Peter McCullen


The Bargaining Art

After some considerable involvement in the sign business, years spent painting, illustrating, gilding and inevitably sticking bits of vinyl, I have grown accustomed to the downside of the industry. Like for example, a design you have passed to a potential customer suddenly appearing in it's finished form courtesy of the said client's daughter / first year art student. She has of course spent an eternity studying Trojan Roman lettering, or at least flicked Bill Stewart's Signwork. This matter is a source of much irritation, but perhaps more pressing is the matter of finance. Universal, as it no doubt is, the problem of payment is something that troubles us all. There can be periods when it seems like day after day, people come to you for work, with reputation preceding you, which is of the highest caliber.

The customer requires a sign or logo, a real eye catcher that screams across the street..."LOOK AT ME!" Well maybe not, perhaps I should leave such uttering to the likes of John Travolta. OK, the scene is set : customer, job and the crucial factor slithers in..cash. "Surely you can knock a bit off that price?" The same old story.....they want a Michelangelo, for the price of a McDonalds special value meal. What to do?

Well, by way of explanation, let me backtrack to when I had about eighteen summers behind me. I was lettering a horse box, badly at that, for a wealthy business man whom I suspect could pass for a Mafia Don. For that reason I'll refer to him as "Don", with a strong desire to maintain contact with my legs. I had been having difficulties with people cutting my price way back, leaving me frustrated and with barely the price of the train home. I'd love to say that this guy lent me a couple of gents with Tysonesque necks for debt collecting purposes, but no. What I did get was to watch Don in action as he dealt with customers and traders alike. He would do his deals, talk money and then allow himself to be cut back dramatically, and still smirk to himself with not a small amount of smugness. I naively enquired about his apparent lack of control over his prices. Drawing himself out to his full width of 5'2", he said " Jaysus son, d'ye think I'm thick?" He cheerfully explained how he would arrive at the necessary figure, say 100, double it, and allow the customer to bargain him down to 140. Result...he has more than he needed, the customer has got a bargain (he thinks) and wanders off praising the kindly Don's generosity.

Some days after, I finished the badly done lettering and deftly handed in a bill for 200, worth considerably less. With a snigger, I was handed a sum that was even smaller than the train fare home. Damn!

Some ten years later, I did another job for our pal and extracted the exorbitant sum of 2,200, only after I had knocked off a few hundred. The job was probably worth about a thousand pounds!

To sum up, if you are experiencing this problem with people, try the Don approach - develop a neck like a jockey's derriere and just go for it. Our work as sign people, is frequently undervalued and while we all need to pay the bills, we should strive for a certain standard of payment that accurately matches the standard of high caliber Signwork.


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