By Jan David Winitz, president/founder Claremont Rug Company
In recent months, I have been writing articles on a variety of topics related to collecting antique Oriental rugs from the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (ca. 1800 to ca. 1910), and emailing a new piece to our international clientele each Friday, which you may have seen. But here I wanted to deviate a bit to describe some of the more positive aspects of our experience and that of our clients in these unsettling times.
Despite having to shutter our physical Claremont Rug Company gallery for most of the past five months, I am tremendously proud to report that our global client community has responded with a deeper sense of connection, telling us that their antique Oriental rugs provide solace and emotional support as they deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While I am surprised, I also understood their responses.
We experienced a similar phenomenon after 9/11. People want to talk about something that inspires them and improves their quality of life. And the finest antique Oriental rugs have always had that ethos about them.
Frankly, we were somewhat rattled by the shelter-in-place orders that came on March 16. We generally sold through the physical Gallery or in-home showings. Within 24 hours, those avenues were both shut down. That was a big shock—obviously.
I immediately asked our website designers to revamp the website, enhancing the visual and educational aspects, and we began a twice-weekly educational email correspondence with clients, who reside on six continents.
We’ve always understood that our elite-level clientele was busy and often lacked the time to focus on making such a sizable purchase. But now time was something they had. They are used to having incredibly active lives, but how many Netflix movies can you watch? We realized that if we approached our clients in the right way, we could have an audience with the time and inclination to read and absorb what we sent.
I also knew that our website would need enhancements to create a virtual gallery that some clients have told that they are spending upward to an hour a day on.
Working “around the clock,” our website company delivered many improvements, adding multiple images for each rug, beefing up the search and wish list functionalities, almost doubling the size of the Education section, and generally enriching the user experience. The effect of this great effort has been to orient our clients to the many possibilities that antique rugs offer and allow them to search more precisely for the rugs they were looking for. Because our sales team is available to take calls for extended hours, we have had time to nurture deeper relationships with clients.
We’ve added more videos and articles to make the site more of a destination. Remarkably, it took only three weeks to make many of the improvements that we had been talking about for two years.
Client Response was Immediate
Clients responded immediately, relating to me that they began to see themselves as part of a community who understood and appreciated, at a deep level, the impact of antique Oriental rugs had on their lives. We were no longer only a gallery and they weren’t just our clients. They genuinely wanted to be partners, as together we explored rugs, looked at them and evaluated how the pieces might fit into their lives. And they could do it without leaving their residences.
Great rugs are profound artworks, but they are also reflections of the society of their weavers whose ethos values balance, harmony, and a connection with nature. These 19th century crafts persons lived in a world that was elemental, one in which they were inspired by the cosmos. The greatest examples of what they wove are endlessly fascinating, and by taking more time to converse with us, many more clients have begun to understand this.
There is a rug that has hung behind my desk in my office for 40 years, and there are days when I take the time to look at it closely. Each time I do this, I know that I am seeing something in it for the first time. I have clients who tell me that “rugs have come part of my emotional life.” And more now than perhaps ever in their lifetimes.
A lot of the interest is in high-end, elite-level carpets, what we classify as the High-Collectible and Connoisseur-Caliber pieces on our proprietary Oriental Rug Market Pyramid ™. There is a particularly keen interest in the finest Caucasian tribal rugs and prized Mohtasham Kashan Persian formal rugs on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Claremont Collection
At Claremont, our forte is extremely difficult-to procure “High-Collectible (Level 2) rugs and “Connoisseur-Caliber” (Level 3) pieces. Level 1 rugs, woven during the First Golden Age (ca. 1300 to ca. 1800), are primarily held in museums and by royal families and are rarely available. Our rugs, over 2500 from the Second Golden Age, are valued in the $5,000 to more than $500,000 per piece range.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we also instituted pricing and shipping incentives. Clients can now create their own online “private gallery,” with extensive wish lists of rugs they are interested in for each space in their homes.
With my wife, Christine, I opened the Gallery in 1980. We built our website in the mid-1990s when a client, the co-founder of Adobe Systems, suggested that it, along with the internet, could be a useful educational and marketing vehicle.
Now, we have expanded the site’s SEO capabilities. Immediately, inquiries increased across-the-board, both from previous clients and from an influx of new ones who had conducted their own internet research. We are now dealing with five times as many international clients as pre-COVID. On a typical day, we may interact with people who reside in London, Paris, Sydney, and Tel Aviv, as well as callers from California, Florida, Iowa, and Texas.
More than ever, we are approaching marketing as an educational endeavor. There has been extremely positive feedback for our twice-weekly communications. Another measure of how well our clients have received this approach is the new free shipping “on approval” process we’ve instituted during this period. Virtually none of the rugs that we shipped on approval have been returned.
A continuing major trend is our clients’ assembly of “Whole Home Collections” that include the major rooms of the residence as well as many secondary spaces and rugs used for wall display. Another significant development is the burgeoning interest in acquiring rugs for storage and future use by clients for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. That interest has increased during the pandemic as more buyers are looking for “rare tangible assets” and continuing to build private collections.
As one client wrote in an email, “reading the information that you send me about rugs has become part of my daily ritual and is a big part of my emotional life.”
For us, helping clients build antique rug collections that are both personally satisfying and financially rewarding is a gratifying outcome during a difficult time. I think that we all cherish these moments of intimacy that Oriental rugs can bring to a conversation or to a room.