How not to negotiate

We bought a picture this week: an original oil painting, framed. It was by a local artist (local to where we were, not here in Oxford) and was one of a dozen by the same man on display in the bar of a hotel. We both liked it but went away to think about it.

The next day we both thought we would like to buy it, but I felt as a matter of principle we shouldn’t pay the ticket price. I phoned the hotel and asked if they could do a better price. The young woman on the phone said she’d check and call me back – which she did, saying the price was negotiable. I said we’d call the next morning to sort it out.

The following morning there was a young man in charge at the hotel. He didn’t seem to know anything about our interest in the picture but was willng to sell it. “How much do you want to pay?”, he asked. I said I’d really like it for nothing but would be willing to do a deal. “I don’t know anything about paintings, so I’ve no idea what it’s worth”, he said, adding “I’ve been here a couple of years and I think we’ve only ever sold two”.

Remembering all I’d learned first as a trade unionist then as a management negotiator, I named a figure which I thought was just about acceptable as a starting position. “Well, if the ticket had said £xxx we’d have bought it then and there.”

“OK, I’ll check with the owner”, he replied. It wasn’t clear who ‘the owner’ was – the hotel owner? The artist? A few minutes later he came back. “OK”, he said.

And that was it. I’ve no idea whether we could have bought it for a huge amount less. Maybe ‘the owner’ was happy to sell at any price, though I doubt it because the same artist has work in a proper gallery nearby, and even in a gallery in Woodstock, and the asking prices are much the same as in the hotel.

I actually felt a bit deflated. I’d been looking forward to a real negotiation but it was all over so quickly. But the good news is that we’ve got the picture home and it will look great in the hall!