The thought of buying a rug in Istanbul never really crossed my mind before we visited the many unique destinations in Turkey. I've always liked the carpets I've seen in photos and enjoyed the ones Angie's parents have from when they lived in Turkey 24 years ago. As I always knew, the good rugs are not cheap, and I was not sure that any of the styles would be for me.
Less than a day after arriving to Istanbul, we ended up owning a carpet.
Meeting a Family Friend
Before arriving to Istanbul, a family member of Angie's told us about a very good friend of hers who lives in Istanbul. She said he'd show us around and tell us a bit about the city, so it sounded like a wonderful idea.
He also sold Turkish rugs for a living, so we thought it'd be pretty cool to talk to someone who works in this popular trade to learn a little bit more about a topic we knew so little about.
We went out to dinner at an amazing local restaurant and got to ask all of our burning questions about Istanbul, Turkey, and the most important topic, the local food. We had learned that our new friend was not only in the Turkish rug business, but had also owned a restaurant, hotel, and several rug stores throughout Istanbul that he has since sold.
By the end of the meal we knew what was coming, and he asked if we wanted to stop by his shop the next day.
Sure, why not? We hadn't been into a rug shop yet, and the experience sounded more enjoyable than wandering into a random one in the Grand Bazaar with a pushy salesman who can't take no for an answer.
With no obligations on our part, we headed to the shop the next morning.
The Importance of Knowing a Guy
The typical rug buying experience in Istanbul is a grand spectacle, one we received as well during our visit to our friend's rug store.
Commonly, an interested shopper is wowed by the collection of rugs as they are laid out in front of them in a stylized manner while deciding which type is the right fit. This is all while being given complimentary tea, raki, or anything else you desire (with the more elaborate comp corresponding to how much money you may spend, naturally).
Neither we or our new friend had any feeling that anyone was buying a rug this day, he just wanted to show us his stuff and let us ask any questions we wanted. When you have that opportunity as a travel writer to experience something like this without any obligation, it is very had to say no. Ironically enough, he didn't know this fact about us at the time.
As it was explained to us, the rug business is not only focused on instantaneous selling (of course) but also on long-term business. We may not have money now, but with our day jobs we could make enough money in the future to be very good customers. Or at the very least, maybe one of our coworkers would want a rug and we'd give some word of mouth advertising for when he does his annual drive across the US with his collection to sell more to current clients.
As the show unfolded, we got to ask all of our burning questions on “what makes a good Turkish rug?” As we quickly realized, this is one of those questions that unleashes a pandora's box of responses.
There is the material . Do you want wool, wool on cotton, silk on cotton, or silk on silk? There is the pattern. Do you want a geometric design or a scene? There is the craftsmanship. Do you want a larger knot density (aka, smaller knots and more plush)? There is your own intentions. Do you want to the rug as a floor piece or hanging piece? There is the rug's age. Do you want a new rug or an antique that has already increased in value as an investment piece (in this case, antique means 100+ years old). Finally, there is price. Do you want Chinese made or a truly Turkish rug?
I could go on, but for those who do not know anything about rug shopping (like us), this was all a bit overwhelming. In fact, we'd recommend this handy guide to find out more if you are in the market to buy your own, as they did far more research than us on the topic.
Overall, the importance of knowing a rug guy comes down to one thing: honesty.
By meeting through a friend of a family member, we received a recommendation from a trusted source who owns a carpet purchased from the store (several, actually). After meeting several more shady salesmen at the grand bazaar, it is one of the most important character traits you can look for in a dealer.
They all try to fake the honesty, but only a few actually have it.
The moment when we saw our rug during this long question and answer session, we knew we could buy from nowhere else, and it was done.
Tips On Buying a Rug
We were given a really good deal on our rug, mostly because of our connection that we mentioned above. It is unfortunate that I cannot offer many bartering tips for rugs except for the following, and the first one is a doozy.
Most rugs go for 4 to 10 times more than the base cost.
What that means to you is that whatever price you are quoted, at a minimum, you should negotiate with well under 25% of the original price.
This is a drastic change from the bartering process in Turkey as a whole, where we found we often met our salesmen with prices about 50% of the asking price.
It is important to keep this in mind when shopping, especially in Istanbul, as the cost to do business is very expensive. If you are shopping at a small store in the Grand Bazaar, for example, they may pay over $7,000 US per month for rent. That is anywhere from over a dozen cheaper rugs to one moderately expensive rug per month.
Considering they are competing with about a hundred other shops and have a small floor space, their sales are very limited. In these places, guess who pays for the rent?
In other shops outside of the bazaar, a rug salesman may get a warehouse 4 to 5 times larger for the same price (like our family friend). While they pay the same rent, it doesn't take much to realize that their turnover rate is much higher.
Rug shopping is all about matching the best carpet with the right customer. If you don't have the product, that perfect match won't happen. When it does, guess which person is covering the rent for all those failed attempts? You.
If you do find that perfect match on a rug while in Istanbul, we'll let you in on one more secret we found out during our visit in regards to the last dreaded topic everyone has to ask about: shipping.
Most shops get a tax credit for shipping a rug overseas, so you shouldn't have to pay for it when you buy.
When you're already paying the equivalent of a good vacation on a rug, you shouldn't have to pay any more past that.
When visiting the rug shops, be prepared to ask questions, inspect the rugs with any method published online that you find reputable, barter for a great deal, and do not be upset to say no. If the salesman is pushy at all, leave. It may take some time, but for such an expensive investment, your effort into finding the best Turkish rug should deserve no less.
Now we just have to wait another year before we can see ours again.
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