills BBQ and the Brick Oven) around a bigger space. This excitement has not been shared quite so enthusiastically by Mrs Savage and she flinches every time I mention the ‘K(itchen)’ word but the prospect of a new garden area has been accepted.
It’s a complicated business it turns out, this landscaping lark. Excavation, grading, foundations, laying of stones, pointing, drainage, waste disposal and that’s before we get to putting stuff back, plant acquisition, compost, planting etc.
The cost element on the landscaping bloke’s quotation that really stood out was the cost of the paving slabs. York stone is a variety of sandstone, specifically from quarries in Yorkshire, that have been worked since mediaeval times. And its price is ferocious. But essential to match what we have. So I thought, being a top negotiator, I would get involved.
“I’ll take care of that”, I reassured him and got back onto my screen to Google what was available. Quite a lot as it turns out, from specialist suppliers, quarries and even a few private listings.
This, I thought must be a buyer’s market. We are knee-deep in the middle of the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, we’re heading into recession, there is still social distancing. This should be like shooting fish in a barrel.
I found Steve from Essex. His stone was “£75” as opposed to the many others between £90 and £120. I rang him up, braced to get him to ‘sharpen his pencil’ a little more.
“I’m looking for approximately 12m²”, I dropped into the conversation early, thinking I would get his mouth watering for a desperate deal in tough times. “Yeah sure no problem” he replied casually “that’ll be 14.4 square yards”. The penny dropped; the price was per square yard. “And I’d be looking for a good deal”, I suggested expectantly. He chuckled, “No chance mate” he said. “In fact, you couldn’t have picked a worse time to buy York Stone, I can’t get enough of the stuff to sell it's going so quickly!”.
How fascinating (and frustrating) I thought after I put the phone down. In the course of a couple of minutes my overconfident position had not only been neutralised, but I was careering into a flat spin panic as to whether there was enough stock for my project. He, on the other hand, was in the pound seats! I was desperate.
We can learn a lot from that exchange. Firstly, the power of knowing your limit position. Steve’s was £75yd² - and as for flexibility? None. When I challenged him about quoting per square yard, he shared with me that it was a marketing tactic – “nobody realises I’m the same price as my competitors; they just see £75 compared to £90” he laughed. Hilarious, I thought. The danger of not testing our assumptions. Secondly, there was no interest for him to negotiate. If there’s no interest, there’s no motivation. Interest can only be derived from one (or both) of two sources – an incentive (I want to buy significant volumes on a regular basis) or a threat or sanction (I’ll go and do that deal with a competitor). I had neither.
What he was also smart with is that he wasn’t greedy. In return for complimenting him on his trading skills he was marginally more flexible on the delivery price. And we had a pleasant exchange. Smart chap. I’ll use him again. And I’ll know EXACTLY where I stand right from the start. Wish I could say the same for some of my other negotiations.