This Sunday, I will once again be dragging my boxes two hours up the turnpike to the Wayne, NJ Toy and Collectible Show. I love the show, I do. It’s worth the effort both in sales numbers, getting rid of “stuff”, and the personal encounters with buyers and sellers. There is, however, one thing that I dread…
Bartering, trading, negotiating, haggling, or any other word for it, is not pleasant. In most cases, you have a battle of wills where two people try to take advantage of each other in hopes that one of them “wins” by screwing the other person. I hate it. I know how much a new car costs, and there’s a profit margin, so why am I haggling on price? It’s garbage.
The collectibles market is a bit trickier. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and speculative pricing is in the wallet. A certain item may be a “slam dunk” investment meaning it has a history of increasing prices at auction or a base intrinsic value that it never declines below, but I’ve seen enough Antiques Roadshow to know when something is “valuable” vs “garbage”. For an extreme example, here’s some treasure from AR, some great Charles Schultz Comic Strip Art. It’s going to hold a base value whether Peanuts and Snoopy are popular or not. Charles Schultz isn’t too far off from Andy Warhol in how he was able to mass market and cross market his art in that perfect storm of post WWII America, where print media surged and TV boomed.
This is when I usually hear people bring up two of my favorite collecting words. Beanie Babies.
Beanie Babies were the non-sports alternative to the baseball card market surge and purge. Beanies were also mass-produced* and had a very large rise and fall, upon which Ty Warner was able to capitalize. While baseball cards were a longstanding product/collectible that was abused by mob mentality collecting and set-buying completists, Beanies were hoovered up by many people who did not know anything about collectibles for investing, and fell for a fad.
(*While the marketing idea was that Beanies would be limited in runs with many variations, Beanies were also Happy Meal Toys. Despite what Wikipedia says about the marketing, I’m going to call a horse a horse… mass produced…)
Beanies arguably had an impact on pop culture, similar to Peanuts, but they are less than 20 years old. They were as impactful as pogs, Rubik’s Cubes, and pet rocks. None of these have a long-term collectible value. Yes, there are limited edition Beanies like the Garcia the Bear, but that’s because it appeals to a broader and deeper fan base for collectibles, Grateful Dead fans. The Dead had a huge influence on music, pop culture, and social trends. Notice the difference in the collectible fan base? That’s the crux of my argument on collectible long-term value as well as negotiating a deal.
If you are a Dead fan, you’ll possibly pay more for that bear. The seller may or may not know the upside price you’ll pay, and they may or may not care more about Beanies than the Dead, but the gap between the two parties’ interests is where the deal price lies. That’s the area you need to work in when haggling a price. I don’t want to get into the details of Game Theory and a zero-sum game for negotiating a collectibles price, but in the end, the buyer and seller both have their acceptable price range, and the key is finding out where they overlap to work out the deal.
At the Wayne Toy Show a few months ago, I ran into an ambitious aggressive buyer who was interested in some 1960s-1980s X-Men comics I was blowing out. The key phrase here is “blowing out”. I had extreme difficulty in getting fair market values from the Overstreet Price Guide when selling them on eBay, so I was willing to go low to make some money out of the deal. The X-Men, while highly influential, were also fairly popular in the late 70s to early 80s, so key issues were heavily collected with increasing circulation. Lots of collectors kept issues in great shape and stashed them away. Sound familiar? But unlike Beanie Babies, the X-Men have always had a longer term fanatical base and have impacted comics, media, and pop culture.
In other words, I’ve got a Garcia the Bear Beanie Baby situation.
This buyer, let’s call him Jimmy, would reject every labeled price on my comics and make an extreme lowball offer. I would give him a fair lower price at our midpoint. He would then go to the midpoint of his first price and my new, lower “midpoint” price.
I don’t believe in back and forth. If you don’t like the counter offer, walk the hell away. If I offered a higher price than the midpoint, he was still ready to go with his intended second offer because he had a very small deviation range for his intended purchase price.
We moved about 4-5 times on the price, and he asked about another comic book before closing so I gave him a dollar amount for both that included his deep discount on the first comic. He moved the price down again, basically negating our entire first barter and wasting both of our time. I gave him another counter and he accepted.
Then he blew it.
He asked me how much for a 3rd comic and how much lower I would go on the price tag.
This had me fed up. I looked him in the eye, and told him it was priced as is and that was firm.
He walked away.
If he had taken that comic at the face value, he would have still received about $80 of comics at around $55-60 if my memory serves me correctly. But at this point in the deal, at the third comic, I had already known what his range was and decided that the cumulative transaction had now pushed the low-end of my range, and the high-end of his. I was frustrated, and he had taken my flexibility as him somehow having the upper-hand, which was obviously not true when I told him the last item was a firm price.
I had determined that he was not, in fact, a Grateful Dead fan, if you can still keep up with the analogy.
Some people believe that negotiations in price and “getting a good deal” simply means being an immovable object until the other person caves in. This is a hugely flawed theory, and one that has left many of those Beanie Baby collectors holding the beanbag with hundreds of unsold toys listed at ridiculous prices on eBay and at shows. When you stand firm and the other party stands firm, if you are holding to your range of expectations, you should both agree to walk away. Yet people will often interpret this as some failure of the other party to be “reasonable”. If I don’t want to pay $50,000 for a car, I’m not walking into a Cadillac Dealership and asking them to bring the price down to $25,000 on a new model.
Trading and dealing in collectibles is extremely subjective. Sometimes, a great deal will make people deviate from their normal range and purchase something outside their want list. Sometimes, a price is too high for an item to be reasonably acquired, and you have to take your chances that it will show up again within your range.
Sometimes, you have to change your range and realize:
-As a seller: cash in hand is better than unsold inventory.
-As a buyer: you’re going to have to pay more.
I’m not going to lie, I look up Beanie Babies a lot on eBay. I have never collected nor do I ever intend to collect any Beanies, but in the interest of modern era collectibles reasearch, I watch prices, like the insane ask prices for the Princess Diana Beanie on eBay. I feel bad for people who overpaid for this at one point, and then I see closed auctions with final “sold” prices from 99 cents to $12.
But if someone wants to pay that much, I won’t stop it. But I also know that I would never ask that much to begin with, because I have a reasonable sense of an item’s value.
That “reasonable sense of value” is where any successful price negotiation must start, and where any successful transaction can also end with a win-win.
But if someone wants to trade me a copy of Action Comics #1 for a Garcia the Bear, I’ll be on eBay buying one faster than you can say “Pogs”.