The next three posts, about one day's asks, are on the long side, but here's what I hope you'll get out of reading them: a story about perseverance, negotiation, exasperation, wins and losses, patience and ground beef. In that order.
For my birthday last year, my dad and sister gave me some cash destined for a barbecue. My small house has a small backyard, but it's just big enough for a grill. Most people, given a few hundred bucks for a BBQ, might go to the store, find one within that budget and start grilling asap.
Not the asker.
For almost a year, I searched at hardware and department stores and I scoured Craigslist. I scanned sale circulars in the mail and waited for the best possible value. I got tons of advice. Gift or not, I didn't want their money to be spent on something more expensive than it had to be.
But all year, I was stunned to find that barbecues never go on sale. Like, NEVER. Not in winter, when I was sure they'd be on clearance. Not on Labor Day. I guess that's a drawback of living in permasummery San Diego.
Memorial Day, Mr. A and I flew back from Boston and our first stop (after dropping off the suitcases) was Home Depot. We spotted a Weber Grill with excellent reviews for $399. Once again, no promos or holiday sale, so I asked an employee, and eventually a manger, if we could get a better price.
Here are some of the phrases I used:
"I love the grill, but $400 is above my budget. I was looking to spent $300, because then I have to add in the butane, the tools, the cover. I could go up a little, but $400, plus taxes, plus the butane, it's just too much. Is there anything you can do?"
"Sometimes I know managers have special powers... do you think you could help us bring this price to where we could afford it?"
"If I take the floor model, what kind of discount could you give me?"
"Thanks for helping! You're totally making our summer!"
"A Home Depot credit Card? Sure, if you're willing to go down on the total price by 20%, then I'd consider opening one."
After about 10 minutes of this back and forth (me asking, her checking, me asking, her thinking, me asking, her agreeing), the manager of the grill department set us up with a reasonable deal. The grill was 10% off since we bought the (unblemished!) floor model, plus we'd get 20% off if we opened a Home Depot Card, plus she would give us free butane. We added a grill cover (and some weedkiller) and the total came out to around $450.
Considering just the grill would have been around $450 including tax, that was a fine deal. All the accessories, free, basically.
Only when we got to the register, the store manager told us the new credit card discount is 10%, not 20% and there was no way he could override that. I asked if he had any coupons behind the register and he said no. I asked for the overall store manager, who came after a short wait looking none too pleased.
"Hi," I said and smiled.
"Hi. How can I help you?"
"We would like to buy this grill and all these accessories. I was about to make the purchase when I got some bad news. Robert [the cashier] told us the discount your floor manager promised for opening a credit card isn't 20%, but 10%. That puts this grill out of my price range. So could you please come down on the price, or apply 20% off the whole purchase if we do open a card?"
"Can't do that."
"Oh really? Well is there something else you could to to help us buy this grill? It's a big purchase, and if you could help make it more affordable then I'd be happy to take the grill."
"So you don't want it anymore?"
"Not with just 10% off. We're getting a grill, a cover, all this stuff. It really adds up."
"I can't change the price. I'm not allowed to do that. They check the logs and believe me, at the end of the month I'd get it."
"That's such a pity. Because if you could knock off that 10 percent I would walk out of here with almost $500 in merchandise, I'm sure you'd get a good manager award."
"There's nothing I can do."
Mr. A had been listening in. He's not usually the quiet type -- far from it -- but when it comes to retail activities he backs off because a) I love doing the talking b) I have practice getting discounts c) he realized it's blog material.
But now he pulled me aside and we consulted.
"It's a lot of money, but it's a good grill. We're not going to get a much better deal anywhere else."
"I know, but now it's just the principle. I know he can give us a break. He just doesn't want to. I've been to Best Buy and other big ticket stores, and when you're buying $500 they work with you. They can always do something. Please believe me."
"Ok, no problem, then let's leave it," he said, in a tone that wailed, "Please just buy the damn grill and let's make some burgers!"
"Thank you. Sorry to drag this on, but I know there's a grill out there for us. I just can't reward the manager's behavior with a purchase," I answered, and told the manager coolly that we'd pass.
Part II, coming up next.