Back in the 80s my wife's best friend was an older woman from Austria. This woman had lived through the European Depression that had preceded WWII and through the severe shortages that the war brought. When she became a war bride and married her US GI husband she moved to America to a comparative world of plenty. And yet, like most people who grew up in tight times, they forged ways of thinking that have never left her to this day. For instance, whenever they would go shopping one of her favorite phrases was, "Will you take less?"
According to The Wikipedia, Haggling (or bargaining or dickering) is:
"a type of negotiation in which the buyer and seller of a good or service dispute the price which will be paid and the exact nature of the transaction that will take place, and eventually come to an agreement. Bargaining is an alternative pricing strategy to fixed prices..it allows price discrimination, a process whereby a seller can charge a higher price to one buyer who is more eager (by being richer or more desperate)"
If you've done craft shows you know that there are people out there who view love to haggle. They have the money to spend but as much as they might want the item you have made, they also want something more. For them haggling is a form of entertainment, a game. (The Wikipedia even acknowledges the beautiful mind element of Game Theory to haggling) .
So, what to do with hagglers? It really comes down to the individual (surprise!). I've known some people who enjoy the game just as much as the customer does. To these people haggling is a Challenge and with that comes Winning or Losing. It becomes something like a hand of poker only instead of hidden cards it's a hidden set of expectations: "How much does s/he think this is really worth and can I get it for less/more than that price?"
Personally, I don't have much time for that kind of negotiation. In fact, to be entirely honest, I find the "Will you take less?" question to be insulting. I know how much each piece costs me to make* (in time, materials and other expenses) and I know the amount on top of that required to make the whole art+showfees+driving+hotels+food+gas+time+effort+energy equation work out to be not just sustainable but at least partially worth my while.
Under Optimal Circumstances The bottom line for us is that we know we offer our artwork at a reasonable price. It's a price that respects us as hard-working artists who make and sell the items and respects the customer as a hard-working person interested in buying it from us.
If someone asks us, "Will you take less?" we typically tell them our prices are as low and as fair as we can make them.
Under Less-Than-Optimal Circumstances Then there are those times when that word in The Wikipedia description above, "desperate" comes into play. Those times when you haven't sold enough to break even from the show expenses. Those times when you need to make $x at this show to pay off Bill Y on Monday. Those times when as much as you want to say, "WalMart is down the street, lady" you somehow muster a smile and do some quick mental math in your head and know you really need to consider dropping the price. Those times when you feel forced to haggle.
The thing to remember in these cases is to not appear as desperate as you probably are. (Sure, this is easier said than done, but my guess is that the appearance of desperation automatically lowers the price in the buyer's eye by 20%).
I think there are two ways of doing this:
Ask the customer how much they were thinking the price should be. This makes them name the first price and you'll get an idea of how little they want to pay. Someone who is truly playing this as a game knows that whoever makes the opening bid has already lost in some respect so they'll likely make "Well, I don't know.." sounding excuses, taking a passive-aggressive approach and waiting for you to make the first move.
If they refuse to make the first offer, start by explaining you feel your pricing is fair for all the time/work/materials/effort you put into creating them. This isn't likely to sway them but I think it's good to gauge their response. If they don't budge, stall for time and get out your calculator. Take your initial price and subtract 6% to 8% - something close to but not exactly 10% to make the discount less obvious. If their goal is to Win By Paying Less and you need the money, that might be enough to let them feel they've won. If not, ask them again to name the price they were thinking the piece was worth. If they still refuse and you need the money, pull out the calculator again and drop your initial price by 12% or so. (Again, to make the discount total less obvious).
Don't be afraid to say, "That's the lowest I can go on this piece" at some point. Even if they walk away sometimes it's better to have your dignity than the money.
Tom Franklin is a crafter, photographer and writer. With his wife, artist and goldsmith Bonnie Franklin, he has been displaying at Arts and Crafts shows for over 16 years. Their jewelry has won numerous Festival and Jurors awards and can be found in private collections in over twenty countries. Tom and Bonnie live in North Carolina where Tom can be found (somewhat) patiently waiting for the producers of The Amazing Race to select him for the new season.