Lessons from a carpet salesman

June 13, 2018



'Carpet selling'

Last week I had a sales experience I will never forget. It began like this:

“You are about to receive some very important insights into an ancient industry. Please let me have your undivided attention.”

The speaker of these words was a well-groomed alpha male who was not fond of interruptions. I was in Turkey with a group of German tourists and we were visiting a carpet manufacturer and dealership.

“My name is Dolunay”, our Turkish host continued. “It means full moon. You will find my name on various certificates and diplomas on the walls of this establishment”.

Fullmoon spoke these words in perfect German. He used idioms and had faultless grammar with only the faintest shade of a Turkish accent.

“Follow me and I will show you the entire process of manufacturing a carpet”.

Our group of around 30 were shown how silkworm cocoons are processed into threads of pure silk. We were shown the room where rows of female workers patiently worked at their looms. We were allowed to sit beside them and they showed us how to knot the fibers. We took pictures of ourselves. Everyone was beaming.

Next we were led into a room with seating along three walls and the product demonstration began in earnest. Fullmoon’s lecture continued. Behind him, rolled up carpets leaned against the wall. He would hiss a command and young minions would grab a carpet, carry it into the middle of the room and unroll it with a flourish. Every unrolled carpet demonstrated some new facet of the art of carpet making. We were encouraged to take our shoes off and walk on the carpets in our be-socked feet.

We admired some very valuable carpets. Some had over a million knots per square centimeter and had taken years to make. Others were antique. Some used patterns that were hundreds of years old and required special permission from the Turkish Ministry of Culture to reproduce. More minions appeared, bearing trays of tea, Turkish mocha and raki.

As Fullmoon completed the presentation — which was probably as carefully choreographed as an international diamond heist — more men filled the room and started hovering around us. More carpet sellers.

“Which carpet do you like best?” One of them asked me. He was pleasant and didn’t seem pushy so I pointed vaguely at a carpet.

“Aha, excellent choice. Let me show you some more in this style. Please follow me.”

Pretty soon, everyone was being led away to private viewing rooms: evidently we were being divided and conquered. Miraculously, the carpet that I had pointed to had been teleported to the room I was led to.

What followed was some brief but expert small talk and then my personal salesman began with a series of questions.

“Is it the right length?” he purred, “or would you prefer it to be shorter?”

Every answer from me resulted — amazingly — in a new carpet being produced, which was that little bit more suited to me than the last one. After I had answered the last question we were standing over the “perfect” carpet. It had to be the perfect carpet because of the sequence of choices I had made to get to it.

“Now,” the carpet salesman smiled, producing a pocket calculator. “This carpet costs 80 EUR per square meter, which brings us to a theoretical total of ….” — tap-tap-tap-tap —- “ 1250 EUR. But for you, I am going to make a very special offer….”

The amazing thing was, I had actually begun toying with the idea of buying this carpet. I had entered the establishment with not the slightest intention of owning a carpet but after this prolonged assault my defences were almost broken down. Almost.

I put on a decisive expression and gently informed him that I did not want to buy a carpet. I repeated it before he could reply. Then I bowed, thanked him for his time, and left. I hurried through halls draped with treasure (carpets), peeked into even greater halls and corridors and finally found the exit.

Outside, the bedraggled survivors of our group were assembling. Quite a few of them admitted that they had had bought carpets. They said as if they were admitting to a crime.

It occurred to me that not only was the art of carpet making handed down from generation to generation, but that the same was true for the art of carpet selling. Our little unsuspecting group was currently being drawn into a sales machine that had been perfected for hundreds of years. We had all built up a healthy immunity to western style advertising, TV, magazines, internet banners, but we were completely helpless in the face of this ancient art.