I had stopped by the market last week to pick up some steaks for dinner when I noticed four guys with cheap suits and fresh haircuts milling around the meat counter.
Soon one approached and extended his hand: "Hi, I'm Dave." I told him my name, and he asked if he could help.
"I certainly hope so," I replied. "I can't find the $1.89 steaks my wife told me to pick up."
Dave said that I had found the right guy, that he was a Customer Service Account Adviser.
I told him that I had never heard of such a thing in a grocery store; he said it was new and assured me it was to benefit the customer.
"Then can you tell me where the cheap sirloins are?" I asked.
"Those babies were gone five minutes after the doors opened this morning," Dave said. "Ron over there moved one unit, Ted closed a deal and I sold one myself."
I apparently looked puzzled, so he continued: "I can't believe people don't read the fine print. Our ad stated that we had only three steaks available at that special $1.89 price. It even had the serial numbers for the sale steaks."
He offered to show me some others, and pointed out some Kansas City strip steaks: "I saw you eyeing these babies. I can put them on your table for a nice price."
I said $5.99 a pound was too high.
"Forget the sticker," he said. "Nobody pays that. And this month we've got a slaughterhouse rebate, first-time buyer's incentive and a program for college grads. We can negotiate: Just tell me what I have to do to earn your business."
I was confused: "So how much is the KC strip, bottom line?"
Dave ignored me, saying, "Make an offer I can take to my manager."
I said I could probably afford around $4 a pound, but wasn't sure if I really wanted strip steaks.
Dave's voice raised a notch, he talked faster: "You gotta trust me here, Charlie . . . it's Charlie, right? . . . I'm working for you here, Charlie, and will bust my butt to get you a great deal. But my boss won't even look at an offer of less that $4.50. I want you to have these steaks, Charlie. This is not just about me selling you something, this is about us developing a continuing relationship, Charlie."
I told him to offer $4.50.
Dave disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with his assistant manager, Larry.
"We've got a slight problem here, Charlie, and I apologize in advance," Larry said. "Dave's working very hard for you and I'm on your side, too, but we don't have many strips left. I don't know if you saw the couple standing by the strips earlier. Well, they're making an offer right now for all eight we have left. I can probably get you four, Charlie, but not at $4.50."
I glanced at my watch: "OK, I'll go $5.50 on the strips, if you throw in a loaf of garlic bread."
They reached for my hand in unison and Larry spoke: "Done. Dave'll take you to the finance office to work out the details and paperwork with Debbie."
Debbie shook my hand and, when Dave left, whispered: "You made quite a deal, you ought to teach a negotiating class. I've never seen them give free garlic bread for KC strips at $6 a pound."
I smiled, pleased she appreciated my skills. Then it sunk in and I protested: "But I only agreed to $5.50."
"Well," she said, "the steaks you bought already had custom trim. That's 50 cents extra. We can't put the fat back on now, can we?"
I was too tired to argue, but she never missed a trick: "Do you want any special seasonings--we now offer Cajun, barbecue, aromatic Sichuan and our newest and most popular, pesto--or bacon wrapping? It's just a bit extra. Did you want tenderness insurance?"
Dave walked in as I was writing a check and escorted me to the door: "Enjoy those steaks, Charlie--it's Charlie, right? Here's my card, tell your friends about me.
"And if you need some nice mushrooms for those steaks, here's my brother Tony's card. He just started over in produce and can get you a helluva deal on mushrooms."