written by Cary Silverstein
“You never know what will walk through the door” Rick Harrison says at the opening of each episode of Pawn Stars on the History Channel. Each week Rick, his father, son and friend Chumlee evaluate, negotiate and trade items at their Las Vegas pawn shop. In each episode you realize how well versed they are in the art of negotiation. They successfully execute complicated negotiations, while maintaining a friendly and professional atmosphere. Each has a significantly different personal style and yet, each in their own way achieves their goal: not to overpay for any item that crosses their counter. They establish rapport, build trust, use information and expert power and stay within their “zone of potential agreement”. Let’s look at each actor’s negotiating style.
Richard Harrison, known as the “old man,” owns the Pawn Shop. He is a Navy veteran, and can be perceived as rough and very distributive [plays the “zero sum” game]. Once he values an item, it is rare that he will budge off his initial offer. He feels that his son and grandson overpay for some items. When he negotiates, he is quick to point out deficits in order to support his offering price. When offered an electric metal car game from the 1950s, he based his offer on the fact that the box was not in mint condition. The owner of the toy pointed out that the game and the cars were in excellent operating order and worth the asking price. Many times Richard states if he pays more that his offering price, he can’t make money.
Rick Harrison, Richard’s son, has a different style of negotiating. He establishes rapport by complimenting the person and object they are offering for sale. He uses Chaldini’s “Liking Principle” to make the other person see that he appreciates the item, and the person submitting it. He will ask them what they are looking for, which permits him to establish the bargaining range. In many instances, Rick will tell the person offering the item that he needs to bring in an expert to authenticate a signature or establish a price, before he can make an offer. He uses the expert power of an outside individual to assist in establishing the value of the item. In a recent episode, someone brought in a racing suit with Paul Newman’s signature on it. Using information power, Rick stated that Paul Newman rarely provided an autograph. He called an expert to authenticate the signature and found that it was not Newman’s. He apologized that he could not purchase it, but he did not demean the person offering it. In another case, Rick could not pay the asking price; instead he offered to trade a rare guitar for an antique coachman’s gun. The seller agreed and both parties got the value they wanted. He always keeps the door open for future transactions. Rick is flexible and will increase his price in small increments, but will signal that he will go no further by saying “that’s all I can do”. Even when they cannot agree on a price, he shakes their hand and they leave with a smile.
Corey Harrison, Rick’s son, has a style that is a blend of his father’s and his grandfather’s when it comes to negotiating. He is far more direct and less apt to build a relationship with the person offering the item for sale. He states “he can always spot a cheat”. This brings negative energy into the relationship and does not build rapport. His style is “take it or leave it”. He is quick to point out the negatives in the item being offered. In one episode, a customer offered a Wells Fargo long shotgun used by the stagecoach guards in the late 1800’s. He and Rick were quick to point out that there was some corrosion on the barrel and were concerned whether it would fire properly. They took the shotgun out to the range and it performed well. The owner and Rick could not come to an agreement on price, even though he had the proper documentation. In many cases the seller wants retail for the item, while they are offering wholesale.
Chumlee Russell has been a close friend of Corey’s for many years and is the only non-family member who purchases items. He is portrayed as a clown or buffoon. In many ways, he is the most effective negotiator. He is disarming in his looks and behavior and it appears he can be taken advantage of, but that is not the case. He always wants to give the patrons the best deal and often will defend them to the owners. He is a kid at heart and loves to buy and play with the antique toys. Recently he was razzed when he bought a coin operated horse ride. He came up with the idea to put the ride outside the pawn shop and let the kids ride it. In this way it would generate income until they sold it.
Let’s see what nuggets we can mine from our four pawn stars.
- Use information power to better know your product or service and be able to assign a value and defend it.
- When in doubt get advice from an expert. It will strengthen your negotiating position.
- Establish rapport with your client by using Chaldini’s liking principle. Your goal should be to build a relationship.
- Offer alternatives like a trade of services or products where possible to close the deal.
- Be honest in all your dealings. Trust is not easily built, but can be easily destroyed along with your reputation.
Remember, sometimes the best deal for the parties is no deal.
Cary Silverstein MBA has extensive experience in business, vendor and labor negotiations. Cary earned his BA in Political Science and Industrial Psychology from CUNY’s Queens College. His MBAs in both Marketing and Organizational Behavior were awarded by The Arthur B. Roth School of Business at Long Island University. He attended Marquette University in Milwaukee and was awarded a Certificate in Labor Management Relations. Cary has also attended advanced negotiation training at Harvard’s Program on Negotiation (PON).
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