Never settle for list price again: 3 super-easy hacks

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Price for most of my life was a straightforward term: you paid what the sticker said.

These days it’s a starting point.

So many aspects of life are negotiable, but no one challenges the status quo. Price is one of them. Sadly, all it often takes is asking.

Without further ado, here are three super-easy hacks to never settle for list price again.

1. The “I want to spend this much on a hotel room” hack

A few years ago my wife and I went on a crazy, somewhat spontaneous road trip to South Carolina and Georgia. No reservations, except for plans to stay with friends half the time.

Near the end of our trip, we arrived in Savannah, Georgia and had no idea where to stay. Thankfully, we stopped at the visitor’s bureau office for some tips. The volunteer gave us advice we never forgot. It’s not busy right now at the River Street Inn, he said. I bet you could get a room for $70. Say you stopped at the visitor’s bureau.”

Wait, what? You can negotiate a hotel room price? Sure enough, it worked. We walked into this beautiful historic hotel that normally runs $130 to well over $200. We said we didn’t have a reservation, but we were looking to spend $70 for a hotel room. Max. The visitor’s bureau said you would be game.

They hemmed and hawed – and finally gave in. I couldn’t believe it. In that moment, my confidence to negotiate list price was awakened. The next night I did the same thing in Nashville. I also replicated the technique in later trips to Madison, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh.

2. The “I will keep shopping and come back to a better price quote” hack

Service charges for items like jewelry can be a tricky subject. It feels like employees just make up a figure when you need your precious piece fixed. I had this hunch when my wife and I stopped in at a mall jewelry after determining her necklace required adjustments.

The saleswoman reviewed our request, typed a bunch of stuff in her computer and a few minutes later provided a quote: $30. Uh, no. The necklace cost maybe $60.

I had said thank you for the information but that price was too steep. She was surprised since we clearly had a necklace my wife couldn’t wear. We left and walked around the mall.

About 20 minutes we returned later and I walked right up to saleswoman. She recognized us and again was surprised we had returned. I said we thought about it and we felt comfortable paying $15 for the service. I don’t think anyone had ever pushed back to her. She hesitated. It’s better than no money, right? I pointed out.

More than 30 minutes after the original quote, she gave in. We saved $15 because I was OK with things being uncomfortable for a few moments.

3. The “I have a $20 bill in my wallet and that’s it” hack

I first experimented with this technique in China, a country where negotiation is standard in local, non-corporate transactions. We visited a market in Beijing filled with shops selling American brands for cheap. It’s possible many items were knock-offs, but I am sure a few items were legit.

Anyways, near the end of the visit, when I was down to $20 U.S. dollars and some RMB, the Chinese currency, I spotted an item I really wanted: Beats headphones. As you know, they retail for around $200 in the U.S. Here I was determined to score the headphones for much less.

I asked how much, just to get the discussion rolling. $50. I acted not interested and started to walk away. They countered at $40. I said $10. After more back-and-forth, I finally pulled out a $20 bill and said this is all I have left in American money, which was true. I began walking away for the last time.

But U.S. dollars are desirable in Chinese society…

See sweet pic above.

The sum of all hacks

Never settling for the list price of a product or service takes time and practice. And it doesn’t always work. Yet when you ask for a different price and get it, you feel powerful, confident and creative. It has a spillover effect on the rest of your life.

Start small. Negotiate the price of raspberries at the farmer’s market. Talk down the price at a garage sale. Then work your way up.

Just avoid the River Street Inn. That’s my deal.

Question: Have you ever negotiated the sticker price on an item? What techniques did you use?

4 Reasons to Ask for a Drink Not on the Menu

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For months I visited the same coffee shop each weekend and ordered the same drink from the same barista: a medium vanilla frappe.

I know, super lame.

Thankfully, when the calendar hit 2015, I snapped out this funk and introduced a habit I think everyone must experience for themselves: ordering a drink that is not on the menu.

Trust me, the practice isn’t illegal. In fact, it’s incredibly rewarding and here are four compelling reasons why.

Start asking.

1. You stretch your taste buds

My caffeine experience always revolved around the core four flavors: vanilla, chocolate, caramel and raspberry. The classic flavors are incredible and …  limiting. Every time I sucked on a latte or frappe it tasted like an ice cream cone.

Until, of course, I tasted the yet-to-be-named latte constructed in my honor, for my enjoyment. The dreamy mix defied modern coffee trends to provide a taste one normally would associate with the local candy shop.

Cinnamon. Bam. Peppermint. Yes please. Skim milk. Oh yeah.

Just like that, my caffeine experience was transformed. Goodbye caramel, hello peppermint. I was so moved I went out and bought my own peppermint flavoring bottle, which proudly sits in my cubicle at work and makes it appear like I add liquor to my coffee every morning. Bonus!

2. You start a new routine

In my pre un-named latte days, going to the coffee shop was automated. I remembered my wife’s order and occasionally would order the same thing. I ensured the barista punched the punch card. Then I walked back to the car with my drinks. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Contrast the boring routine with last Sunday. Now I walk into the coffee shop with a little swagger, as much swagger as a dad with a young son in his arms can have. Everything feels like it’s in slow motion. I walk to the counter, lean over and look around the room.

I clear my throat and with a deep voice I say,”One medium vanilla frappe. Skim. No whip. Two shots.” Pause. “And one medium of, you know, ‘The Drink.” She says, “The cinnamon, pepperm ….” I interrupt her and look around, making sure no hombre heard the secret recipe. “Yeah, that one.”

A few minutes later I have two amazing drinks in my hand. Everything is in slow motion. My son waves goodbye. As I step outside and the wind hits my hair just right. I look like 90s version of Brad Pitt. Life is good.

3. You make a connection with the barista.

Before “The Drink”, my interactions with the barista were surface level,  strictly transaction-based. Maybe, just maybe a “How are you?” was exchanged.

The off-the-menu order changed everything.

A typical visit means talking about her career aspirations, why I changed my career, why New Year’s Eve with a toddler is well, boring, how in-laws are so amazing/perfect, and you know, the meaning of life.

Seriously, though, we soon learned we attended the same university, which leads to a connection nearly as powerful as high school classmates.

If I had played it safe and stuck to my routine, it’s likely no meaningful interaction would have ever taken place in the coffee shop.

4. You have a great story to tell. 

Picture this. You are at dinner with some friends, Thai food, Italian, Ethiopian, or Tim Hortons, whatever you like.

“What’s new?” they ask.

“Oh nothing, just had a coffee drink this morning that’s been banned from the menu….” you say with a smile.

“Wait, what.”

A great opener, huh? My drink had been suggested for the specials menu multiple times and routinely shot down. So not only is it off the menu, it’s been systematically denied from the menu.

Yeah, my un-named latte is a renegade compared to your safe white chocolate mocha. I am hooked for life.

The Takeaway

Next time you stroll into your local coffee shop dare to be different. Ask for a drink not on the menu. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll stretch your taste buds, start a new routine, develop a relationship with the barista and have a story to tell for weeks.

Question for my Brilliant Readers:

Have you ever ordered off the menu? What was the experience like? Share your answers in the comments below.


Yes, my son’s first birthday party was sponsored. And here’s how I asked for it.

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It’s rare to have a wild idea you dream up in your head actually pan out the way you envisioned it.

But this month that’s exactly what happened to me.

No, I am not referring to “the local bus system employing aspiring models” idea, or “the resident DJ who plays your favorite song each morning you walk into the office” idea, or even “the killer combination of a tanner/Chinese restaurant business in a small town” idea.

Instead I am referring to the dream of having my 1-year-old’s birthday party completely sponsored by awesome local businesses.

No offense to Mickey Mouse, Clifford, Elmo or any other “age-appropriate” parties, but my wife and I have higher expectations for our little man.

We want him to think different. To be OK with trying something and failing. To pursue crazy ideas even if everyone else around him doesn’t think the idea is possible.

The Execution

So a few weeks ago I went to work so my walk would match my talk.

This visual of a sponsor list is what I dreamed about

I made a list of all the products and corresponding businesses that could possibly line up with our vintage newspaper themed party. I focused on smaller, newer, fresher businesses that likely had a desire to gain more exposure, yet without spending thousands on advertising. In exchange for their product donations to our party, I would promote the heck out of them through every means at my disposal.

Then I started calling, e-mailing, poking, AOL Instant Messaging, and well, stalking these businesses. Don’t worry, as of press time, no restraining orders have been filed.

I know this is crazy but many people didn’t respond. Like businesses I had frequented for years. A few politely declined. Others thought about it and then claimed something called “laws” prevented them from sponsoring.

I was discouraged. My goal was five sponsors and … I had none. At that point, I considered scaling back and settling for the typical party.

A sponsored party must be too crazy, I thought.

I was a few days away from quitting.

The Success

Just when I felt lower than Donald Sterling’s publicist, I received an e-mail that turned the whole event upside down.

I had a sponsor.

The uber-talented Anne Pageau, who owns Holland-based Give Studio, agreed to donate four of her trendy, decorative flasks to help make our party look even more authentic. The flasks, which come in bright colors and even louder sayings (Giggle Juice is our favorite), retail at $28 and are ideal for a sweet gift. We paired them with our collection of old cameras for a dynamite 1-2 combo.

Give Studio of Holland

And suddenly the sponsors started appearing one after another.

My long-time client Joe Nelis, who owns Nelis’ Dutch Village and the Thirsty Dutchman Pub in Holland, provided four bottles of his private label wine.

Then Nick Gillette, a manager with Grounds for a Better World Coffee in Midland, jumped on board by donating a stellar medium roast coffee for the party. The delivery of the product may have looked like a drug deal in a Subway courtyard but I am totally OK with that.

I couldn’t believe the sponsorship idea was actually happening.

With a few small wins on the board, I was confident and starting asking for products that weren’t on my original brainstorming sheet.

Soon I lined up the only coffeehouse in Michigan that brews its own beer – Essential Bean Coffee and Pub in Caledonia – and the award-winning cider of Sietsema Orchards in Ada.

I had reached my goal of 5 sponsors but I wasn’t about to stop.  During a non-driver’s ed approved commute home, I made a cold call to the Hawk’s Nest in Hamilton and landed two hot appetizers for the party.

The icing on the cupcake was convincing the emerging Scrumptious Cupcakes and Sweetery of Grand Rapids to donate a tower of gourmet cupcakes, 30 to be exact.

7. Freaking. Sponsors.

With just a few days to go before the party, I sought out last minute help from a team of experts. The legendary Melanie Gavie designed an incredible handout complete with QR codes to each sponsor’s Web site. Marketers Erik Morsehead, Ryan Litwiller, and Kim Jimenez helped me brainstorm social media and marketing strategy. And photographer Dennis R.J. Geppert donated a box full of old cameras.

The party was finally here.

The Event

I knew it was going to be great night when my family members were, gasp, early. Start time in my family usually means get there within an hour of that time.

All kidding aside, as guests arrived, the house looked stunning. Next to each sponsor’s donated product we had a small chalkboard labeling the business as well as business cards, logos, and coupons.

The sweet Late Harvest Vignoles white wine and the sweet de Rooie Molen red wine from Nelis’ Dutch Village started flowing and soon glasses could be observed inside and out. My wife now likes de Rooie Molen better than me. Great.

Nelis’ Dutch Village of Holland

Our bartender then began to pour glasses of Essential Bean’s Silver Foam IPA, an amber colored beer with a tasty foam top. Easy to drink and much less bitter than your typical IPA. Comes in a stellar growler with a stylin’ vintage logo.

Essential Bean of Caledonia

Rounding out the incredible selection of alcohol for a 1-year-old’s birthday party was … the Lemongrass Hard Cider from Sietsema Orchards. This self-proclaimed “summer shandy of cider” is a sweet, refreshing lemon-infused cider that makes your typical cider seem, well, pretty boring. I may or may not have drank half the bottle myself during the party.

Sietsema Orchards of Ada

And because no party is complete without caffeine, I can’t forget the warm, tasty Medium Roast we had brewing from Grounds for a Better World. My dad couldn’t keep his hands off it and, because he is retiring soon, I didn’t have the heart to say no to the guy.

Grounds for a Better World of Midland

The evening would not have been complete, however, without our two, oh-so-sweet food options. The Hawk’s Nest brought it with a pound of hot, flavor-filled Breaded Cauliflower and a pound of crunchy Onion Rings. They went so fast I barely could photograph their existence.

Hawk’s Nest of Hamilton

Finally, for dessert guests d-emolished the Funfetti with Vanilla Buttercream and the Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting cupcakes from Scrumptious. Some people said it was the best cupcake they had ever had. I personally couldn’t stop eating the frosting made from scratch.

Scrumptious Cupcakes of Grand Rapids
Scrumptious Cupcakes of Grand Rapids

The Conclusion

In the end, seven forward-thinking businesses gained incredible exposure via the actual party, through my social media posts, in a story the Midland Daily News ran about the party, and through this blog post. I applaud them for taking the chance and trusting me to deliver. Please go out and support them, you won’t be disappointed.

Equally important, I learned you never know what can happen if you simply ask people to partner with you. Prove to people you can provide value no else can. Dare to be rejected.

I saved $300 on a party. What can you do?


Ask for Help: Why Owning your Own Business isn’t all about You

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A year ago this week, I moved from Chicago to Holland to pursue my dream. For years I had thought about owning my own store and I had taken the initial step by moving away from Grand Rapids ten years ago to learn and work as a creative retailer. There I began climbing the corporate ladder, trying to learn as much as I could so I would reach my dream.

My mom owned her own store years ago, where I first worked before several other independent stores. The hard working women I met in those stores, inspired me and started me on the path of store ownership. My goal in Chicago was to learn the creative side, how to merchandise a store and see a vision of what a store should look like. I accomplished that but kept working, getting sucked into the grind of a career- one that I was good at- and lost focus of my dream.

After a two week long trip to Australia to visit family and clear my head, I realized I wasn’t enjoying my life any more. Many of my friends had left Chicago, I was wiped out from pushing myself at my job and I missed my family immensely. So I made the decision to move to Holland and open my own store. The ball started rolling and hasn’t stopped since. Below are a few things that my first year of owning my own business has taught me. My hope is that if you are considering business ownership, this helps in some small way.


Why owning your own business isn’t all about you…

There are a million people who will help you in a million different ways.
They will go out of their way to assist you. People you barely know, close friends and family, people you would never even expect and people that are in some way, already helping. The mailman, your landlord, the store owner across the street, they will help you over and over again. For me, this was a bit difficult to get used to. I wanted to do it on my own. I didn’t want people to have to spend their time helping me. I felt uncomfortable with their generous offers and I said no too many times. But after one lovely father/ daughter chat, I started saying yes and it was awesome! Not only did I have things taken off my plate, but I also gained confidence in what I was doing.

You think you’re prepared and ready for this? Well you’re not.
Every single day brings something new; a new adventure, a new lesson. I have been in the process of switching register systems for 5 months now. What I thought would be a 2 week transition has challenged me for 5 months and is still dragging on. And what’s worse, I’m not sure that it’s going to be a better system when we eventually make the switch. After a few initial bumps and bruises, I am finally seeing progress. Nothing in my 18 years of working in retail could have prepared me for this process. I will always be learning and working my hardest.

Maintain your standards, everyday and in everything.
This is something you’ll want to do, but it is easier said then done. Shortly after I opened, we threw a Grand Opening party for friends, family and other area business owners. I thought that a simple, cheap postcard-style invite would be more than satisfactory, but a good friend convinced me otherwise. I ended up with gorgeous, letterpress invites that I am proud of almost a year later. This set the bar for my business. It was the first taste for what the store would be like and I’m so happy I went with such a beautiful invite. It would have been cheaper and easier to go the other route, but I would have been settling.

Keep in mind how you like to be treated as a shopper and/or client
This is something we are always striving to achieve. I’ve never been a shopper who wanted high pressure from the sales staff and so I never want my store to feel like that. We talk to every customer, offer advice when it’s wanted and give honest opinions. Hopefully our customers feel that every time they are in the store. This is not just for the people who walk through the door, I strive for good partnership in every one of my business relationships. I try to return every email, even if it’s just to say that I am not interested. If someone is taking the time to reach out to me, the least I can do is respond.

Look to your family and friends for honest feedback and fresh ideas.
Ask them for opinions and criticism. Ask them for ideas and advice. Just because something isn’t right now, doesn’t mean it won’t be right at some point down the line. I had an incredibly creative job before I did this, but I am more fulfilled creatively now. Friends and family have helped inspire and create everything from the window displays to the photo shoots to the layout of the store.

Owning a business has shattered every expectation I had. We get compliments on the store every single day and my world has been enriched by the things I’ve learned and people I’ve met. Even in less than a year, I feel happy and have a more fulfilling life in Holland.

Jenny Van Veen is the owner of Frances Jaye in downtown Holland. Her store offers unique men’s and women’s clothes, accessories and gifts. The window displays make others jealous, really jealous. For more information, visit her Web site at


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