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Negotiation Tips for Introverts

Negotiation is building a relationship where both sides achieve something that is valuable to each side of the ‘table’. As a retail store manager for 27 years, I worked with many community groups who were looking for “deals” but as I spoke with each group, I also realized they wanted a “community partnership”.

When I started at the United Way and visited all of the food organizations in Bruce/Grey, I asked everyone, “What kind of partnership did they have with their local grocery store?”

The answers, ranged from great relationships where the grocery store gave them a discount and actively supported the food bank/meal program; to cases where the grocery store did not like the food bank coming in and buying up all of the “loss leader” items. “Loss leaders” are deeply discounted items that they use to draw customers into their store, which usually are either at cost or sometimes below the owners actual cost.

One almost universal point was that most food bank/meal program “buyers” searched for flyer items almost exclusively. The “buyers” did not feel comfortable approaching the storeowners or managers about asking for special pricing for the food bank/meal programs. Most people in North America do not “haggle” prices, except perhaps on big purchases like cars and houses. “Haggling” is simply not part of our culture.

So, how do you ask or negotiate with a storeowner or manager who is your neighbour, a friend, and is trying to juggle the pandemic with running an essential business?

1. Acknowledge and understand that it is awkward; asking for a deal or a bulk discount, is not something everyone feels comfortable with. With preparation and practice, it does get easier.

2. Most grocery stores will help, IF YOU ASK, the main problem is that people do not ask. Ironically, often the same people who feel uncomfortable asking would themselves bend over backwards to help anyone who asked them for help.

3. Find out who the owner or manager is. Ask if you can make an appointment to speak to them.

4. When you have your meeting, use their name.

5. Do not be afraid of rejection. If they say “NO” that is not the end of the world. Remember, “If you don’t ask, they can’t say “YES”. In addition, if the answer is “no”, it might be just a “no” for right now, or just a “no” on that particular item. Ask the question, “If we can’t get that item, is there something else that is available?”

6. Remember that you represent an organization whose goal it is to help vulnerable people, you are dedicating your time and energy as a volunteer to help those in need, grocery store owners and managers appreciate that.

7. Prepare what you want to say, as The Food Security Action Group of the Poverty Task Force organized and supported by the United Way of Bruce Grey, we have more than 50 members and some experienced people at your disposal. Many of our members have built relationships with their local grocery stores and would be more than willing to share their approaches and lessons with you; just ask.

8. Ask yourself, what benefit does the grocery store get from working with you?

a. By introducing yourself and your organization, they are building a relationship with another customer and group of customers, which helps them. Your clients are also their customers who are just experiencing a rough time at the moment.

b. Instead of only taking the “sale or flyer items”, by working with the grocery store you might be able to get discounts on items that are discontinued or that they want to clear. In addition, if they know what kinds of quantities you are looking for, they may be able to order more quantities of the specials so that the food bank does not come in and clean them out.

c. Most business owners like to help their community. Do not underestimate this as a motivation they live here too.

9. Role-play what you are going to say. As a rule, people do not do this; but role-playing a presentation even a handful of times before you try it, makes an incredible difference. Sales people do role-playing all the time.

10. Do not start by asking for full no-cost donations. Profit margins in grocery stores are not huge; ask for what they think they could give you. Start with 5% on regular items and ask what extra they could do on discontinued or clearance items. Empathize with them, say you understand their issues, and say that whatever help they can give you is appreciated.

11. If the store helps you, try to make sure that your organization buys other things from that store as much as possible. It will drive a retailer crazy, if they give special discounting to an organization only to find that the same organization frequents their competition. For example, a local organization asks grocery store A to donated 50% of the value of hotdogs for an event, but then the organization turns around as goes to Grocery store B to buy the buns.

12. Make a point of publicly appreciating the support that you are getting via social media. Google reviews are the lifeblood of on-line shopping, particularly during the pandemic.

13. Make sure that everyone in your organization says “Thank you” for the support whenever they see the store owner/manager or their associates. People like to feel that they are helping and they like to feel appreciated.

14. It is important to note that when approaching a grocery store, start with the ones in your community first. If you community does not have a full grocery store, reach out to the food banks and meal programs in the next closest community and ask them if they have a pre-existing arrangement so that grocery owners are not overwhelmed by groups looking for community partners.


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