From left Sam and Farzan Navab, circa 1990.
The man with an expensive car..
Many years ago, when my brother and I had just started our business, a man driving an expensive car stopped by at our store and asked why I thought he should purchase a handmade rug? He said ”I own a good car and I know it’s value, I turn the switch and it responds to me, what on earth does a handmade rug do for me?” Needless to say I was unable to sell a rug to him. But the question he asked was an important one and it has stayed with me ever since.
The rug can wait…
One could not simply assume that purchasing any handmade product, even a work of art, necessarily implies value. The purchase of a handmade rug-that in any case is not a necessity-may be even more difficult to justify.
To the untrained eye authentic handmade rugs are mysterious products that no one seems to know it’s actual value. With the market being what it is, dominated by unethical practices, driven by individuals with dubious backgrounds and outrageous claims, it is easy to question the value of an oriental rug.
Unlike other products, understanding oriental rugs requires some initiation, perhaps a basic knowledge of the product and its cultural value. None of which I could explain to my skeptical visitor in a ten minute discussion.
Somethings operate on a different level…
Nonetheless I tried to explain to the gentleman that somethings operate on a different level, whether utilitarian or aesthetic, we don’t always pay for familiar functionality. Sometimes we appreciate an object for its beauty, or its sentimental value or for nostalgic considerations. In the case of handmade rugs a number of other factors come in to play such as history, tradition, sustainable economics and its effect on the environment and the weavers livelihood.
But then it occurred to me I was trying to convince the man to buy a rug. Something he had come in to say he didn’t want. Perhaps to his mind my function was to confirm his already formed opinion. So to his final question of “why should I buy it from you and not a department store” I had no answer.
I felt that I was under attack from the man and justifying my livelihood was not something I was prepared to do. I felt that he was asking me why I do what I do? Against my better judgement I simply said “you shouldn’t.”
The case of a bad salesman…
Now after so many years it occurs to me that I could have used simple analogies to convince the man. I could have said“look, sometimes you are hungry but don’t have the time or the money or whatever, so you make yourself a sandwich or go eat at a fast food joint, but sometimes you want to have a decent meal, so you fix yourself a gourmet dinner or go to a quality restaurant. Buying a handmade rug is no different. And where to buy it has to do with one’s personal preference. You may go to a department store(or nowadays online)or a furniture store to purchase a handmade rug. Yes, they do carry both handmade and machine made rugs.” But I failed to say any of this.
Today I feel that if I was a good salesman I could have sold the man a rug. I could have used the opportunity and play the smart salesman and say “if you can drive this fantastic expensive car, you can certainly own a beautiful handmade Persian rug.”
Truth be told…
But alas I was not that smart. I was a timid salesman, taken more by philosophical and cultural pre-occupations than pragmatic considerations. Paying the rent at that moment was not on my mind.