During the New York Gem & Mineral Show I was reminded of the valuable advice offered in this newsletter to collectors in an article by Mitch Portnoy. In this article he compiled advice from experienced collectors and dealers. Following is a summary of the most important advice to collectors:
There was an aspect of mineral collecting that was not thoroughly addressed - bargaining. I was shocked to see a dealer at the New York show continually insult customers after they inquired about possible discounts. He feigned surprise then proceeded to lash into the customer about whether they give discounts when they do their job. Not surprisingly this dealer did not do much business at the show.
Whether the dealer accepts it or not, haggling over price is a part of mineral collecting. The only way to avoid haggling is to dig your own, even then you will end bargaining over a swap with another collector. The reason haggling is a fundamental part of collecting is because mineral prices are very subjective.
When a dealer gets a new batch of minerals the first step is to price them. The dealer takes into account the price paid, rarity, size, condition, aesthetics as well as marketing considerations like recent publicity of the occurrence, whether he has a customer that specializes in the mineral, what price will the local market bear, and how long the mineral has been on the market. Based on these and many more factors the dealer sets a price using his experience and knowledge. But if it is late in the day or the last of 50 pieces just like it, the price may be low. Or if it came in a batch of top quality specimens, the price may be high. The problem is that there is no "standard" price and no open market like there is for gold.
So as collectors we use this subjective aspect and question the conviction the dealer has in his price. That is the foundation of haggling. No dealer will be insulted (except this guy at the New York show). If the dealer is firm on the price he may explain, as I often do, that the price is fair and that they should look at other dealers first, then return and evaluate the mineral. Most often though the price is not fixed. The dealer will indicate flexibility. Now you are on your way. It is up to you to do the rest.
No matter what you are bargaining for, minerals or antiques or houses, there are a few techniques that are tried and true. The most important is to get the dealer to like you first. Compliment his display or a particular specimen, speak pleasantly and be cheerful. This is a proven way to get better prices and much more effective than playing a jaded, skeptical collector playing "hard ball".
Some dealers make you work for a discount. They are willing to negotiate prices but you have to give them reasons why you think the price should be adjusted. You must do this in a nice way without being insulting. Comparing to other dealers or a recent glut of specimens on the market might work. But you must have some knowledge of the mineral marketplace for this to be successful.
Finally, there is the obvious advantage in buying several specimens at once. Most dealers will be very flexible with prices when you have three or more pieces set aside and express serious interest in buying all of them. From the dealers perspective, he is excited to meet a collector that is ready to buy and willing to buy more than one. That motivates the dealer to want to build a relationship with the collector and one way to do that is to negotiate a lower price. (From a business point of view, it is a dead end for the dealer to become known for bargains though. It is far more important to be known for quality.)
I hope this is helpful to collectors that frequent shows. Remember, if a dealer is too rude to speak respectfully to you, move on. There are many more dealers that welcome a new customer and are willing to work with you to make collecting an enjoyable experience.
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Bob Keller Copyright 1998 John Betts and Bob's Rock Shop. All rights reserved.