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July 03, 2008

Special Price?

July 3. Day 3.
A few days ago I did some spring cleaning and discovered a few boxes of clothes I forgot I owned. A shopping trip in my own closet! So I ended up with some cute new-old dresses, and a huge trashbag of clothes for dry cleaning. That could cost over $100, with prices these days, so I decided to ask around. This morning, I looked up 10 dry cleaners online and inquired about discounts for bulk orders.

Seven out of ten gave the same answer: "Sorry."

I attribute this rejection to three reasons. 
1. It's easier to say no to someone on the phone. Maybe I should have asked in person, when I was in the area anyway; but, it would have dragged on and on.  
2. When I said, "I'm looking to save some money," one woman said, "Aren't we all?"  So yes, times are tough. This can work for or against me, since small merchants need both my business and maximum profits. 
3. I discovered that how I framed the question made a marked difference in how willing people were to help. Vague and impersonal was not good. Specific and in person was much much better.
Here's how it played out:

At first I called a few dry cleaners and asked, vaguely, "Hi. I have a lot of clothes I'm looking to clean, and I'm wondering if you could offer some sort of discount." It was easy to say no to that.

Then, I called and asked about the items I was interested in. "What's the price of a dress? ... Oh, really? Because, I've been calling a few places, and I'm trying to see who can give me the best price. Do you have any discounts?"

People seemed more willing to help me when I got more specific.

"We have one coupon, and we honor other cleaner's coupons," one woman told me.

"Come Monday and talk to the manager," another said.

But I didn't want coupons. Anyone can get a coupon for their neighborhood dry cleaners. I want to ask for a deep, customized discount and get it. Even if it only saves enough money to pay for the gas there and back, dammit. Talking to the manager at that one place was an idea, but those prices were already more expensive than others so it wasn't worth the drive.

Refining my search, I zoomed in to places in Kearny Mesa, a neighborhood with many Asian merchants and restaurants. There I found H&R Cleaners, which had one good review on a website I don't particularly trust, but it was something. This time, I asked explicitly for what I wanted. I gave the same intro as above, and concluded, "So, since there are so many items, could we arrange a special price?" The woman offered $5.25 instead of $5.50 for a dress. I did the math -- about 5% off.

"I'd like 10 percent," I said.


"I could become a long term customer," I pushed.

She started laughing. "Ok, ok!"

Gained: For 6 dresses, $3.30. For a whole bag of clothes, TBD.

Lost: 10 minutes of phone calls.
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