Bargaining 101

This was submitted by John Jabaley, UH contributor, location manager, and member of Teamster Local 399.

On one side of the table is me, all of 25 years old and determined to get a good deal for my employers. On the other side is a man who owns several properties that the show I’m managing wants to use. A private alley. A closed bank. A hallway leading to the fire escape over the alley. And the store where we’re sitting, which was run by his parents, has been closed for 15 years and preserved as a shrine to his late father. Things still cost cost 39 cents in this time capsule.

I’m on a low budget show, and I’m the whole department. I don’t have time to find another location. I need this one. I come in at $900, knowing he won’t accept it, but just to establish a low framework. He acts like he doesn’t hear the offer and we keep on talking about insurance and logistics and ethnic food. I know he heard me but he’s ignoring it, hoping I’ll up it before he says a word. I let the $900 sit on the table. Close to an hour goes by. We’ve cleared up everything except the money. He’s got a schedule to keep now and I’ve kept him long enough. He asks if I’m going to make an offer. I tell him I did, and he doesn’t say anything. He just looks at me. I can’t figure out if he’s insulted or interested. If he counters at $5000 I’ll have no choice but to walk away.

He comes back at $3000, and my heartbeat is about to give me away. We’re in a range I can maneuver in. “There’s no way I can do three thousand.” Maybe the next show I bring can pay that much, but this is low budget. It just isn’t there. I can pay 1200. He asks "What about 2500?" I can’t!

I’ve only got one more increment, and I have to save it. I stall, I switch back to food, the Mississippi delta, fried catfish- it turns out he grew up in Leland, Ms. He’s got to go at 5 and it’s 4:30. If my offer is too low he’s liable to get fed up and kick me out. I have to wait.

There’s an old clock on the wall. It’s wrong, but it’s loud, and every second and a half or so it ticks. He says he supposes he could accept 2000, and I pretend to consider it. Do some audible fake math, really trying to find a way to get him 2000, but I can’t. What about 1500?

“Fifteen hundred, forget about it.” That’s his mother over his shoulder, hidden in the shadows because we’re dealing over a small table lit by a bulb hanging on a string. Really. A bus picks her up every week and takes her to Vegas. She plays silver dollar slots. She’s been quiet up to now.

I realize she’s going to get all the money on this deal, and I need to find out how much she’s willing to take. I say 1500 again, and she says again “Fifteen hundred, forget about it.” I say I know it isn’t much, but it’s it what we have. She can take it or leave it. “Fifteen hundred, forget about it.” Ok, so 1500 is out.

If I come back at 1750 I know they’re going to insist on 2000, I can just tell. So I apologize for wasting their time. I tell them how much I enjoyed talking to them. And I ask if there is anyone else they can recommend who might have some similar property, and be in need of 1500 dollars. It’s quiet again, except for the clock, and the sun outside the window is going away. It’s getting cold. Seconds and a half tick away. They offer 1600.00, and we shake on the deal.

I had two things in my favor that day: A woman with silver dollars in her eyes and a loud clock. What I didn’t have was someone from my production company barging in and demanding that I hurry up and settle.

The WGA has two things in its favor too: Content, and a four handed clock with one hand on the Oscars, another on pilot season, one on the back 9, and a hand on the 2009 releases. Let the negotiators handle it. They know what they're doing.



Jeremy said...

That was perfect John. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Skyfleur said...

John, this is really the simpliest and clearest message on bargaining strategies.

I sure hope Bowman, Verrone and Winship took the same classes as you did ;).

4merBTLer said...

Mr. Jabaley,

I really have enjoyed reading your pieces; I'll miss them when this Labor Action has concluded.

Then again, I'm really looking forward to missing them. ;)

Thank you for yet another excellent article!

scribeguy said...


You can really tell a story. You can write. Please keep at it. Prose may be your thing. It's a lot less stressful than my day job. You've got the gift.

Kevin Droney
Part-time Writing Prof

smart said...

John, thank you.....today wasn't the best of times, but your post ended my day in a calm, reflective way.
See ya,
#399 location brat..........who is missing her show, and respects the writers.

karyrogers said...

I was born not far from Leland, MS. So that's neat.

Also, good story.

Tamaryn said...

Thank you so much for this! This is a lesson worth knowing in any similar situation.

Friend in Grand Rapids, MI.