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Claremont Rug Company’s Jan David Winitz Discusses Building Lasting Relationships with Clients

By Jan David Winitz

This article originally appeared in a column entitled “How I Did It: Claremont Rug Company’s Jan David Winitz” in Luxury Daily.

Jan David Winitz is founder and president of Claremont Rug Company.

For nearly four decades I have had the privilege of selling precious tangible assets to an ultra-high-net-worth clientele.

From an initial collection of 40 rugs, the inventory at Claremont Rug Company has expanded to more than 3,500 fine antique rugs.

From a client base of a few dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area, our clientele now resides on five continents and includes more than 75 Forbes’ list billionaires.

Desert Livingroom Client Home Antique Persian Rugs

A Claremont Rug Company client’s great room.

We have achieved this level of success with minimal advertising and no participation in outside trade shows or exhibitions. How?

First things first
I believe that is it based on two core principles that I identified on day one and have maintained since cofounding the gallery with my wife, Christine, in 1980.

We believe in “Client First” and that sales are based on offering a superb quality, extremely-difficult-to-find item, coupled with first-rate service and a multi-faceted program of educating our potential clients about antique Oriental rugs from “The Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving.”

What this means on a practical level is that our customer service begins at the first client interaction, not when a transaction takes place.

While our goal is to sell rugs, which are valued in the $20,000 to more than $500,000 per piece range, our immediate objective is to build lasting relationships with potential clients.

Rare Persian Bakshaish (8-2 x 10-10), woven ca. 1875, with a “Garden of Paradise” design in undyed camel hair.

When we opened Claremont, many of the obstacles we faced involved the perception of “rug dealers” and how they sold rugs.

Our vision was unique: we recognized that the best antique Oriental rugs were undervalued in comparison to works of art such as oil paintings, sculpture and furniture of similar provenance and aesthetic achievement.

We committed ourselves to obtaining and to selling only those pieces we considered art and investment level.

Early on, we also understood that the process of working with highly affluent clients depends on gaining their trust and confidence and in our expertise about what we offer.

We also learned that developing this level of trust would lead to long-term relationships and repeat purchases.

A Caucasian Karachov Kazak (5-8 x 6-10) from the third quarter of the 19th century. Highlighted by unusual colors, including a rarely used apple green field.

Concurrently, Harvard Business School confirmed what was described as the lifetime value of a customer in a case study that demonstrated that long-term clients should be coveted and are key to building a successful business. The strength of our company is a perfect proof point of this concept.

Steps to take
To achieve our goals, based on a strategically created business plan that we have continually refined over time, I established a playbook of principles to operate my business:
At Claremont:

  • We actively listen to the client from the first moment of contact.
  • We view all client interactions as a continuing process of discovery where we gather insights into how they think and what they value.
  • We engage our clients in an educational process, which becomes the basis of our relationship and which is how we satisfy their needs.
  • We treat every client as an individual and create a personalized program to satisfy his or her particular needs and interests.

Ours is an anticipatory approach based on the presumption that those who we serve deserve a level of service at the highest level possible. We believe strongly that “Client First” is the differentiator that sets our gallery apart, providing the foundation for ongoing success.

I have many clients who have acquired hundreds of rugs from the gallery over several decades, investing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in their purchases.

I have clients who have acquired one-in-the-world collections in a brief period of time. However, what they spend is ancillary to what they have in common: a confidence that we will present to them only the finest examples extant of the genres of rugs that interest them.

Because client education is a prime factor in our relationship, they come to develop a high degree of confidence about what they are purchasing. I have helped them, exclusively, to build important and extremely valuable private art collections of rare rugs that are quite literally the equivalent of investment portfolios.

Of course, offering price/value is a component in any transaction, but to reach this pinnacle of success is a combination of a vast, continually changing inventory, great product knowledge, personal responsiveness to the client’s needs and a respect for and an understanding that our clients are used to obtaining what they desire.

In the most famous Persian city style, this Mohtasham Kashan (4-6 x 6-6), woven a rare Vase design, was produced in the third quarter of the 19th century.

In my niche of the Oriental rug market, our approach has always been as author Malcom Gladwell describes, “the outlier.”

The traditional approach in the antique rug world has, for the most part, been transactional. Not so with us.

Our 100 employees and unique international buyer/collector team are key factors to our success. Our one location – Oakland, CA – is not situated in an arts/antiques enclave. I have not participated in an off-site event since 1985.

But we were an early adopter of the Internet, having been introduced to it by a client, the cofounder of Adobe, in the 1990s. Now, more than 70 percent of transactions involve the Internet.

Flooring clients
Over the years, we have adhered to our principles because we believe in them and because they work.

While our technology has progressed with the times, our personal commitment to “Client First” has not wavered.

A challenge that we now face is the ever-dwindling supply of antique Oriental rugs that meet the criteria for collectors and connoisseurs. To counteract this, we have expanded the reach of our buying team.

Concurrently, to ensure that our inventory continues to be one-in-the-world, we have redoubled our efforts to acquire private collections held by individuals and families, leveraging our international network of buyer/collectors.

We also continue to expand our educational efforts, frequently adding new articles that I have written and posted to the education section of our Web site. We are adding video as an important tool to provide additional information about how to view and to select rugs.

This Persian room-size Kermanshah (11-7 x 17-10) likely took a team of six weavers over three years to hand loom during the mid-19th century.

In the end, however, I trust fully that our continuing success will be built on “Client First,” which includes making house calls anywhere in the United States, offering first-rate restoration services and a long-term exchange policy.

I work on whole home projects, personally working with clients to furnish a single residence or several homes with antique rugs that unify an interior design or help expand a personal design motif.

As we have evolved from a small gallery with a modest collection to one with an international reputation and clientele, we have continued to look for ways to exceed the expectations of an audience that is used to obtaining what it desires.

We believe that, coupled with our expertise and inventory, “Client First” is the means to the greatest possible success, and that education is the vehicle that allows us to provide our clients with art objects that continually satisfy their desires.

Jan David Winitz is founder and president of Claremont Rug Company, Oakland, CA. Reach him at

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My Way: Claremont Rug Company’s Jan David Winitz on why customer efficiency is not customer service

By Jan David Winitz


Jan David Winitz is founder and president of Claremont Rug Company.

One of the most vivid lessons that I ever learned about the rewards of delivering exceptional client service all started with light bulbs.

I was at a potential client’s home for the first time. They were an elderly couple and after we exchanged greetings. I saw that in one of the spaces they wished to furnish, three light bulbs were burnt out. I insisted that one of my staff members climb up on a ladder and change them before we started.

It was a simple gesture. They needed some help, and we were there and able. Through this, we began a trusting relationship and ultimately placed $4 million of rare antique Oriental rugs with them. The woman later remarked that they were influenced as much by our willingness to serve as by the quality of the product we offered.

I bring this up because often it is the little things that set the tone and begin rewarding business relationships.

We live in a business world where, with ever more frequency, reports, surveys and polls conclude that customers are more demanding, expect quicker responses and, although they view technology as vital, they also sometimes experience it as an impediment to the quality of the service that they desire.

All too often, the retailer’s response is to study algorithms or to develop applications that remove the human element from the equation, confusing “customer service” with “customer efficiency.”

I work daily with clients at the elite end of the financial spectrum. Even though my business, Claremont Rug Company, is in a niche category, the way that we interact with our clients is a time-tested approach to customer service that can be applied across the entire luxury retail environment.

It has been my experience over almost four decades of business that it is those actions not measured in studies or surveys that have the greatest impact in creating customer loyalty.

Education is key
We conduct business by engaging our clients in an educational process, which becomes the basis of our interaction with them. We treat every client as an individual and create a personalized program to satisfy his or her particular needs and interests.

Having written extensively about customer experience and expectations, I start from a perspective that successful sales are based on relationships, and the best relationships have a strong educational basis.

It is not simply about giving clients information. It starts with a highly educated staff and employees at every level who are committed to the process.

I call this approach “client first,” which is based on the premise that customer service begins at the first interaction with a client, not with a sale.

As well as embracing technology to make our customer interactions as seamless and all-encompassing as possible, first of all, I teach my sales staff to be active listeners who are willing to give clients their time and attention.

The Internet and our Website? We were introduced to it in the late 1990s by a client who was a cofounder of Adobe. Now, more than 70 percent of our transactions involve the Internet.

Our Website is extensive and provides helpful articles, a curated inventory of more than 1,000 images of individual antique rugs and a vast array of educational information. We are moving rapidly to employ video as an additional educational tool.

Payments? It is not about the fees that we pay credit card providers. It is about how our clients want to pay.

Consider this: one recent study published in Luxury Daily found that consumers are interested in paying in a personalized manner, to the degree that an estimated $1.1 billion in potential sales were lost because stores did not have a customer’s preferred payment method.

The takeaway, to the degree possible, is to transact your business using the methods that your clients ask for and embrace. Design your systems around client expectations, not simply to make it easier for you.

The same study stated that the “the lines between the physical and digital shopping worlds are dissolving.”

In our business, we have active clients on five continents, but only one physical location. Yet, our business grows decade after decade, through economic up and down cycles.

Many clients rarely or never visit our gallery. Instead, they take advantage of our extensive website with its visual library of images.

We adhere to the notion that our clients, even those accustomed to the highest levels of customer service, appreciate our commitment to delivering the “unexpected,” whether it is an exquisite antique Oriental rug or simply that we are relationship, not transaction, oriented.

Customer experience
In the luxury segment, such basics as answering the telephone with a knowledgeable, patient person, not an automated system is a must-do to ensure a loyal clientele.

At the top end of the luxury market, where my gallery resides, the concept of customer experience revolves around education, relationship and the mindset of customer accommodation.

In other words, anticipating a request allows us to say “yes” rather than having to search for an alternative solution during the process of a customer interaction.

Last year, we initiated an approach that in-house we term “Claremont Prime,” meaning we acknowledge that clients expect first-rate service in everything we do and do not want to wait for it.

We even have a salesperson on-call for important transactions evenings and on Sundays, the times when our ultra-busy clients often have time to shop.

We have experienced over and over again that successfully working with highly affluent clients depends on gaining trust and confidence in our expertise.

Our central posture is that whether a particular interaction evolves into a sale or not, clients should know that we will be just as interested in talking with them the next time that they call.

For us, that is the epitome of client service and how we have built a business whose success is rooted in creating a level of client satisfaction that ensures long-term relationships.