What you can learn about dealing with stakeholders from a garage sale

It rained all the day of my neighbourhood garage sale, so we decided to hold over our sale a couple of weeks until this past Saturday. It was a beautiful day and my old man hauled a truckload of stuff from his place in the east end to my place in the west end and we divided up the driveway. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had with my dad since we did Movember. We made a bit of money, had a few beers, shot the shit for almost the entire day and good times were had by all.

What didn’t dawn on me at the time, but what I realise now, is how much you can learn about dealing with stakeholders from/by running a garage sale. Here’s what I mean.

Photo by Chiot’s Run

Don’t be afraid to just give things away

There was a little girl who bought some books and then doubled back for a plush toy. She had a bit of trouble deciding which one she wanted but when she finally settled on the unicorn, I simply let her have it.

Sometimes you need to just be willing to give something away for nothing but karma in return; especially when that thing has no value to you, but has value to someone else. It’s the gift economy, so when dealing with stakeholders …

Don’t attach arbitrary value

Over the course of the day my dad and I lamented how cheap some people were; how they wanted a lot for almost nothing in return. But as the day went on I realized that haggling over the price of a $1 dollar item is senseless given that the item in question held no value for me until it held a value for someone else. Often I think when organizations engage with their stakeholders, they are reluctant to make concessions or accommodations because they feel as though they are losing out, when really the substance of these concessions held no value to the organization before they were asked for them.

Furthermore, we forget that the sum of any given exchange is often far greater than we originally anticipate, and when we engage with stakeholders we often limit our evaluations to the tangibles that exchange hands rather than how that exchange effects the relationship between parties. In a one-off exchange (such as at a garage sale) we are more likely to take a hard line stance than in an iterative relationship where what I do now has downstream consequences. I suppose that’s another key point…

Turn a one-off into an real relationship

There was a woman who was interested in purchasing our double stroller. She had one infant and another on the way, only she didn’t have any money on her. After a quick demo I gladly put the stroller (and a dozen or so board books she wanted) aside. She went, grabbed some cash and came back. While she got a steal of deal, and I got that stroller out of my garage, both of these facts pale in comparison to the smile I saw on her face as she walked down the street pushing the stroller that afternoon. She waved and I waved back happily.

I received no such satisfaction from any other of the patrons who came by the sale. The woman who bought our stroller isn’t my best friend or my business partner, but you can be damn sure that I will wave and say hello every time I see her from now on, and I hope she will do the same.

Originally published by Nick Charney at cpsrenewal.ca


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Corey McCarren

Very good post, it really puts the concept of what is ‘valuable’ in perspective. It sounds like the best value you got all day from the garage sale was spending time with your father.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Garage sales are big here in Durham. For some reason, folks flock to them, often getting up early on Saturday morning and mapping out a plan to hit several of them. What always fascinates me is that these things really tend to draw a crowd…and that things you otherwise would discard are life-changing for others So maybe another couple lessons are:

1) Put all your stuff out there authentically as a leader – people will flock to you.

2) Don’t underestimate the value of ‘used’ things (i.e. ideas, people with experience, etc.) – what is old is not always bad.

Faye Newsham

Also, don’t forget the old saw… “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Just because you don’t have room for it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold value for someone. Let your stakeholders know when you are considering change and give them the opportunity to declare it a treasure and why. You can gift them with it, use their comments to build a better one with the same “treasure” attributes, or at least have a better understanding of who the stakeholder is. Extending Andy’s #2… just because it is old (been done forever) does not make it valuable. Which leads to: if you find it ugly, time will not make it prettier.

Jerry Schmidt

What a fascinating illustration. I find this interesting because a) I’m having a garage sale this weekend, and b) the idea that there is a greater purpose besides making a few bucks and getting junk out of my garage. The idea of others finding value in what we would discard is also interesting; it makes me think that some ideas and projects that were dismissed early on simply need to be re-purposed and re-packaged to someone who will find the value in them. And I have to agree with Andrews’ sentiment on not understimating value of used things. Great post.

Sandra Yeaman

Here’s another example for Nick’s point:

I went to the souk in Riyadh with a visitor from the US who wanted to buy a carpet for the master bedroom in his new house. The guy knew exactly what he wanted, but either he really didn’t know the value of what he wanted or he was the most masterful bargainer I have ever seen.

He wanted a fine quality, rug 4 foot by 6 foot, with specific colors and traditional designs and he wanted to pay $100 for it. The dealer found exactly what he wanted and laid it out in front of us. But the price (asking, starting of the negotiation price) was $800. The guy, I’ll call him Mark from now on to make this story simpler, told the vendor how much he liked the carpet. But he also said he was embarrassed to think that he thought he could get such a carpet for the small amount of money he thought he would have to pay. The vendor pulled down a few others of less value. All of them were smaller, most were tribal in both design and quality, but they were the right colors. And the bargaining continued, always with Mark saying the most complimentary things about the vendor’s products and making self-deprecating comments about his own intentions and lack of understanding of the market.

The call to prayer was sounded, which should have been the signal for us to leave the shop. But the vendor was going to sell Mark a carpet, so he just lowered the doors and took us upstairs so that no one could see he was still working or that we were still in his shop. The display of carpets of inferior quality continued. Mark continued to refuse to insult the vendor by telling him how little money he thought he would have to pay for such fine quality carpets. I saw an unusual Kurdish carpet with some weaving techniques that I had never seen before. It was small. It was tribal. And I paid $200 for it.

At the end of the day, Mark bought the carpet that he wanted for the price, $100, that he had gone into the shop to pay. And I got a terrific story that I tell whenever I show my overpriced Kurdish carpet. In the end, we all got what we wanted. The vendor sold two carpets – my overpaying helped out on Mark’s bargain – and both Mark and I got carpets.