Operators should also read the contract thoroughly. Dale Payne, sales manager for Sovran Self Storage Inc., which manages Uncle Bob's Self Storage facilities, says he makes notes and highlights problem areas, then lists items in the order they appear on the contract for reference. "You will also find by doing this you take control of the negotiation by being prepared," he says. "The other side will respect the time you took to understand the contract."
Don't be afraid to ask questions, adds Zucker. "If you don't understand the contract, it will really be difficult for a judge or jury to interpret it later," Zucker says.
If all else fails, you can always go back to numbers, Payne says. Dates, percentages and dollar amounts should match what you agreed on. Even if the legal language is a nightmare, concrete numbers will always help to indicate whether both parties are on the same page.
Understanding the terms of the contract is key to negotiations, Dixon says. "If there is any misunderstanding in the end product/service, then you will fail at the final negotiations."
Look for Resources
If you're inexperienced with contracts, you don't have to figure them out on your own, as there are a number of resources to help you define contract terms and zero in on problem areas:
- Attorneys: Most operators likely retain an attorney now and again to handle any legal questions. "When it comes to the language of a contract, it was probably written by an attorney, and you would be wise to have a lawyer who represents your interests review the contract and approve or make changes," Payne says.
- Co-workers: You can also find someone in your company who negotiates contracts regularly. "Usually an experienced negotiator can quickly find items in the contract that may need clarification or an overhaul," says Payne.
- Other operators: Look for peers who have gone through the negotiations, Dixon says. "They can sometimes get you a shortcut to the proper person in the organization or point you to the best product/service to suit your needs."
- State associations: You can also contact your state association to help decipher a confusing contract. Many associations retain legal council for their members, have board members who frequently deal with contracts, or can refer you to another source.
Get What You Need: Negotiate Honestly
Honesty is central to the contract process. Be fair and let vendors know you're getting quotes from others, Dixon says. "The result is typically the best price for what you are looking to purchase, because they will know others are looking to provide a service to you as well."