Thursday, August 23, 2012

Turkish Rug & Calligraphy Buying

You probably guessed by now I wasn't serious when I said I'll write about " legendary negotiation skills..." a while back in a post picturing the rug and calligraphy I brought home from Turkey.

If you were hoping for some expert tips on purchase negotiation, you will be disappointed to read I am not a great bargainer.  It's not in my nature to ask for discounts, especially for art as I like to support Artists.  I buy only what I can afford.

So what to do in a country like Turkey where negotiation is a national sport and past time as well as a way to size you up as a person?  And when there is often no advertised price to start from, how to proceed then?  Right or wrong, I decided to be honest.

Let me start by saying how surprised I was at the quality of the major stores in Istanbul and Kusadasi.  They sell some serious jewellery (gemstones in multiple carats) as well as many private rooms full of carpets.  There was a large amount of custom jewellery designs, art, many very creative and beautiful.  These stores would be considered stand outs when compared to the ones I've seen in NYC and Chicago.

After my 2nd carpet presentation, I decided I would love to own a silk on silk rug.  A small one, in a price range I was willing to spend. 

I am so used to seeing price tags, it is unnerving to browse without any idea of how much things cost.  I know the sales people there are experts at sizing you up and pricing things accordingly.  So I thought they would think I was a single girl who didn't own expensive things.  I do not travel with my regular watch, purse, pen or clothing.  Nor do I wear any jewellery. 

The first salesman tactics reflected that.  I asked how much the last rug (most expensive) they showed (always the silk on silk ones)  during the presentation was, ball park.  He dismissed my question with a "It's silk on silk.  Come, I'll show you some cotton and wool or half wool half silk ones.  What colours do you like?"

Mistake.  Never underestimate you customers.  If someone is asking about a specific product after seeing the rest, it is because they are interested enough to learn more.  There is a potential opportunity there so don't down sell right away.

The gentleman I did connect with who I ended up buying from was from Majestic Carpets in Kusadasi.  Apparently their claim to fame is that Queen Elizabeth, who is an avid collector of Turkish Rugs, purchased from them recently.  I had just come back from Ephesus and decided to go in and look around.

Maybe it was an age thing (younger) but I found him to be quite humble and not as aggressive compared to the other gentlemen I encountered.  Remember in Turkey, you will most likely to be negotiating with men. 

So after drinking some apple tea (It’s like hot apple cider but less favourite is pomegranate tea.)  , he asked me if this was my first visit to Turkey – No, second time.  Did you buy a Turkish rug last time – No.  Why not—Because my reason for visiting Turkey wasn’t to buy a rug.  He looked shocked.  I explain it is why you will see many people from North America just wanting to browse but are put off by the assumption they are there to buy.

And thus the exchange began about the way North Americans shop vs Turkish people.  Not buying a rug right away doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate their culture.  We come from a place where we can see prices and for most of us, it helps us decide if we can afford something.  A lot of people just window shop all the time as a hobby.

He thought we were all rich when in reality all those big houses he thinks we live in and the multi numbers of vehicles we drive are not all paid for and that people are extending themselves with credit in order to come on trips like this.  He was a bit appalled to hear that.  I told him there are serious finance issues in North America and in parts of Europe. 

I suggested a better way to get more customers from North America is to just do what he did best which was show the various types of carpets, educate, but try to be more upfront about pricing so there is no potential embarrassment as to affordability because no matter how beautiful the carpet or jewellery may be, it is going to be difficult to talk someone into paying tens of thousands of dollars for something they had not intended to buy in the first place just because they agree the item is beautiful and worth it.  For a lot of travellers, the trip was the big purchase.

That was the tough part because to name a price was a start of the negotiation signaling intent of the buyer to negotiate until both parties were satisfied.  So for him to name a price was not usual practice although they have started to warm up to using some price tags in order to attract more foreign buyers who are not versed in the art of negotiation and have no idea what things are worth.

Anyways, he asked me if he could show me some carpets.  I said yes, I’m interested in the little ones on the wall.  Turns out my knack for picking out expensive things did not disappear in Turkey. 

The ones I really liked were collector pieces, taking about 4 yr for one weaver to make, the size of a rectangular hand cloth, up to 10000 knots per square inch, starting in the 15K+ range.  Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.  I got to see some beautiful ones though, so so detailed!  It was really a process of education as well as desire to sell something. 

By this time, we were on first name basis.  He has a Son age 5 and he and his wife live in a small apartment not far away.  He was one of the newer salesmen in the store. 

His helper, an older gentleman, did not speak English and his job was to bring carpets in and take them away.  It was end of season and early on the day.  We talked about how his culture believed if you can start each day with a sale, it will shed luck to the rest of the day.  We were into numbers at this point. 

His opening offer after I asked how much the one I liked, was $2400, but because he thought I was such a 'nice person' for explaining the cultural differences, he would give it to me for $1250.  I said it was too expensive a souvenir.  If my husband found out, he would kill me… (not true but in this male dominated culture, he believed me, not literally of course).

So he asked me what can I pay?  I think this was a bad move, because I said I was willing to pay $700 when I probably should have said $500.  He looked down for a minute or so and asked if I could go up a bit.  I said what do you mean?  Here’s where I made another mistake.  I should have waited until he named a number.  But instead I said I could do $800.  By this time we were both sitting crossed legged on the floor and about 45 min had passed.  It was strange to see a grown man in a suit sitting on the floor but that's how they do it.

We settled at $850 US and the rest of my Turkish Lira (about $90) to be given to his helper.  Normally the salesman pays his helper out of the proceeds but because I supposedly got such a great deal, if I could do this, he can make the sale.  Yes, I am a Suck.  All I could think about was I hoped the Woman who weaved it (her name is on the certificate of authenticity) got a fair price.  He told me the store took 50% of the sale price. 
Oh yeah, I spent $150 US on my original Arabic Calligraphy at Khaftan Art and Antique, a treasure of a store in old Istanbul.  No idea if it was a good deal.  Had a lovely discussion with the proprietor about the various types of script found around the world. 

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