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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.

I have this, the 16th edition; I need to upgrade to the 17th. Click to purchase on Amazon.

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.

Click to see on Harry Winston’s website.

I don’t (YET!) have anything in Winston’s range, but I’m not Topshop either. So, you can buy my $14,000 peridot-and-diamond Susan earrings online …

Click to purchase.

… but you have to ask about my Empress Wu dragon earrings.

Click to see more photos, but not to purchase.

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.”

No onyx skull for you, bitch!

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:

“Get the Fuck Outta Here” necklace in sterling silver. Click to purchase for $300.


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25 Responses to “Who Said “If You Have to Ask the Price, You Can’t Afford It”?”

  1. déjà pseu says:

    Still in love with those earrings! I hope they find a loving and well-heeled home. (And that I see them on the red carpet coverage someday!)

  2. Pearl says:

    Well said, people often seem to think they are entitled to something.

    • WendyB says:

      More than one person has asked me what my cost was so s/he can then decide how much I should get above cost. Obviously, I did NOT reveal that information!

  3. I love how you educate your readers on how manufacture, mark-up and sales work for something as high-end as your wonderful jewelry. People have been fed a diet of such cheap crap that they’ve come to believe that EVERYTHING should be cheap (in all ways).

    Honest, if my husband ever wins the lottery, I am going to commission something really cool from you. And I won’t blink at the price.

    I love my Wendy Brandes ring! It’s amazingly made and stands out from everything else I own. I am so glad I bought it.

    • WendyB says:

      If my husband wins the lottery, he knows I want to have two dogs, two cats, a small pig and a chinchilla. The pig will be named Pigatoni and the chinchilla will be named Magilla. Yes, we’re crazy and we don’t care.

  4. Your financial angle posts always distract me from studying :). So interesting that people with means will try to pay less than full value!

    Good for you blowing off strongngentle4life. What an idiot.

  5. Courtney says:

    I can always count on a WB post to brighten my day. After dealing with two unruly customers one after the other I had just sent a text to my boyfriend that I plan to change my business tagline to “GTFO” when I re-print my business cards…then I saw this post. Rude deal-seeking people drive me crazy, but for some reason it makes me feel just a bit better to know that I’m not suffering alone.

    Instead of printing it on my cards I might just have to get that necklace and call it my customer service uniform.

    • WendyB says:

      I’m dying laughing here — poor you. You have my sympathies! Are you just online? Or are you brick-and-mortar too? It’s the people in stores (and restaurants etc.) who I really feel for because any psycho can stroll in at any time. The stories I hear from my friends in retail blow my mind!

  6. Mary Panjari says:

    I’ll give you 50 bucks for that skull.

  7. I’m with Sheila, except I would have to win the lottery myself! And I love my ring too.

  8. Kath says:

    WB, here’s hoping one day your gorgeous designs are mine! Keep making dreams real!

  9. Wende says:

    I am not badass enough to wear that skull ring … but I wish I was badass enough to wear it… because it’s FABULOUS!

    Thank you for this post. It hit home as today I found myself defending my shipping prices of all things — I won’t trash talk the customer, but boy I did a double take at the email and then sighed and then politely affirmed my position. It’s hard to hold the line. And for the record… I’m not holding a $14,000 line –those are stunning earrings btw–but a $12 shipping line. You would think that would be easy, right? But it makes me question my own worth. So, thank you for the reminder!

  10. Julia Oso. says:

    Always love your posts about getting smart and with the bitchtastic tips included 🙂 When is the book coming out??

    As for the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”, this sounds like a Russian mindset lol This doesn’t apply to all Russians, of course, but to some or many. Made me laugh. Although I can see how in some way this can be true.

  11. Deena says:

    I’m starting a small clothing business and I am SO going to be referencing your posts. It really irks me when people balk at the price of a dress because they can get something similar in a department store at a fraction of the cost. So get thee to a department store then and stop trying to get on my nerves! They want you to work on something endlessly for hours on end then sell it for £100 or $100, whatever. NOT.GOING.TO.HAPPEN.

  12. Alison says:

    I have to say that skull ring is worth every penny you want for it. It is gorgeous! (as is all of your work) You are doing what I dreamed of doing since I was a teenager, so it’s so much fun for me to browse your online shop! Maybe someday I will be able to see some in person.

  13. Seems I am always thanking you for talking about stuff, and this post is no exception! I love your attention to attribution, and I just whiled away an enjoyable lunchtime with your “The Bitchtastic Guide to Business TM” posts. Amazing that counter-examples to a very basic orientation of respect are so very common.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    As much as I like to save money and pay the lowest price, there are some things that warrant paying full price. Friends’ jewelry or clothing designs are the first things that come to mind. I respect my friends’ work enough to pay whatever they ask me to, no questions asked.