OAKLAND— August 20, 2020 — Despite having to shutter his physical Claremont Rug Company gallery for most of the past five months, founder/president Jan David Winitz today reported that his global client community has responded with a deeper sense of connection observing that their antique Oriental rugs are providing them solace and emotional support as they deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While he was surprised, he also understood their responses.
“We experienced a similar phenomenon after 9/11,” he said. “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 fairly rattled by the shelter-in-place orders that came on March 16. We generally sold through our gallery or in-home showings. Within 24 hours, those avenues were both shut down. That was a big shock—obviously.”
Winitz immediately asked his website designers to revamp Claremont’s site (www.claremontrug.com), enhancing the visual and educational aspects, and began twice-weekly educational email correspondence with clients, who reside on six continents.
“We’ve always understood that one of our obstacles was that our elite-level clientele was so busy and lacked the time to focus on making such a sizable purchase,” he said. “But now time was something they had. These are people who are used to having incredibly active lives. I mean, how many Netflix movies can you watch?” says Winitz. “We realized, if we approached our clientele in the right way, we could have a captive audience.”
They also knew the website would need some enhancements to create a virtual gallery that some clients now mention spending upward to an hour a day on.
Working “around the clock,” his website company delivered multiple improvements, adding multiple images for each rug, beefing up the search and wishlist functionalities, almost doubling the size of its Education section and generally enriching the user experience. Winitz said, “This has oriented clients to the many possibilities that antique rugs offer and allowed them to more easily find what they were looking for.” He indicated that having his sales team available to take calls for extended hours has prompted many deeper relationships with clients.
“We’ve added more videos and articles to make the site more of a destination,” says Winitz. “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, telling Winitz 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 simply 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,” he said. “And they could do it without leaving their residences.
“Great rugs are profound artworks, but they are also reflections of the society of the weavers. Their ethos is one that values balance, harmony and a connection with nature,” he said. “The 19th century weavers 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,” he said, “and there are days when I take time to look at it closely and I know that I am still 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.”
On the empirical side, he saw a “tremendous interest” (a 60 per cent increase in inquiries from around the world) in rugs from the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” ca. 1800 to ca. 1910. As a result, his sales are actually up from last year.
Winitz said, “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™.” He said that there was particularly strong 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, Level 2 pieces are designated “High-Collectible” and Level 3 are “Connoisseur-Caliber.” 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. Rugs, over 2500 from the Second Golden Age, are valued in the $5,000 to more than $500,000 per piece range.
Winitz, who founded Claremont in 1980, has utilized the internet and built his first website in the mid-1990s when a client, the co-founder of Adobe Systems, suggested that it could be a useful educational and marketing vehicle.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Claremont instituted pricing and shipping incentives, Winitz said, “Clients can now create their own online ‘private gallery,’ with extensive wish lists of rugs they are interested in for each space in their home.”
He also expanded the site’s SEO capabilities. Immediately, inquiries increased across-the-board, both from previous clients and from an influx of new and those who had conducted their own internet research. “We are now dealing with five times as many international clients than pre-COVID,” he said. “On a typical day now, we might be interacting 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,” he said. “There has been extremely positive feedback for our twice weekly communications. Another measure of how well our approach has been received is the new free shipping ‘on approval’ process we’ve instituted during this period. Virtually none returned.”
A continuing major trend among clients, he said, is the assembly of “Whole Home Collections” that include the major rooms of the residence as well as many secondary spaces and rugs for wall display. This is reflected in the other major development: 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 to him, “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 Winitz, assisting clients build antique rug collections that are both personally satisfying and financially rewarding to them, is a gratifying outcome during a difficult time. “I think that we all are cherishing these moments of intimacy that an Oriental rug can bring to a conversation or to a room,” he reflected.
About Claremont Rug Company
Jan David Winitz’s Claremont Rug Company, founded in 1980, is an international art gallery with an inventory devoted entirely to valuable Oriental rugs woven during the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” (ca. 1800 to ca. 1910). The Gallery, located in Oakland, CA does not participate in off-site exhibitions, shows or auctions. Among its client-focused services are its whole home design consultations, a long-term trade-in policy and its educational focus. Widely written about, he has been featured in publications including Apollo, Art & Antiques, the Financial Times, Luxury Daily, The New York Times, moneyinc.com, Private Air/Luxury Homes, PrivateWealth.com, Robb Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal and Worth magazine.