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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Art of the Deal 

Now listen up, because i'm about to share a bunch of really good information against my own best interests, and it will save you some money.

As you might know, I'm really cheap. I like buying stuff cheaply, and I like selling stuff for more than I bought it. Sometimes being cheap just means knowing a good store to buy interesting bits cheaply (I went to Daiso this weekend and found a "third hand" bicycle brake adjustment tool, plus an assortment of useful metric nuts, $2 each), but that only leads you to normal sorts of good deals. Online deal-hunting through eBay and sites like Tech Bargains are other avenues I am exploring, with limited success (the costs of shipping and exchage rates are a high barrier, though the recent strong Canadian dollar has made these options more attractive).

But for really, really good deals, I believe that the most buyer-favoured venue you are likely to experience is the private garage sale. Okay, maybe dumpster diving is even cheaper, but good pickings are usually only available during Spring clean-up weeks.

Garage sales feature the most highly motivated, naive vendors available to normal buyers. The goal of a garage sale is generally to get rid of stuff first, and to get money second. Large, odd items, bicycles, and that eternal boondoggle, exercise equipment, will all go for pennies on the dollar.

Not all garage sales are perfect. I have seen sellers asking $50 for wretched department-store bikes. You have to hit a fair number of sales to find good stuff, and most importantly, you have to be able to assess the condition of the item you are looking at, know what's wrong with it, and know what it should cost. It pays to have some expertise in the stuff you are searching for.

It also takes patience, just like thrift shop chasing (thrift shops...Value Village probably has the most interesting stuff most often, but they charge a bit more than Salvation Army or smaller shops). And you never know where you're going to find the good stuff. You'll hit a couple of sales, see nothing of interest, and then you'll stumble across one that has some extremely unlikely deal available.

Stuff I have bought at garage sales: old video games, high-end bicycle saddle bags, early-80s road bikes, any quality bicycle predating brifters (for road bikes) or front suspension (on mountain bikes), toys, record albums, and much more. Oh, and don't forget to bargain: the tagged price is always negotiable, and I expect you to dicker it down on general principles!

In other deals, the Build-A-Bear Workshop people taught me a whole new lesson in customer retention. The Lovely One got a reindeer from them last year. She named it Ruddy, gave her address in the little computer at the end that creates Ruddy's special storybook, and so forth.

Today, she got an e-mail from the company wishing Ruddy a happy first birthday. It included a coupon good for a free t-shirt for the stuffed animal. That's a lot of goodwill they just bought, and good on them. They raised the bar for customer love.

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