I’ve had some real wheeler-dealers in the store before, but this kid took the prize. Of course, I realized that I had actually put myself in the situation to be cornered by him, but I don’t think I could have changed that. The young man’s father has been a used-car dealer all of his adult life, which may explain the boy’s bargaining skills a bit, but even I will admit that he was quite precocious in his adroitness.
A few weeks ago, the boy’s father and I had worked out a deal to get him a guitar he really wanted. Trading in a guitar of less value, the dad and son had agreed that the young man would work for extra money for the next three months so that he could pay off the balance on the guitar within the ninety day layaway period we stipulated. There was a fair amount of haggling that went on in the transaction, but in the end, the man got what he wanted (a nice guitar at a fair price for his son) and I got what I wanted (a reasonable return on my investment), so we both were happy. Yesterday, the boy and both his mother and father stopped by. I assumed that the young man would pay another thirty or forty dollars on the account, but was surprised to hear his mom tell me that they were picking up the guitar a couple of months early. It seems that his bargaining skills have an effect on more than just hapless music store operators. Mom paid the balance and I handed over the guitar. The boy wasn’t through yet.
“How much do you want for the bongos? ” I checked the price tag and told him what it said. “Sixty-nine dollars plus tax. It’s a fair price.” He looked over the drums for a moment. “Why would you ask the new price for used drums?” I was puzzled. “Used? They’re new. You can see the manufacturer’s tags still on them.” I glanced over at his parents, but they weren’t going to interfere. I’m not sure, but if I was guessing, I’d say they were proud of him. I’m pretty sure I saw a smile on his dad’s face. The kid had learned his lessons well. He took a breath and continued, “Well, look at the heads. They’re dirty where people have been playing them. They might have been new when you put them in here, but they’re used now. You can see the hand prints on the heads. What’s the used price?”
Have you ever been backed into a corner? That’s where I was. I think this is what’s known as a Catch-22. A Catch-22 (from a book by the same name) is a situation where you logically cannot win, nor can you escape. In the book, the protagonist could get out of a deadly situation by claiming to be insane, but by definition, if he asked to be declared insane, he was surely sane, so he could not extricate himself. My Catch-22 wasn’t nearly as desperate, but nevertheless, I had put myself in that corner. In order to sell products in the store, I have to allow customers to try them out in advance of their purchase. If they cannot try them out, they won’t purchase them. This young man had figured out that if the bongos had been played, they were not by definition new anymore, but were used. I wanted to sell the new product, but in the process had made them used, so he wouldn’t pay new price for them. He had me and he knew it. “Alright then, fifty-five dollars and they’re yours.” I know when I’m beaten.
I should be unhappy, but I’m not. This bright young fellow just revealed to me once again that we live in an imperfect world. We can get tied up in knots by the events in which we find ourselves embroiled, or we can learn from them and move on. Many times, I have found myself in a “no-win” situation, each time to realize that paralysis is not an acceptable reaction. We move through those circumstances to what comes after. Hard lessons learned make for smoother sailing later on. But, you have to move past them. I’ve got many more of these lessons to share, but I’ll save them for another day. It’s embarrassing enough to admit defeat to a twelve year old boy.
And yeah, if you want to try out the instruments, you still can. But, you’d better have clean hands if you do…
“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
(Tom Bodett~American humorist and author)