Friday, September 21, 2012
Earlier this week, in my post Get Smart (About $4,000 Suits and $10,000 Rings), I wrote, “Ultra-high-end is a stronger industry sector, so I’ve embarked on a deliberate effort to offer more ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’ 18K-gold signature pieces.”
Variations of the line “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it” are attributed to U.S. financier J.P. Morgan (1837 – 1913). But one needs to be careful with bon mots. A lot of good lines are credited to people who didn’t say them. The incorrect attributions gain credibility as they are repeated ad infinitum online. Be especially wary of anything attributed to what Frank Shapiro, the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, calls “quotation magnets” such as Mark Twain and baseball great Yogi Berra. As Yogi Berra pointed out, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
When faced with an interesting quotation, I like to get Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations out of the bookcase.
Online, Bartleby.com searchs Bartlett’s and other sources. That’s where you can find out that “There’s nothing new under the sun” has “various authors.” Another source for attribution is The Quote Verifier. According to that book, there’s no “dependable evidence” that J.P. Morgan said the “If you have to ask …” line the way it is normally written, though the supposed quote might indeed capture Morgan’s sentiments. The Quote Verifier cites Morgan biographer Jean Strouse:
“Strouse concluded, ‘Morgan was a singularly inarticulate, unreflective man, not likely to come up with a maxim worthy of Oscar Wilde.’ The closest analogue Strouse could find on the record was Morgan’s response to oil baron Henry Clay Pierce: ‘You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question.'”
Wherever it came from, when I use “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” it’s because the inaccuracy of it amuses me. (It also reminds me of Sheila E.’s “Glamorous Life,” with its line, “if you have to ask you can’t afford it lingerie.”) From personal experience, I can promise you that, in the U.S., not only will billionaires ask for the price, they’ll ask for a discount. Hey, everyone here likes to save a buck. (Conspicuous consumers from other countries will, according to many of my business acquaintances, buy without asking, as long as they’re sure the price is high enough for them.) Years ago, my wealthy American friend — let’s call her Mrs. Moneybanks — suggested a tricky way I could save money on a purchase and, to encourage me, said, “That’s what I would do!” I said, “But Mrs. Moneybanks! You wouldn’t have to do that. You’re rich!” She retorted, “How do you think I got so rich?” Good point, Mrs. Moneybanks.
Anyway, sometimes customers are required to ask. I’m sure you’ve seen the words “Price available upon request” next to many prestigious brand names on the pages of fashion magazines. What that often means is: “The designer isn’t forthcoming about the price because the item is very expensive; don’t make everyone feel awkward by inquiring about the price if you’re on a budget.” It’s uncomfortable — and not a good use of time — to answer a lot of questions about a $20,000 necklace for a buyer for whom $200 is out of the question.
Every brand has different standards for “you have to ask.” You can buy a $164,000 diamond necklace from Harry Winston online, for example, but you need to request assistance if you’re interested in this beyond-exquisite sapphire-and-diamond piece.
… but you have to ask about my Empress Wu dragon earrings.
And even if you’re a Russian oligarch with money to burn, you won’t get any information from me if you send me anything like the highlarious email I received today from “strongngentle4life” about my one-of-a-kind (size 6 only) onyx skull ring.
“First off, this is bull!
“Contact us for pricing. Serious inquiries only.” ?
How can someone be serious when you’re obviously not?
Either way: What’s the co$t on a size 11, 13, and/or 14 in the ** Onyx Skull Ring & how soon can I get one to LA?”
I literally LOL‘d while I replied that those sizes were not available. I did NOT elaborate on the “co$t.”
A painful lesson I’ve learned over the years is that not all customers are good ones and not every sale is worth making. Here’s my The Bitchtastic Guide to Business™ tip of the day: if you give it away for free, no one is going to volunteer to pay for it later. Applied to my business, that means if I give a new customer with financial means a discount, s/he will only ask for a steeper discount next time. I could have made a satisfactory amount of money by selling the onyx skull to several discount-seeking 1%-ers over the years. But I could see their other jewelry/art/Birkins/etc. cost many multiples of my asking price. That says to me that they don’t respect the value of my work. When someone doesn’t respect the value of my work, the business relationship isn’t going to be advantageous to me in the long run. I will happily wear the onyx skull ring myself for the rest of my life before I sell it for less than it’s worth, so if you decide to ask for the price of my top-of-the-line pieces, do it respectfully or do what this $300 necklace suggests: