A good reminder of this is Jim Anderson’s recent piece on The Total Cost Approach for Dealing with Unmovable Prices over on The Accidental Negotiator. As Jim notes, the purchase price of an item is not really the true price that we’re going to end up paying for it. There are lots of additional costs, fees, and services that go along with it. Ultimately it’s the total cost of what we’re going to end up paying that really counts, not just the initial purchase price. So if the seller won’t move on unit price, focus the negotiations on another cost component.
As Jim notes, if you’re buying fleet vehicles, negotiate on service costs, warranties, financing, etc. Decent (extended) warranties can easily run you over a thousand per vehicle, and if the vehicle is made well, this is all profit for the manufacturer (as the warranty will expire before something major goes wrong). Here’s an easy few hundred (or more) per vehicle with very little effort. Plus, your average vehicle will need (at least) a few thousand dollars of regular services over the first 60K miles / 100K kilometers, most of which is profit at high hourly service rates. If you’re buying in bulk, you can easily save thousands by negotiating a significantly lower hourly rate. And then financing could run you ten thousand or more per vehicle. Knocking a few percentage points off the rate can save you a small fortune.
If you look at the total cost, it’s often easy to negotiate quite a few percentage points away when you move away from the “fixed price” to the variable total cost components, some of which will be high margin (with lots of negotiating room). Especially since the seller will generally want your business and move where she has wiggle room.