Many people have this impression that negotiations are ruthless and that one party always comes out gaining the upper hand. This isn’t exactly accurate as Bethany Sloggett illustrates what should be happening during a good negotiation. As the Head of Consulting and Design at YouNique Kitchens & Bath, Bethany finds herself every day in negotiation rooms filled with men. In this conversation with Christine McKay, Bethany highlights the importance of staying at the negotiation table, especially if you’ll lose leverage by leaving, sharing a story about continuing with a negotiation while nursing her four-month-old baby at a table with three men. She explains how wearing our heart a little bit more on our sleeves and showing our authentic selves will take our negotiations, conversations, and partnerships to a new level.
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Three Men, One Woman, and a Newborn Walk into a Negotiation with Bethany Sloggett
Welcome back to another episode, where we help you, the small and midsize company elevate and level-up your negotiation. We do that by bringing you this amazing guest who wealth of experience across section of industries and to talk about things that they’ve done and learned in their processes of negotiation. I have a special guest, somebody who I’ve known for several years, who is a dear friend, and one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I have always considered her to be a genius at business. She has this natural inclination toward taking something from something small to something significant. She’s good at it. She has this Midas touch in the things that she does.
I am proud to bring to you Bethany Sloggett, who is the Founder and Co-owner with her husband of YouNique, which is a kitchen and bath construction company. I’m going to let her explain it more as I always do. We work together at a company called Knightsbridge in Toronto. It was a human resources firm. That’s where Bethany and I met. We were selling together a part of a division that they were starting. That’s how I met her. She used to be in the horse business, which she took from nothing to $6 million in no time. She’s this incredibly amazing person and also the mom of three amazing boys. Bethany, welcome. I am excited to have you here. It’s good to see you.
That’s a beautiful introduction. Thank you, Christine. Back at you. This is exciting. I’m happy to talk to you about our business and some of the things that we’ve done to help grow it and negotiate along the way.
Tell us more about the business and tell us how you got to this point.Choose your own vulnerabilities and turn them into strengths. Click To Tweet
It’s quite interesting. The business more from a personal decision. I am in my second marriage. Along with the second marriage came a second family in the context that I had children young. I was twenty when I had my first. I entered into my second relationship in my mid-30s. My husband hadn’t had children yet and he wanted to. He also wanted to raise our family somewhat differently than what it had looked like with my older boys, Jordan and Colton. He wanted to slow down. He wanted to be able to move out to more of a country setting, more rural, which for us was Northumberland County. My career didn’t exist where we were moving.
Before this, I was in consulting, operations and often starting new businesses for larger companies and trying to get them off the ground. The Northumberland market doesn’t offer those types of opportunities. We flipped a few houses together. We’ve met a company along the way. I said to my husband, “I will move out to that region of the GTA under the pretense that we buy this company.” At first, my husband was like, “You’re crazy. You’re going to call this person and say, ‘I want to buy your business.’” I’m like, “Yeah. That’s my intention.” He’s like, “You can’t do that.” I said, “Hypothetically, I could do that.” He says, “Yes.” “Are you going to let me buy this business because that’s what I want to do?” He shook his head and was like, “Sure.” It was probably one of Andrews’s first times of ever seeing something that I would call a pipe dream in the minute turned into something that was going to be a reality. We ended up moving and buying the business.
At the time, it was doing about $600,000 in revenue. Andrew thought to himself, “This is going to be great for her. She’s going to have a job and something to do out there. She’ll be happy.” About a year into the business, I phoned him, and I was like, “It’s tripled the size. I either need to hire somebody like you or you need to join our company because I’m busting at the seams here.” The interesting part about that is that I would try to often talk to him about what was happening in the business. He was also a senior person in his role. He didn’t want to come home, review financials and talk about the operations of our business. He went from not knowing much about what I was doing to joining the company and was like, “What is happening here?” Right down to the balance team, he didn’t know anything about it.
That’s the real reason fell behind where we wanted to live and raise our boy. When we first started negotiating the deal to buy the business, he was only three months old. We’d fully bought it by the time he was seven months and made the decision that I wasn’t going to go back to work until he was nine months old. There was a two-month period where we were doing all of our WIP. For those who aren’t familiar with that term, that means work in progress. I was very much behind the scenes, developing all the marketing and the branding, working through WIP, balancing out the books, and then officially walked into the business. September 15th of 2014 was the first day that I walked in and it was like, “This is what I’m doing now.” It was exciting.
One of the things that I talk a lot about is the negotiation that we have in our heads. That’s often the hardest part of any negotiation. We talk ourselves out of things before we even engage a counterpart. I love that story because you knew and did it and that negotiation was with Andrew.
The first part of the negotiation was with Andrew in the context of like, “Do I have your buy-in? If this is going to happen, are you with me?” We talked about what was happening in the meetings when I’d come home from them. I was in a room with five men, a real estate agent who is a part of the deal, an accountant, the owner of the business, their lawyer, our lawyer. I was nursing my four-month-old baby. I was breastfeeding and trying to explain where we saw the books from a financial position.
I remember there being a feeling of vulnerability because I didn’t want to stop the momentum that was happening in the room. To me, that was the vulnerable part of the equation. Leaving the room and excusing myself to nurse was more vulnerable than me saying, “We’re in the middle of a good conversation, but he needs to eat. I’m going to get myself set up. I need 30 seconds and then I want to keep going.” That was less vulnerable than having to excuse myself from the room. That’s a weird feeling. If you were in a room full of women, it would even be somewhat intimidating.
I planned my outfit. I made sure that I wore the right bra, the right shirt so that it didn’t make anybody else feel uncomfortable. There was never a boob-out moment, so to speak. Everybody was well aware that underneath my shawl I was nursing. If the momentum had stopped there and I’d excused myself at that point in the conversation, I know that the outcome of the cost that we ended up to acquire the business for would have been jeopardized. It would have given them an opportunity to have conversations that I wasn’t privy to.
The fact that you were nursing at the time, stood in your power and permitted yourself to be who you were at that moment in that negotiation with those guys, is one of the reasons why I love you. You do this consistently. It’s something that’s part of your nature that I’ve seen over and over. I am completely not surprised that you did that. Few women would do that whether they’re talking with five other women or talking with five guys. What do you think allowed you to make that decision to say, “This is what this is going to be,” and not sit and question that? What do you think drove that for you?
It’s a question of what is your true vulnerability. When I was with Knightsbridge, I was one of the only people who would have been considered somewhat part of the management team that didn’t have even a Bachelor of Arts, let alone a Harvard MBA or a PhD. I spent the early part of my time there asking for permission to have a voice because I wasn’t the most educated person in the room. I won’t tell you who because that’s a personal thing and these are all people that we’re all familiar with. This person pulled me aside and said to me, “Don’t discount yourself. You may not have the education that other people in this room have, but that’s also because your brain works entirely differently than a lot of people in the room the way that their brain works. I never want to see you send me an email outside of a meeting that could have had a massive amount of impact instead of saying it in the room.” That permission factor. You choose what your vulnerability is.
If I had continued to choose that my vulnerability was that I didn’t have a BA or an MBA to let that lead me through my time with Knightsbridge, I probably would have ended up being a good back end. I would have been able to continue to be in that operations role, developing processes and helping fix things from behind. Finding your voice is what allows you to progress. At that time, my vulnerability shifted. Not from I shouldn’t be speaking but rather, other people don’t have the right to present my ideas anymore. I’m not going to send the email out to a senior person, which makes me look like a non-contributor in the meeting. I changed my focus at that time. That’s where I would pin it to. That moment might have been a change.
In terms of the vulnerability at that time, yes, I’m breastfeeding. Yes, that is the nature of where I am. We have momentum in this room. If I leave, I am more vulnerable than if I stay and do what makes me uncomfortable. It’s not comforting to do that. For lack of a better term, it takes balls. Am I going to leave my balls in the room or am I going to take them with me and pack my bag? That’s the difference between staying, owning what you have, and the circumstances that you’re in, be it I don’t have an MBA or I’m breastfeeding a child. If I don’t contribute, all will be lost.
On the personal side of that, I was negotiating in that room, at that time, not as a corporate consultant who’s working with somebody else’s money. I was representing my family and our family’s money. A 20% to 30% variable on what we pay versus what we pay in royalties made a difference between us going into this business incredibly financially stable versus putting ourselves in a position where we might need leverage. Our goal was to not have to borrow to do the things that we wanted to do. Ultimately, that was my responsibility. At that moment, had I walked out, we might have had a different outcome, choose your vulnerability.
My philosophy in negotiation is that negotiation is a conversation about a relationship. You cannot win a relationship. When you think about relationships, vulnerability is critical to it. Knowing when to be vulnerable and to what degree to be vulnerable and how that vulnerability will impact you is also important. Not everyone has the greatest intentions on the other side of the table. There’s a lot of research around this. When people go into a negotiation, there’s an automatic assumption for the majority of people that the other side is going to be deceptive. They’re going to lie to us. They’re trying to take advantage of us.
The reality is that if you can move away from that and understand where your vulnerability is going to take you and allow yourself to be vulnerable, it improves the odds of a more effective negotiation outcome. That’s exactly what you did. You showed your vulnerability. You knew that there’s limited risk in being vulnerable by nursing in the room, but there was an exceptional amount of risk if you were to leave the room.
The other part that’s important and that we talked a lot about on the show is getting clarity. You were clear in what it was you wanted and what you were willing to pay to get it. Knowing that and knowing what those objectives were also contributed to your ability to be vulnerable. While it may appear on the surface to have been vulnerable to nurse in front of five guys, in the end, that wasn’t the most vulnerable place to be. You were able to turn something that others would think was vulnerable and turn it into a power play. It was a powerful move to show your seriousness and dedication to create leverage for yourself in that negotiation.
One thing that we often forget is that we do have the power to choose. You’re faced with a choice. I don’t want to generalize that it’s just women. It can be men as well. Sometimes, the thing that seems the hardest is the simplest thing to do. It’s getting over what are people going to think. People aren’t going to think anything if I leave the room and go and nurse. They’re going to be like, “That could have been uncomfortable for us.” That’s probably what’s going to go through their head if I leave. If I stay, do I care what they think? The truth is I do care. That happened to be a time that I made the right decision. They saw my dedication to the business. They saw more of my dedication to the outcome of the negotiation.
I hope that everyone who’s reading takes that story and that experience and thinks about what are the things that you’re doing in your business and in your negotiation where you’re assuming that something vulnerable is a weakness versus taking that and leveraging it as a strength. Use it to create more leverage in your negotiation. As you’re reading, think about that for a minute. What is something that you can do in your negotiation to turn vulnerability into a strength? That’s important.
When we wear our heart a little bit more on our sleeves, it takes negotiation, conversation, communication, and partnership to a new level. We start to layer on a little bit of empathy as well. We are still all human. We all have our personal lives, family lives, and our health. Getting to know somebody through negotiation on a more empathetic and somewhat personal level, especially with small businesses and small communities. These people are never going to one day not be there. The person who we bought our business from has been a client of ours. We still have a strong relationship. I could pick up the phone with him and say, “How are you doing?” We could easily speak for half an hour.
That’s the difference between win-loss versus your overall approach. Partnership, compassion, empathy, being you and showing people your vulnerabilities often lead to an outcome where they don’t want the best thing for themselves. They genuinely also want the best thing for you and your family. We have this impression of what negotiations look like. Sometimes they’re downright not kind and not thoughtful of how the other person or company is going to come out of this. It’s like that venture capital approach. We see it on all TV shows. Too much exposure to that type of television and that type of journalism creates a different impression on what should be happening during a good negotiation.Always start off any negotiation with complete transparency, because clarity breeds trust. Click To Tweet
I get frustrated with the traditional view. I got to interview Jillian Michaels for my podcast. I was on her show, which was an honor. She’s an amazing woman. She said, “Business is war.” A couple of weeks later, somebody else told me, “Business is war.” I’m like, “That is the biggest crock of baloney. It’s bullcrap.” Business is not war. War is war. We have a huge infrastructure that causes us to try to avoid war. We are constantly trying to avoid going to war. Do not treat your business that way. If you encounter people who do, walk the hell away from them. There are many nice people in the world to do business with. You do not need to do business with a bunch of bullies.
I get asked a lot, “What do you do when the stakes are high and this person is being an ass?” In the negotiation, I’m like, “If the person is being a jerk on the negotiation, they’re going to be a bigger one when the deal is done. They’re going to be a bigger pain in the neck and more horrible than they are in the negotiation.” This comes back to clarity. In marketing, people talk about, “Who’s your avatar?” I’m like, “If you’re defining an avatar of who you’re trying to sell to, what’s their personality like? How do they treat your people? How do they treat you? How do they treat their people? How do they treat their other customers?” These things matter because if you start doing business with people who become time sinks for you because they’re jerks and they treat your people badly, that increases your costs. You’re going to lose people. You’re going to lose employees if that becomes your customer-base.
You’re hitting the nail on the head in terms of what I would argue is YouNique’s overall approach to clients. One of the first things that I ask a client outside of our interest is what type of project are you doing? One of the first questions I ask is, what are the three things that you are looking for in a partner? If expertise, overall relationship, and the trust factor aren’t included in the top three, I can pretty much say, “I don’t think that we’re the right company for you.” If somebody says, “I’m basing this based on price,” that is fine. We need to have a deep conversation about your overall expectations.
I’ve heard people say, “I haven’t been asked this by any other contractors.” I’m like, “You haven’t outlaid any of your expectations, but you’ve received a price.” That price is probably going to be low. It’s probably going to be ridiculous per square foot number. It might meet every single one of your expectations, but there’s a chance that you’re going to start down the path based on believing something is going to cost you $50,000. When, in fact, you start layering in all of your expectations and you start articulating what you want, what your design ideas are, how you want things to function, the size of your family, all of a sudden, that $50,000 turns into $80,000.
If you want to work with us to help create the sum sheet, we’re happy to consult with you to make sure that you are putting out a proper scope of work, fully articulating all of your expectations. You can pay us for that body of work. You can go out and you can take it to RFP. As a building group, YouNique is still going to quote on that and we will compete with other people based on the sum sheet that I wrote. You will pay for that upfront consulting. That’s a shift we made in our business. I had it coming through the overall COVID and lockdowns and restrictions. I’m like, “We can bring back our entire team of designers to sit here on a quoting wheel. We can continue to do business the way that we used to, which is quoting or we’re going to up our game.” We’re going to take the portfolio of 700 projects that we have done, which is a decent portfolio. That is a lot of projects.
They’re beautiful. I was checking out your Instagram. You’ve done some beautiful work.
The other thing that’s important about that work in that portfolio that you’re seeing is that inside of that entire body of work, in the history of our company, we have processed two change orders. There have been two times in the history of our company that something has changed in the project that has impacted it enough that it needs to go to a change order process. We start with full transparency. I worked with a client. I’ve been involved with them. We signed off on a pretty significant renovation. It’s over $250,000. It’s significant in the fact that the house is 140 years old with multiple additions. There’s going to be some things. Paint colors are already chosen. All of the things that you usually are having to negotiate throughout the process with your contractor are satisfied. We get to focus on the overall home.
I don’t think that there’s a chance that their project is going to creep over what it is. I am confident. The partnership that we have developed is what they were seeking from the outset. You know you’ve met the right client when, first of all, they’re willing to pay us for all of our consulting and our expertise. They didn’t take anything to RFP. Their choice was after working with you through all of this, we don’t want to work with anybody else. We understand that we are a larger organization. We are brick and mortar. We have multiple locations. We have overheads. Some contractors’ overhead are their cell phone bill and the logo that’s on the side of their truck. That is their infrastructure.
We do know that you’re probably more expensive than that but we don’t want to talk to anybody else every day. Let’s go forward with everything that you’ve proposed. There were significant moments of negotiation inside of that, but both of us had to make sacrifices. There was a budget that they wanted to live within. There were certain things that inside of that budget were unachievable. If we borrowed from this and you lowered your expectations slightly here, we can now prioritize that. Not only are we in negotiation between ourselves and our clients, but we’re also in a negotiation with our clients in terms of what are you willing to give up for yourself so that you can maintain this? These are the costs associated with two of those large priorities that you’ve spoken about. If your budget isn’t going to allow for both of them, we need you to figure out which one is most important.
A big part of our job is aligning overall expectations on what you’re getting to the overall expectation on what you’re willing to spend. Unfortunately, in our industry, that’s not the approach. The approach is to go and bid low. Once you’re in the house, as people want to change things, you say, “We didn’t have the budget for that. That’s more.” Our feeling is that’s always created tension between the contractor and the homeowner. You’re constantly talking about things costing more versus if you start with a good consulting engagement and then you start the project, we’re not talking about the fact that we had an $8 square foot backsplash budget for your tile and you’ve told me something that’s $35. You’re going to have to pay the difference of that. All of that is done before we even take a hammer to a wall, so to speak.
Ever since I’ve known you, this is something that I’ve always seen you as being exceptional at and that is this clarity. You influence and you move your client to get clear, which is hard. When they’re doing construction, people get an idea and then they get another idea. There are some TV shows that my husband and I love to watch about construction and stuff. There’s a lot in the UK and Australia primarily. You see some of these people and it’s like, “I had this window design and now I’m going to move the window by four feet this other direction.” You know it.
You see the dollar sign and you can see that interaction that you’re talking about in terms of the contractors and stuff and how it’s like, “This is more and this is more.” Versus figuring out and motivating them to get clear on what it is that they want upfront, which helps you then deliver a more effective project. With that clarity, you get to be clear in terms of what you need and what your expectations are from your suppliers. That clarity has a massive impact all the way through the supply chain.
We like to start with complete transparency. When we’re talking to a client and they’re asking us to design for them and they won’t articulate a budget, I say, “I don’t think that this is going to work because you don’t trust me to help advocate for you and help make decisions with you.” That’s the only way that we can work together. I can’t tell you, Christine, how many times the expectations are way up here. We get down to the bottom of the quoting process and the budget was way down here.
If we hadn’t been able to close the gap on those expectations so that people can decide and do some financing or whatever, you’ve invested all kinds of time. The client’s time but also your own time to be able to realize that you hadn’t leveled the playing field or earned any trust throughout the process. If you present somebody with a $100,000 budget and they intended to spend $40,000 and you hadn’t helped them make the decisions to be on $40,000, maybe you need to go to $60,000 to have some of these things. You’re not an expert. You’re not a consultant. All you’re doing is quoting.Being in business during these times is like being in the hardest yoga pose you’ve ever been in. You need to be strong, flexible and agile. Click To Tweet
One of the most significant decisions that we’ve made in our business is that we’ve broken it out. First, we are consulting and design firm. You pay us to be involved in that engagement. Secondly, we are supply and sourcing. You talk about vendors and that domino effects. Lastly, we are a construction firm. We can be everything from start to finish. We’re in the process of changing our branding to be able to align more to what we’re doing. We will be converting entirely to YouNique building group so that we can house all three of those aspects. Like any other business, we bought a cabinet company. We bought a company that put cabinets and houses, all new construction, all new build. The evolution of the business has brought us to where we are now.
As you can imagine, it’s a strange time to be investing in an overall marketing strategy. At this point, our brick and mortar organization is giving us no value. We’re not even allowed to open our stores. It’s a strange time because we don’t know the outside of the secondary lockdown and what is to come for the rest of 2021. Arguably, are we still going to be in this dance in 2022? We’re negotiating almost with ourselves in terms of when is the right time to go through rebranding and how do we take the temperature of a market that we don’t even understand because nothing is normal?
What 2020 and 2021 will continue to teach us is there is no such thing as certainty anywhere in anything at all. The most that we can hope for is clarity. We were talking before about the roller coaster, ebb and flow, and this anticipation of that model, fluidity. You like to get clear that fluidity piece was an uncomfortable growth moment for you, having to go through that as much because you like to have things more structured and planned out.
You can help me validate this. You know me from a business perspective as well as anybody else. I’ve always thought that I’ve been comfortable with a U-turn. We’ve been going in this direction. It’s not working. We got to turn this ship. We got to be ready for this ship to take the time that it’s going to turn. It’s not going to be 60 days, 90 days. It’s going to take us probably nine months to make the shift. I’ve always been good at that. I don’t think that we were ready for it. I say myself and my husband because we both have a little bit of the same mentality in this way. I explained it to him when we were reading about some of the scandals, the Enron scandals, and everything else. Do you know when you got into those pages in that book when they’re like, “Start shredding?” You’re like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” It’s at that point where the FBI is coming in.
The week of the state of emergency in Ontario in Canada, the amounts of decisions that we made in a six-hour chunk, the morning of the state of emergency, we have bins going on driveways. We’re starting demolitions. By two 2:00, those bins were up back on. Clients are saying, “We can’t do this.” Our team is saying, “We can’t do this.” You’re going to launch several projects. At the end of the day, we laid off sixteen people. The shift that happened on that day is something that I’ve never experienced before.
If somebody said, “There will be a day that you will run your business and in a matter of ten hours, you will go from being able to count the revenue that’s coming in to laying off employees and almost closing the book.” I would have said, “That will never happen because that is a poorly run business. Businesses should never run that way.” We’re handling this shutdown far better than what we handled the first because we’ve experienced it once. We talked about that cyclical movement of like, “We’re opened up. We’re in stage one.” We’ve done this many times in Ontario that we feel comfortable with that decision-making. Before that, you would say that there will be a point in time where you’re making business decisions day by day, week by week, even in monthly increments.
The ability to do long-term planning changed. The horizon for long-term planning is much shorter.
It’s 90 days and that’s if nothing happens that you have no control over.
You build in flexibility to be able to manage it.
I wouldn’t even call this fluid anymore. I don’t know yoga well, but I feel like this is the hardest yoga pose you’ve ever been in. It’s not flexibility. You need to be strong, flexible and agile. The word is so much bigger than fluid.
One of the things that come out of it is how do you create a network of partners that help you withstand the storm? One of the women in my network is Angel. She does media. She was sharing a story about redwoods. Redwoods grow super tall, but the root system is shallow and interconnected. How do you build those partnerships to create that interconnectivity to be stronger as a whole? It’s important. When you are clear on what it is you’re trying to do and what your ultimate objective is, it makes it easier to be able to identify who those partners are. That’s important. We’re going to see more of that. I don’t see that going away for a long time. This is the new normal.
The people who are still talking about pivoting, the time for pivoting is long gone. If you didn’t pivot in April 2020, you’re way behind the eight ball on things. Bethany, I have loved this conversation. We’ve been able to touch on things that I haven’t touched on in any of our other episodes so far. I’m excited about that. I knew you were going to bring a different flavor to the conversation, which is why I was excited that we were able to get you on the show. How do people find you? How do people find your business and all that good stuff?
We’re on Facebook, YouNique Kitchens & Bath. We’re online. YouNique.build is our website. We’re on Instagram, @YouNique_Kitchens. We’re going to see some changes to a lot of these things as we go through some rebranding. If anybody wants to talk about design, we can design pretty much anywhere as well. We’re Ontario-based. We’d love to expand and spend some time in Cali as well. You can email me, Bethany@YouNique.build. It’s probably the best way.
You’re such an amazing person. I’m honored to know you, consider you a friend, watch you grow as a person, and as a business person. It’s been amazing. I appreciate you so much. To the audience, thank you so much for reading this. We cannot wait to see you for our next episode. Stay tuned. Happy negotiating and we will catch you later. Thank you.
- Jillian Michaels – Previous episode on YouTube
- YouNique Kitchens & Bath – Facebook
- @YouNique_Kitchens – Instagram
About Bethany Sloggett
My path to YouNique is unconventional, having spent most of my career in management positions with Consulting and Human Resource firms including Knightsbridge and Randstad. While “flipping” houses with my husband Andrew and through our own renovations, I realized that project management, design and renovations were more than just a part of our strategy in real estate – it was a passion.
From there, an idea was born – to build a company focused on clients’ specific needs during a renovation, remodel or build. Today, YouNique is making its mark, one happy client at a time, as a full-service Design, Supply and Build firm, partnering with many local businesses to drive an outstanding client experience.
Bethany is a serial entrepreneur who enjoys now building her family’s business. Bethany still spends a lot of her time coaching young entrepreneurs who are looking to build client-centric companies. She often focuses this coaching on strong processes management, operations, financial acumen and strategy.
Bethany is a mother of three boys 21, 18 and 7, family is the core of Bethany’s value system, she is also an avid equestrian who enjoys spending her personal time away from her family at North Hero Farm.