So Allan does it for them. His customer negotiates the best price on something, say a car (but it also might be a mortgage, health insurance, or anything that amounts to more than $1,000). Then the customer calls Allan and asks him to beat that price. If Allan does, he gets half the savings. Recently, he made a deal for Morton Mindell, who'd been shopping around Baltimore for a lease on a 2007 Lexus ES 350. The best Mindell could do was $559 a month for 36 months. He'd seen an article in the Baltimore Sun about Allan, so he called Negotiate4U. "I thought the price was high, but I got what, for me, was the best deal I could," Mindell says. "I figured I'd give Allan a try, but how was he going to do any better?"

Allan called around in Baltimore, but he ended up at the same Lexus dealership - with a price of $489 a month for 36 months, a savings of $70 a month, or $2,520 over the life of the lease.

"I did a pretty decent job of wheeling and dealing," Mindell says, "so I was surprised when Allan came back with that price. I paid Allan half the savings - and I was happy to do it."

So how does Allan do it? Is it the joking? The beyond-all-reason enthusiasm for negotiating? The competitive spirit that led him to one-up the Stark Office Supply purchasing agents? The two-way, schmooze­fest? I ask Allan, and he says anyone can do it, "but most people are more afraid of negotiating than they are of a root canal."

A simple matter of chutzpah, then? But if that's the case, Levine wouldn't roll his eyes at the car buyers who keep asking for more, more, more.

By now, I know that Allan's daughters have made big money in sales. One of them, Julie Stark, has already told me she learned everything she needed to know at her father's knee. So I go back to her with a list of questions. "I can't give away all his little tricks," she says tantalizingly, "but I'll tell you this: He takes an interest in people."

Julie says her dad has a way of making others feel good, of making them comfortable. All right, that I know from personal experience.She says he's always respectful of other people's time (asking, "Is this a good time to talk?" or saying, "I'm sure you're very busy, so I won't keep you; I just wanted to ask …"). She says he's incredibly persuasive. Indeed.

Then I appeal to Amy Stark. How does your dad do it? "People negotiate every day of their lives," she says sagely. "The difference between most people and my father is that he does it with heart."

She says he reads people extremely well. He cares about helping people get the best solution they can. He loves to make people laugh.

And, she adds, he's creative and strategic. But so am I, and Sears has never handed me a TV the size of a Lichtenstein at $1,000 below retail.

So I go back to Allan himself. I ask again why he's so good at negotiating. He talks about loving his job, enjoying people, and soon.

Then he says, "There's a fine line between persevering and being a pain in the butt."

Allan believes he has a built-in sensor for the perseverance-pain line. He knows, intuitively, when he's just one step away - and that's where he stops. So people like Levine and Brown take his calls willingly, and, knowing he'll call again, bringing them more business, they'll give him a deal.

Sounds easy. Maybe easier than it is. But Julie says watching her dad in action is a short course in efficient deal making. Even someof his clients have written to say they've negotiated better because of him. "He lives to get those e-mails," she says.

Does he? Or does he live to get the call from someone like Mindell, who thinks he's negotiated the best possible price but is contacting Allan just to issue a dare: I don't believe you can, but go ahead, make my deal.

“I love it!” Allan says. “I guess it’s a bit of the devil in me.”

He laughs. Then he says, “Did you know that, on your car’s fuel gauge, next to the little picture of the gas tank, there’s an arrow? It points to the side of the car your tank is on. You’ll never have to get out of a rental car to check again.”

That’s Allan, spreading good cheer again. Now if he can only negotiate to get his daughters to stop calling him before 10 a.m. on weekends, he’ll be a really happy man.

Get What You Want
How does Allan Stark work his negotiating magic? By knowing and adhering to these five tenets.

1. Know Your opponent.

Know with whom you’re negotiating — his or her weak points as well as strong points.

2. Know Your Subject.

As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

3. Lighten Up.

Most likely, the future of humankind is not in the balance.

4. Know When to Stop.

Enough is enough. There comes a point when more gets you less. Your paths may cross again, and you don’t want an opponent who is wary of you.

5. Everybody Wins.

If the seller feels as if he or she has not lost, you’ve been successful.