I was selling collectibles at a small Newberry gathering once, and a gentleman who had been a bit overserved came to study my wares. Not only was he a bit spifflicated: he was also moderately clueless, at least in that condition, because he kept demanding to know how I could charge $100 for a book when “you can buy books anywhere for a quarter.”
A lot of my customers use this kind of logic on me, and it left me unmoved, so he moved on instead and turned up an 80 year-old magazine in lovely condition. He was not the sort of man to be interested in old magazines, but he was interested in spending as much time as possible at my booth so the real customers couldn’t get in. So he flipped it over and immediately fell in love with the ad on the back.
“I like that,’ he said. “How much is it?”
I flipped the magazine back over so he could see the $20 price tag. “But that’s for the whole magazine,” he said. “How much if I just rip off the back cover? You can still sell the magazine, and all it will be missing is two ads. Nobody will miss two ads.”
I couldn’t kill him; he was too rich. (The Newberry forbids me to kill rich people until we know exactly how the will is made out.) So I fell back on my usual answer to this sort of question, which is “yeahbut”.
“Yeahbut,” I said, “Someone would certainly miss the back cover, and selling you one page will lower the price of the magazine.
He replied with a yeahbut of his own. “Yeahbut I’ll pay TWO DOLLARS for just one [age of the magazine. You won’t get two dollars a page for the magazine.”
“Yeahbut,” I replied, “I’ll be lucky to get two dollars for what’s left once you rip part of it away.”
He was not about to be convinced, but a friend of his wandered up and, being told the story, offered to pay half the price, so the page would cost the customer only $10. I learned how family fortunes are made when I saw my customer snap up the tenner while his friend was distracted, and say, “Here’s my ten. Where’s the one you were going to give me?” And the friend had had enough to drink that he swallowed this, and wound up paying for the magazine himself. What became of the magazine after that, or the two men, I have no idea. Do I care? Well, it was a nice magazine.
I get this kind of thing more often than you might think: the customer who wants only the volume of the five-volume set which mentions his great-grandfather, or the woman who wants to buy that set of children’s books for her daughter, but could she just buy part of the set now, to see if the little lady likes it?
Once I had a pin-up calendar autographed by Alberto Vargas (father of the Varga Girl) and actually hid it from a customer who wanted to tear off the pictures he wanted to frame. “You’ll still have the rest of the calendar and the autograph.”
They honestly don’t understand why, if the whole thing costs $50, they can’t buy a tenth of it for $5. Last week had a miniature book of sayings from Mr. Rogers, with a mirror in the cover and a metal trolley dangling on the bookmark. “Ooh!” said a passing browser, “My nephew loves trains and trolleys. Would you break that off and sell it to me?”
I looked dubious, and she said, “You’ll still get a lot for the book because you can rip out the ribbon and no one will notice it’s gone. And you’ll charge your usual outrageous price, and I’ll get a nice gift for my cousin for fifty cents!”
I don’t know whether it was the thought of breaking up the book, her admiration of my pricing, or the fact that she was offering me a whole fifty cents as a reward for my vandalism. “Yeahbut,” I said, taking the book from her hands. “We don’t do that.”
“I don’t think much of your yeahbut,” she said, with a sniff.
“I’m planning to kick yours,” I said, with a sweet smile. She huffed away, but she’ll be back. She wants to buy that plush puppy I had come in. “My granddaughter’s at that stage where she tears things up, and I don’t want to give her anything I paid much for,” she told me.
People ask me sometimes if I love my customers. The answer, of course, is “Yeahbut”.