The tarantula dance
by B.B. Pelletier
BSOTW winner Rodney T. Hytonen and his Beeman P17.
Some call it negotiating or the art of the deal or something else, but it means the same thing. It describes what happens whenever two or more enthusiasts get together and try to trade.
Imagine two hairy tarantulas meeting on a trail in the woods somewhere. When they meet, they instantly go on the defensive, each knowing the other could either kill him or make a very satisfying meal. Unless something overpowering happens nearby to break their concentration, these two competitors are certain to follow through on their intentions! They’ll dance backwards and forwards, maneuvering for an advantageous position.
And so it is whenever two or more airgunners get together. If one has something the other wants, or worse — if they each want something from the other guy, you’re in for the human equivalent of the tarantula dance.
I see it at all the airgun shows, but not so much in the main show area as in the shadowy places around the fringes of the room or out in the parking lot or perhaps at a restaurant before or after the show. Being both an airgunner and an alpha competitor myself, I’ve danced many times myself and, of course, I’ve watched others. Today, I’d like to describe some of the more common steps in the dance.
The straight two-way deal
Two guys each want something from the other. Or in some cases, one of them wants something the other guy has, so he postures and maneuvers until he convinces the other guy that he also has something worth wanting. Once that’s established, they begin the straight two-way deal.
The steps are pretty straightforward, though there are almost infinite variations and regional modifications to add interest. Neither guy will admit how much he wants what the other guy has. If one of them does indicate an interest, he also says that it isn’t worth what he has to offer.
As the dance unfolds, each person is allowed time to present his case, free from comment by the other party. Making a comment when the deal is being explained is the equivalent of a baboon displaying his red buttocks. You might as well sock your opponent in the kisser with brass knuckles!
After both parties have presented their case, the negotiations can begin. While they talk, it’s best for each person to hold the object they’re trying to acquire. They can then nervously putter with it, trying all the levers and buttons, or they can scrutinize it in close detail, looking for flaws.
When you find what you believe to be a flaw, it’s best not to blurt it out. Instead, slip it into the conversation subtly by saying something like, “Did you know this gun is refinished?” or the even more insidious, “Do you think this finish is original?” A good counter for that is to answer quickly, “Yes, I’m pretty sure it has been refinished.” Then stop talking. Do not defend your item any more, because you only lose ground if you do.
Then come numerous other moves, ranging from the ever-popular, “I’m cash-poor at the moment, so I really need to trade,” to the equally scintillating, “I’ve got another guy who’s serious about this, so I don’t really have to trade today.” You can say whatever you like in a negotiation — nobody expects you to stick to the script, much less make sense. Tell jokes, swap lies; you can even discuss politics during this emotion-charged period — everything will be either forgotten or forgiven when the deal is done.
The straight two-way deal is the most rudimentary type of negotiation, but don’t think that it isn’t complex or fascinating. If, for instance, one of the competitors knows that he has something the other guy wants, he can play him like a sport fish for quite a long time. This happened to me just this week.
A more complex deal
I went to a trading “party” last week, knowing beforehand that I had something one of the other guys wanted. This guy is a very sharp trader, so having this knowledge gave me a rare and valuable advantage over him.
My trading parties are informal events, set up at a range so we can try the guns we like; and we set up our wares on picnic tables. In the beginning, I could get only three people together at one of these parties; but now that we’ve held several with good success, it’s usually no trouble to get 7-10 guys together at once. If each person brings 15-20 things to trade, you have a mini airgun show.
Let’s say the sharp trader wanted the FWB 150 I’d laid on my table. When he asked what I wanted for it, I said I really didn’t want to trade it at all. It’s one of my favorite airguns. That was entirely true, but it really set him off! Why did I bring it if I didn’t want to trade it…he wanted to know. So, from just this one maneuver, I knew I had him. Whenever you’re trading, try not to show your emotions.
To keep the fish on the line, I encouraged him to take my 150 to the firing line and shoot it. I even provided the ammo! When he returned from the line, the look on his face told me that he really wanted the gun. He then asked if there was anything I would take for it. I told him I might consider selling it, which was true, and then quoted a price that was the top retail. Since he likes to buy things with a profit margin, he was stumped. He wasn’t going to pay my high price, but he still wanted the gun. If this guy had been a swordfish, I had just set the hook and let him start his first run!
At this point, I walked away and let the guy stew over the situation. I pretended to be interested in shooting some of my own guns and left him alone for 20-30 minutes. This is a dangerous maneuver, because he could have made a bunch of deals with the other guys at the party and walked away satisfied. But he didn’t.
Then Mac told me privately that he liked a particular gun on the sharp trader’s table. And Mac also had an airgun that I had been interested in for several days prior to this trading party, so he told me that if I could get the gun he wanted, he would give me the gun I wanted. Gentlemen, welcome to the three-way deal!
The three-way deal
The sharp trader’s gun Mac was interested in was worth much more than my rifle, so Mac said he would pay the difference if I managed to make the deal. In other words, I would trade my rifle, plus possibly some money to boot for the gun Mac wanted, and Mac would then give me the airgun I wanted, as well as paying the extra money I had to put up to make the deal. Are you following this?
So, at a time when he was otherwise occupied, I mentioned to the sharp trader that I might trade my 150 for one of his guns (the one Mac had privately indicated to me). I wish you could have seen what happened then. My interest took the guy by complete surprise! The swordfish now realized there was a boat on the other end of the fishing line that was stuck in his mouth!
He instantly turned all of his attention to me; and from his reaction, I knew the deal was done before it started. His gun was worth more than mine, and when he mentioned that, I immediately agreed. That was another surprise for him. The gaff was now in the water and the big fish was tiring fast.
He said, “Make me an offer for the difference between our two guns,” and he smiled. Big mistake! The fish had one more thrash left in him, but he was already alongside my boat…and I was moving the gaff toward his gills. So, I turned away from him and then said over my shoulder, “No. I said I didn’t care if I got rid of my rifle or not. You make me an offer!” The point of the gaff slid into the gills and the big fish was caught.
A minute later he said to me privately, “Give me $50 and we have a deal.” The fish was now in the boat, and I was getting ready for photography!
His gun was brand new and worth at least $100 more than mine. I expected to have to negotiate to get him down to the $100 difference in our guns, so I had signaled Mac to see if he was okay with paying that amount. He nodded yes. He later admitted that he felt the other guy’s gun was worth a minimum of $100 more than mine, but he wanted it enough to pay the difference.
When the guy said $50, I quickly shook on it and the deal was made. And that, I thought, would be the big story to tell today, but I was wrong. It was only the preamble to the main event.
The four-way deal
One of the guys at the trading party, let’s call him the old man, still owed Mac a gun for a deal they had made a year earlier. They had agreed on a certain airgun as payment, but the old man had been unable to find one in the interim. However, Mac spotted something on the sharp trader’s table that he really wanted, and it was close to the same value.
However, the old man didn’t have anything the sharp trader wanted. But then I made a deal with another trader I’ll call the big guy and gave him something the sharp trader wanted. So the old man took the big guy aside and they held held a private pow-wow. It was at this moment that I elbowed Mac in the ribs and said, “This is going to be my Friday blog! We are about the see a huge tarantula dance!”
After these two conferred for about five minutes, the old man came over to me and said, “The deal is done. Watch this!” The big guy he had been talking to went over to the sharp trader and made his offer of the gun we all knew the sharp trader really wanted. We knew that because he had openly denigrated it to everyone just minutes before.
When their deal was made, the gun the sharp trader gave up was passed (behind his back) from the big guy to the old man. The old man then gave Mac the gun he owed him. A four-way deal had been made! The sharp trader got the gun of his desires, the big guy got whatever it was that he wanted from the old man (sorry, I couldn’t keep up with everything) and the old man who owed Mac was absolved of his debt as he handed Mac the gun he wanted. The gun in play was “owned” by two of its three new owners for just two or three seconds each — the time it took to pass it from hand to hand — like a water bucket in a fire brigade.
When all the deals were done and everyone had packed up, each person was certain they had done the best they possibly could. No one would admit to letting someone else get the best of them. Everyone feels they’ve triumphed after making deals like this. Remorse doesn’t set in for at least an hour after all trading is over. Then, the second thoughts begin. This is not a good time to have an indecisive personality.
How to prosper in a trade
Despite my candid descriptions of events, I’ve always found it best to be completely honest during these deals. And that includes not feigning ignorance of the faults of my guns. I figure the finish of the gun speaks for itself; but if there are other faults that I know of, I’m sure to tell them, just as I’m certain to point out the positives of anything I bring to trade. I expect others to do the same, but I’ll also watch for those who are less candid in their dealings.
And here is my biggest tip of the day. You know how art appraisers are always telling us to buy the art we like? Well, the same thing holds true for airgun trades. I pity the person who uses the Blue Book of Airguns to find out whether he should feel bad or good about a deal.
We’re trading cats and dogs. I’m offering my pair of $2,500 cats for your $5,000 dog. If you have a gun I want and I have something you want, we really shouldn’t care if we come out absolutely even on what the price guide says. If you’re happy and I’m happy, the deal was a good one.