As a 22 year old aspiring businessman, I opened an automobile auction in Albany, GA. This auction was just for licensed automobile dealers, so to drum up business, I visited numerous car dealers in the SW Georgia, North Florida and Eastern Alabama. My objective was to encourage used car dealers to come to my weekly auction to purchase cars and trucks to sell to the public at their dealerships. Additionally, I called on new car and truck dealers to encourage them to sell their trade-ins at my auction.
The previous two years, I worked for an auto auction company in Palatka, FL where I called on new and used car dealers. This experience taught me that some new car dealers wouldn’t sell their trade-ins at auto auctions. Instead, they would sell them to wholesalers. To capitalize on this kind of dealer, I also began operating as a wholesaler and made pretty good money.
But now, I was following my dream of owning my own auto auction company. I needed to build a rapport with a number of dealers who would buy or sell cars at my auctions and also make connections with new car dealers that would sell me their trade-ins wholesale.
On a nice autumn day, I stopped at Dawson Ford in Dawson, GA. There I met the owner, T.K. Cobb, a southern gentleman in every respect, who kindly told me he didn’t sell cars at auctions - he only sold to wholesalers. So I changed my tack and told him I’d be happy to buy the vehicles instead of him coming to the auction and taking his chances under the hammer. He said that would be fine and wrote down five vehicles on a piece of notebook paper along with a price he wanted for each.
I went out to the lot, inspected the cars on his list and took them for a test drive. When I looked at his prices for the vehicles, I was pleased. He had priced them fairly and I could make a tidy profit. But with in my experience in buying cars in Florida, I felt that I could negotiate an even better price! As I headed back to Mr. Cobb’s office, I was seeing dollar signs!
Mr. Cobb asked, “What do you think about the cars?” I replied, “They all checked out good; and, I’ll pay $800 for the one you listed at $875, $1,000 for the one you have listed at $1,100…” and I continued down the list cutting his initial price on each vehicle by $50 to $100 dollars.
As soon as I finished telling him what I would give him for his cars, Mr. Cobb said, “Well, I see we aren’t going to be able to do any business today.” Not quite understanding what just happened, I said, “I really would like to buy them. Can’t we negotiate?”
Mr. Cobb looked at me with a stern expression and said, “Ben, I’ve priced these cars fairly. I don’t haggle with anyone about prices. I know what amount I need to get for my cars and that’s the price I put on them. It’s obvious you don’t want to pay me what I want to sell these cars for - so we won’t be doing business today.”
Seeing the puzzled look on my face, his expression softened and he then said, “Do you have a few minutes where we can go have a cup of coffee?”
As we walked to the coffee shop, I kept wondering what I did wrong. This is exactly how I’d bought cars before, and I was perplexed by his not wanting to negotiate.
“The reason that I wanted to have coffee with you is, I think you’re a fine young man,” said Mr. Cobb, “ and I admire that you are out here trying to make a success of your life. I invited you for coffee because I want give you some advice on how manage a fair deal.” He looked at me with great sincerity and said, “Not every transaction in life is a negotiation. When you come across a good deal, just take it. You make money, the other person makes money and everybody wins.”
Over the years, I’ve taken Mr. Cobb’s win-win philosophy to heart and learned to dismiss the common practice: in order for me to win, someone else needs to lose. And win-win has proven to be good business. For example, Mr. Cobb and I did business for many years because we both had a mutual desire to see each other succeed. He always sold me quality cars at very reasonable prices and we both did well. And, our encounters were always pleasant. There was no feeling of, “Oh no…. I have to deal with Mr. Cobb.” It was always, “I need a few more cars for the auction so I’ll go see T.K.! I need to make sure to leave some extra time so we can have a cup of coffee!”
I’ve also learned that as I cultivate a win-win attitude that it flows into all aspects of my life, and I am more blessed and full. I enjoy the discussion and flow of differing ideas and I don’t feel the need to win an disagreement. I do my best to be in the mode of growth and opening myself up to others and their thoughts, without needing to be right, and thus, I learn more and more each day. And by being open to the thoughts and ideas of another, it shows respect. This builds friendships and goodwill.
One of my favorite writers, Stephen Covey, says it so well as he describes win-win, “Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!”
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