Making deals has long been a part of the antiques game, and most dealers expect to hear, “What’s your best price?” every show. However, there are good ways and bad ways to approach price problems, and several of the antique shows have been promoting bad ways. Yes, dealers need to be thick-skinned, but you are better off dealing with a happy dealer rather than one feeling grumpy or insulted.
A big problem is that these shows all too often show the buyer getting 50% off, which just isn’t going to happen much in the real world because the profit margin for dealers simply isn’t as high as people may think, especially if you figure booth rent, gas, food, and hotels if the show isn’t in the dealer’s home town. A dealer may well start a show $500-1000 in the hole, so if they did happen to get a good deal on an item, that’s only part of the cost. Of course, those dealers giving 50% off get to be on tv, and something tells me that motivates many of these “super discounts”.
Back when antique malls became popular, the standard was that dealers could get a 10% discount, but these malls also created more dealers and increased communication. When non-dealers learned about the “dealer discount”, the response was, “my money is as good as theirs.” Public relations more or less required that malls start giving 10% off for anyone who asked (at least on items above a certain price). Anyone surprised that dealers then wanted 15-20% off. As both a collector and a dealer, I have to go with the idea that the money is the same from a dealer or non-dealer, but there certainly seemed to be greater expectations.
Still, expectations have to be rooted in reality, and the reality is that every dealer and every item is different. Unlike regular retail shops, there are no set “wholesale” prices, no place where every dealer can go and buy the same item at the same price every time (not counting those #$!% dealers who are buying and selling reproductions without proper labeling).
A discount of about 10% is actually still the standard range. If you get 20%, you’re doing really well, and 30% is terrific. Of course, all of that is relative to the asking price vs. your budget and how well you like the item. Getting a great price on something you don’t really like is only a bargain if you’re buying a present for someone who will actually enjoy the item.
And don’t be afraid to make the first offer. Just think about how you ask. Many dealers bristle when they hear, “I’ll give you…” It’s especially disturbing when the offer is one of those 50% deals (or worse). No, you aren’t “giving”, and really neither is the dealer. If a deal is struck, you’re paying for the item and all the dealer went through to buy it and get it to the show for you to find. Yes, dealers and collectors enjoy the hunt, but there’s still time and energy involved. It’s work. It’s also play for those into it for the right reasons, but something can be play and work at the same time.
Consider saying, “I can offer…” or “Would you take…”. And if need be, there’s always, “What’s your best price?” However, don’t be surprised if the dealer knows the old joke, “Best for you or best for me?” As usual, everything goes better if there’s a little consideration and old-fashioned politeness, so collectors shouldn’t assume that every dealer is making exorbitant profits on every item, and dealers shouldn’t assume that every buyer is trying to run them out of business.