Despite having to discontinue its two major methods of sales because of COVID-19 related regulations, Claremont Rug Company president and founder Jan David Winitz today reported a “tremendous and sustained” level of international sales nearly seven months since pivoting his business.
“Our international sales are up 75 percent and now seven months on, remarkably overall sales have held steady,” he said.
Claremont (www.claremontrug.com) sells art-level antique Oriental rugs woven during the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving”, ca. 1800 to ca. 1910, and has clients, including over 75 Forbes list billionaires, on six continents. Carpets at the Gallery are valued from $5,000 up to $500,000.
Winitz said, “On a typical day now, we might be interacting with people who reside in Paris, Geneva, London, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Vienna, as well as callers from California, Florida, Iowa, and Texas. We attribute this to our enhanced website and our educational approach to client communications.
“As we made our improvements, we listened intently to what clients, without prompting, were saying to us. Too often, companies ask for feedback but don’t pay attention. We’ve taken exactly the opposite approach. For instance, many clients said they wanted to see more images of each rug on our website, and we responded by adding three different views of each carpet.”
Winitz cited the increasing interest in “staycations” as also factoring into the dramatic increase of interest level among international clients. “Frankly, our audience is extremely wealthy and quite sophisticated about art. They are used to regular travel, but with the pandemic restrictions, instead are beautifying their residences and finding ways to enhance their lives while staying at home. Elite-level antique Persian and tribal rugs fit quite seamlessly into their lifestyle, with an added dividend of the investment potential that rugs as rare tangible assets provide.”
As with other businesses in California, Claremont had been impacted dramatically by the state-mandated shelter-in-place orders that came in mid-March and within 24 hours shut down both of its traditional avenues for sales. Typically, Claremont sold through the physical Gallery (four showrooms in a two-building complex) or by in-home showings around the country, along with some website sales.
With those avenues no longer available, Winitz and his staff became single-focused. “Astonishingly, we were able to implement website enhancements that we had talked about for three years in 90 days and, as a result, our reach attracted a tremendous global, rather than a primarily national, clientele.”
Winitz had incorporated the internet into his sales and marketing in 1990 on the recommendation of a client, the co-founder of Adobe Systems. “We were what Malcolm Gladwell terms an ‘outlier’ in our segment. We understood the educational value that the internet provided as we reached out to clients.”
As part of the business reinvention during the COVID-19 pandemic, Claremont also initiated twice weekly eblasts: one promotional and the other a series of educational articles. “As well as attracting many new clients,” he said, “what was remarkable was that we also re-engaged with individual buyers who had not contacted us for as many as three decades. The level of their interest is quite astonishing and their desire to acquire additional pieces is extremely high. Some are also progressing from single rug purchasers to collectors interested in building private troves.
“Elite level antique Oriental rugs have always had an emotional impact on collectors and as we spend more time engaging clients with educational material, we find that they are relating to their many nuances and looking more deeply into the vast collection of material on our site,” he said.
Since founding Claremont in 1980, Winitz said the Gallery had survived many momentous events, two of which stood out: the tragedy of 9/11 and the current pandemic. “Not surprisingly our clients have reacted similarly to both. They want to talk about what inspires them and improves the quality of their lives. And antique Oriental rugs fit nicely into those desires. I’ve noticed a quantum leap in their level of knowledge about highly-collectible, investment level pieces.
“Clients have expressed their passion and deep emotional commitment as we shared how art impacted our lives. Conversations have ceased to be merely transactional, as we began to connect empathetically without the pretense of buyer and seller,” he said.
Claremont is currently “open” online and via restricted appointments in Gallery, with one client being seen individually at a time in each showroom.