I took the risk of going abroad on holiday this summer, and it paid off. Little did I know that I would get to live the nostalgia of bargaining, negotiating, chatting with the seller, and negotiating some more. These skills are slowly fading into the obscure commerce vocabulary. They have been swallowed by a much faster, less interactive, and, overall, more profitable digitalized commerce. Unfortunately, the brick and mortar retailers ignore, if not oppose, this trend, which renders the pit between them and future customers impassable at times. 

The travel agency that organized our trip to Turkey seamlessly (so they thought) weaved some infomercial visits into our schedule. We were going to visit a carpet factory, a ceramics shop, and a jewelry store, in this order. Curiously, we accepted their proposal. 

Entering The Carpet Factory 

The visit there was what opened a door that I thought was long closed – a door that led us straight into the old days of commerce. I will use this factory as the primary example to achieve this article’s purpose, which is to show how easy it can be to lose customers that are so hard to gain. The other two places we visited exhibited the same style of doing business. 

Kind eyes, hand sanitizer, and a warm, Romanian “welcome” greeted us upon our arrival. We spotted no accent, so we soon realized that a fellow Romanian would guide us. That was a plus, a relief.

Our host’s eyes – we will name her Anna – betrayed what the mask covered, that she was politely smiling all the time. She kindly invited us into the main room. There we were allowed to take pictures. We wouldn’t be permitted to do that upstairs though, she cautioned us. That already seeded a feeling of suspense in me. 

Anna told us about the four hundred years of history behind the factory. She explained how long it took the workers to make a carpet and how their training lasted between six months and two years, depending on the craftsmanship level they were willing to achieve. All was happening while we were watching three women weaving handmade carpets. 

Anna taught us about the different threads used for making rugs: wool, cotton, and the most important, hence the most expensive, the silk yarn. This thread was introduced to us as exceptional. Its shine gave the carpet an upscale look, and the way it was obtained made the silk rugs even more appealing. 

She took us into the next room. On our way there, we passed by pictures of Angeline Jolie, who visited the factory herself, posing alongside carpets and workers. Anna showed us how they obtained the silk in-house. The room abounded in silk cocoons.

Those strange-looking little white balls of thread were formed, she told us, by the silkworm spinning its body for thousands of times, until it created a cocoon around itself. The cocoons were placed in an oven at 500 degrees celsius to prevent the larvae’s development inside.

After that, they extracted the silk and sent the fried larvae to be used in cosmetics. An employee even showed us how, by sinking the crisp cocoons into cold water, they got the shiny threads. Some of us were hooked; others were appalled. I was intrigued and wondering where that was taking us. 

To the coloring room. Anna showed us a place that only served to display to visitors the process of painting threads. And just when I thought that the presentation was getting too long, she gave us a bathroom break and warned us that we couldn’t take pictures from then on because we were going upstairs. All of us were anxious to go there.

Upstairs 

Anna invited us to sit on benches across a small screen. She projected a video that reiterated what we had just learned, plus some more information. After that, out of the blue, the real show began. 

This allegorical trip into the carpet factory became even more riveting when the carpets were displayed to us one by one, by the showmen, a couple of employees, who acted like real performers. They unrolled the rugs with a thrust that caused them to hit the floor with a rhythmic thud. We were so engrossed in their act. “Wow” ’s and “Beautiful,” “Look at that one” ’s were buzzing in the room.

They started with the wool rugs of undeniable craftsmanship, then proceeded with the ones made from cotton. The latter were more elaborate, more colorful. The cheerings raised in volume, mingling with Anna’s voice and presentation that sounded prouder and prouder. In the end, the queens of rugs emerged from the dusty pile of samples – the silk rugs. They were presented gradually, from the cheapest to the most expensive. The performers were almost dancing, rolling the carpets with a short twist of hand to show us how they looked in different lights. We felt like Sultans and Sultanas. We loved the rugs and imagined them in our homes. 

Then… Just like that, the magic stopped. Abruptly. The fantasy vanished, dissipating into the lights that once flattered the rugs, now suddenly aggressive. The chatter in the room boomed as five or so more employees came in and approached us individually to manipulate us into buying the rugs we liked. Shortly before, Anna had told us that because of COVID-19, the prices had dropped, and because we were the first group to visit after the pandemic had frozen tourism in Turkey, and also Romanians, we would get a price we couldn’t refuse. 

But the obvious truth that they denied within themselves was that nobody came prepared to buy rugs, either mentally or financially. 

The Carpets 

They were costly. The priciest presented to us was 15000 euros. But I am sure that’s not the most expensive they own. I liked the carpet that cost 5200 euros. The fact that it was handmade and that the laborers made a rug at the speed of 1sqm/month justified the price. It included their tedious effort

The captivating spectacle turned into a depressing bargain where the employees threw us looks that shifted between pleading and poking. They had divided our group, taking us into different “presentation rooms” with hopes that they would make a sell. Fortunately, one of our friends bought a rug that was discounted from 5000 euros to 1500 euros and saved everybody’s honor. 

I approached the manager and found out that the factory has seen more than 150k visitors since its establishment. Last year they sold 12M euro worth of carpets. He was now left with 20k carpets in stock, but this year he would be more than glad if he sold rugs worth 1M euros. However, it seemed like he would have to settle for 0.5M. 

The Remedy 

It was desolating to see things tumbling down. The joy produced by the emotionally uplifting journey that meticulously thought out and rehearsed, just like a play, was asphyxiated by the outdated selling behavior, so intruding and so at odds with our modern ways. 

Feeling for the manager, I approached him, from entrepreneur to heir of a carpet business. I proposed a less encroaching and more contemporary method. I began by explaining that nobody needs a carpet on holiday. People usually purchase decorative objects when they move into a new home, or redecorate, or even when they have to offer a gift. There are plenty of other occasions when a person wants to buy a high-quality carpet. 

I suggested some steps he could follow to gain new customers among the strangers descending in waves from buses to enjoy the wonders of a carpet factory:

Always gather at least the first five selections from every visitor in awe after the show.

Have your sales agents build a custom landing page with the customer’s name at the end. E.g., www.turkishhandmadecarpets.com/john-doe

Make sure your customers remember that they can return to their favorite carpets any time, at least digitally. Let them know that they can always buy them at their special price whenever they are ready and willing.

He regarded that, and me, with much enthusiasm, then proceeded to sell me the carpet that I liked.

I had no luck to convince him. Had he applied these suggestions, maybe now, one month after our visit, i I would be scrolling through my selections, eager to buy a new carpet that would fit so nicely in my home office 🙂

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Conclusion

I noticed the same pattern both at the ceramics shop and the jewelry store. The owners shared the desperation, even the lines about how we were the firsts ever to get their incredible product so cheap. They shared the same reluctance to transitioning into, or at least acknowledging, the culture of digital commerce, as well. 

At the jewelry store, a friend of mine bought a necklace. When she wrote her e-mail address down on a form she was given, the seller stopped her and told her it wasn’t necessary. That was not only required, but it was also vital. 

These owners are worthy of the utmost respect for sticking with their values and keeping afloat businesses that have lasted through generations. While for us, the modern, fugitive customers, the kind of commerce they do seems musty and intrusive, if we give it a second look, we will see that they have a great deal of consideration for their clients.

They spend time with everyone, have patience, and treat every possible buyer like they are essential. There is still life in this way of commerce. Sometimes the digitalized version seems too straightforward and soulless for a customer always in need of a better emotional experience. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from these retailers.

Even so, the value of an owner is also given by the employee’s wellbeing. The carpet factory’s employees, spread across many villages, are still waiting to be paid for their work in the past few years. Very few tourists come during autumn and winter, so the factory is stuck with 20k carpets worth at least 30M euros for the remaining months. 

There is more power in going with the economic flow than in turning the back against its violent wave. There is even more might in knowing your customer, grabbing, and holding them carefully. Those owners knew that instinctively, only they lacked the current means of doing so. The moment they learn to speak the new dialect of commerce, their risk will also pay off. 

Eventually, they will be able to:

Follow up to former customers and sell them their old stock,

Keep the cash flow coming,

Survive. 

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