We had a garage sale on Saturday. And as much as I dread the set-up, I always enjoy the real-life education in human behavior that I get at the sale.
We post signs the day before indicating the sale will start at 8 a.m. Inevitably, people start arriving at 7 a.m.
As I cheerfully (cough) start hauling out the goods, I’m greeted by the early birds, all clutching their precious Tim Hortons coffees and looking to bargain me into the ground.
Business Lesson 1 – Even when you don’t feel like smiling or being cheery, it’s a sales must. No one wants to deal with a frowning ogre, complaining about their customer arriving too early, or being a nuisance, even when they are. Plus, smiles will raise your own endorphin levels, and make you feel like a million bucks…or at least $25,000 per smile.
The first fellow is quick on the draw, scooping up an armload of stuff, and giving me the famous line: “I’ll give you ten bucks for this.” Despite slight rising temperature, I smile and say “Sure”.
Business Lesson 2 – Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. There are times for negotiation in business, and there are times to stand firm. Know the difference.
In the next flurry of activity, a woman and her daughter come up to me holding two items. The first, a pair of sconces with a slight crack, which I show them. The second, a belt with a slightly threadbare spot, but a beaut of a belt buckle.
“How much you want for these?”, she asks.
“Oh, I don’t know…how about $5?” I respond.
“For this cracked thing and this ratty old belt?” she barks. Besides wanting to grab both items out of her hands as I internally roar with rage and laughter at the same time, I say: “What do you want to give me?” “A dollar fifty” she says. “Fine”, I say, as I wonder why on earth she wants the “cracked thing and ratty old belt”. Will wonders never cease.
Business Lesson 3 – Never let ’em see you sweat. Although I was raging inside at her rudeness, and at the same time killing myself laughing at the ludicrousness of someone wanting “cracked and ratty”, I held my composure. Getting annoyed at our customers does absolutely no good.
The most poignant moment of the day came after a shy young lad bought a hat and a boomerang (don’t even get me going on why I have a boomerang). He dutifully counted out his coins to me, and proudly started walking away. I noticed him stoop down to pick something up as he went back to his parents’ vehicle, but I figured he’d just dropped a coin.
At the same time, one of the fellows was reaching into his pocket to pay me for some golf balls and looked up a bit panic stricken and said: “I’ve dropped $20”. We looked around on the ground, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the young lad with his family all standing around their van, talking animatedly. A few seconds later, the young lad was walking back towards us, hand extended. In his hand was a $20 bill.
“I found this on the driveway”, he said.
The fellow thanked him, but no overboard thanks. I, however, saw this as a shining moment. I thanked him effusively, and told him to pick something out that he might like, free of charge.
“No, that’s OK”, he said.
“No, no, I insist: it’s perfectly all right. That was such a good and right thing to do, I want you to have something.”
“No, really: it’s OK”, he said.
I moved toward him and shook his hand and said: “What you did today shows what a fine young man you are. You did the right thing, and you will be rewarded many times over for your honesty.”
He just smiled at me, turned and walked back to his family.
BIG LIFE LESSON – Just when you think you’ve seen it all…when you’ve been disappointed, hurt or angered…someone will come into your life, restoring your belief in the fundamental goodness of human nature.