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6 Negotiation Skills I Learned from TV’s ‘Pawn Stars’

As a trial and transactional lawyer, I’ve done lots of negotiating. As a journalist and writer, I also negotiate for interviews and rights to photos. As a regular person, I negotiate everything from buying a house to hiring someone to shovel the driveway.

Life is a negotiation.

And there are all sorts of expensive professional courses you can take on negotiation, as well as books. But where I have learned the best negotiation skills?

On the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” show.

Yes, the Old Man, Rick, Big Hoss and even Chumly have taught me the most important aspects of successful negotiations from their Las Vegas pawn shop. Here are six things I’ve learned from “Pawn Stars” on how to be a better negotiator.


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1

Do Your Research

 
 

It is amazing to me that many of the customers who enter the pawn shop do so with no clue what their item is worth or even if it is legitimate or original. Knowing what you have - the good as well as the bad, as well as at least a ballpark value - is critical if you are going to conclude a successful negotiation. When Rick doesn’t know about an item, he calls in an expert. At least go online and do some research before you ask for $10,000 for that “original” copy of the Gettysburg Address that you picked up at a garage sale. You’ll be money and potential embarrassment ahead.

 
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2

Never Make the First Offer

 
 

The Old Man, Rick and Big Hoss are masters of this. They let the customer make the first offer. Typically, because they haven’t done #1 above, most customers way over underestimate the item’s worth. Making the first offer is something most negotiation books tell you to avoid as it can set the floor to low or the ceiling too high. See if you can wait out the other side. Use silence to your advantage. Rick does—and it works. The customers have to blurt something out and usually it’s a number not in their best interest.

 
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3

Be Able to Walk Away

 
 

Again, most people who enter the pawn store think they have to sell the item right then and there. And again, as they haven’t done their research, they don’t know the value - both wholesale and retail - of their item. If you act like you have to sell, the Pawn Stars have you. They will use that anxiety and “need” to low-ball you. Even if you need the money, don’t act like you need the money. There are typically other alternatives - and do your research and know what they are. There are always other buyers and sellers. I’ve walked out on a car dealer over floor mats. As my dad says, “They're still making cars.”

 
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4

Money Talks

 
 

You-Know-What Walks. Rick and company dangle cold, hard cash in front of their customers. Nice crisp $10s, $20s, $50s and $100s. Even in a credit card and digital economy, cash is king - cash sings. It’s hard to say no when the Old Man has a wad of Benjamin Franklins in his hand and he’s willing to give some of them to you. In store credit, a free fly swatter or even a gift card is nice, but greenback are always best. Understand the value and utility of cash.

 
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5

Don’t Be Greedy

 
 

Again, based on #1 above - research - understand that you might not get a great deal but a good deal. It’s called compromise. Everyone gives up something to gain something. And, as noted in #4 above, it’s hard to beat cash money. As one of my former bosses used to say about the stock market, “Bulls and bears make money but hogs don’t.” Don’t be a hog.

 
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6

Understand Leverage

 
 

If you understand these five items, you’ll understand leverage - the advantages you have and the advantages the other party has. When you understand leverage, you end up on TV with a show about your pawnshop.

 

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