Wed, 25 Apr 2007

The Carpet Salesman (Part 2)

Here's the rest of the story. Enjoy.

Like lambs to a slaughter, I suppose I should say, we entered his store. It all started innocently enough. "Let me show you a little about our carpets. These are prayer carpets. These are single knot kilims. These are double knots. These are buharas. These are wool, this one has silk, this color comes from pomegranite. This color comes from vegetable dyes, from the plants in these areas. You can tell this carpet is from the black sea, as the color comes from tobacco leaves." Soon, we had over three or four dozen carpets sprawled around the room. In the process our sneaky salesperson had surely used every trick in his book. Get them to take off their shoes, to prevent a hasty retreat. Ask them to feel the luxurious quality of the carpets with their bare feet. Get the men to pull on the carpets as hard as they can to demonstrate strength of the carpets to impress them. Feed them lots of tea to ingratiate yourself. Talk about your history, and ask them to share, to build comfort and familiarity. Slowly, but surely, the sales pitch was coming.

"What kind of carpet do you like the most", he started out innocently enough. I pointed at the deep crimson red buhara carpets, and Richard liked the beige silk/wool carpets. Soon, he knows he has us in his grasp, and is asking questions such as "what size do you like", and which of these do you like better? Finally, we picked out our favorites, and having told the man that I lived in and speak Turkish, he says to me, "you are essentially my countryman," he offers, "I will give you a special deal!"

I respond, a little uncomfortable, "Don't give me any special deal. If you want to give us a deal, we thank you, but I don't want to take advantage of my good friend." I respond. Always the sly one, he counters even this, "Ah yes, an honest country man indeed. I will give you both a good deal!" he says.

Moments after this discussion, he has his nephews shine and shake the two carpets we selected under the bright lights, making them shimmer and bringing out their gorgeous colors. This one, he stated, is $450, pointing to the carpet I had selected. That one is $850 he tells Richard. Richard asks about the price difference, and he explains that not only is yours larger, it also has a large amount of silk in it, making it much more expensive to make.

I mention to Richard that there had been an auction back home, where carpets of similar quality and beauty (of Pakistani origin) had been up for sale, and they were selling equivalent carpets for well over $800. I'm on to this guy, I suggest, but these carpets are still an incredibly good deal. Richard agrees, and we both commit to buying them. We are still cautious, so we take photographs of the vendor and carpets to ensure we would not be duped, and we pay with credit cards to protect us from fraud. In the best case, we have a photograph of the best reputable carpet dealer in the country, and in the worst case, we have proof and protection from good old Western capitalistic pillars of stability (VISA).

Richard and I both love our carpets, but there is a little buyers remorse, from feeling like we were manipulated into buying the carpets rather than coming to the decision ourselves. On the other hand, without this kind of pressure, I may have never bought the carpet-- any carpet, as our illness prevented us from doing many of the things we originally set out to do.

Many of the revelations I shared above did not come at the time, but in retrospect, thinking over the situation. Hindsight is helpful even when considering events that occurred in Turkey, at the hands of an expert salesperson.

Tue, 24 Apr 2007

The Carpet Salesman (Part 1)

In 1998, Richard, Christine and I visited Turkey on what is probably the wildest "vacation" we will probably ever take.

Shortly after that time, I wrote a short story that described some of the events of that crazy trip.

Today I came across a blog entry about Turkish carpets (and peripherally about Startup Sales Tips), and it reminded me of this story, which I thought I'd share with you.
I hold salesmen to be some of the slyest, slickest people in the world. They deal with people day in and day out, and no matter what kind of people they are, rich, poor, happy, sad, smart, stupid, their only goal is to get money out of you. If they can't expertly separate you from your money, they aren't a very good salesperson. Used car salesmen get a bad rap, partially because not many people have met any Turkish carpet salesmen.

In the middle of the day on our second day in Istanbul, we're walking down the strategically placed "mosaic museum". Similar to a Disney World amusement park ride, the whole things spills out into a bunch of shops. The difference is that all of the salespeople are pressuring you to come in their shop and have some tea. There's nothing wrong with that, really, if it was easy enough to say "no thank you" and have them leave it at that.

But no, in Turkey, the evolutionary environment is such that the species Salesicus Carpeticus Turcicus has evolved to a higher level. Techniques that these fine specimens have adopted include begging, pleading, challenging, and cajoling unsuspecting tourists who are unfortunate enough to step into their lair.

We were pretty good, actually, turning down most of their requests as politely as possible. Some we acted as if we did not hear them, others I simply stated in Turkish "we're not looking to buy", effectively classifying ourselves as "pseudo-locals", and yet others we simply smiled and shook our heads.

The most devious class of salesperson to be caught by-- and the worst kind, mind you, is the one that appears as if he isn't trying. This technique involves standing up and following you down the bazaar, with a couple of his friends. As you're walking along, he throws his lure, "Why did you come to Turkey if you're not going to buy a carpet?" he asked, innocently enough, in surprisingly good English.

This lure is quite attractive to almost everyone. To some, it is to a certain degree upsetting because it holds true-- indeed, I am in Turkey, why not buy a legendary Turkish carpet? To others, it is a challenge that can not bear ignoring. I mean who is this to suggest I must buy a carpet when I come to Turkey? How dare he?

Either way, the salesperson has made an inroad with you, an avenue, so to speak, where he can attempt to win your heart, your mind, and ultimately, your money. I fell into both categories. At first, I felt he was right, I lived in Turkey for many years, but don't have a carpet to show for it. But that was a fleeting thought, and suddenly I was slightly offended, and responded negatively with, "We're not interested in carpets."

Ah, a negative comment yes, but a comment nonetheless, one that our potential salesman, lagging behind us with his posse, was adept to grasp at. He threw his next sentence like a lasso, and snared us with his expert technique. "Well, come then, to my store," he started, "...don't buy a carpet, allow me to serve you some tea, and tell you a little about the Turkish people and culture through our carpets." This sounded good enough to us, and even I, as a "veteran" of Turkey, was mystified by what he might have to share regarding the people and culture of Turkey as told through its carpetmaking.
Stay tuned for part 2.

Sun, 15 Apr 2007

Trip to Mount Vernon

Christine and I headed up to Mount Vernon today. I've had my eye on a Canon 70-300mm Image Stabilized lens, and today I picked it up and put it through its paces on the fields of tulips. I uploaded some of my favorites to my flickr account.

Sat, 07 Apr 2007

Global Climate Change, Redux

Earlier this year I blogged about Global Warming. One of my concerns was how we'd be able to keep Global Warming under control in light of the expanding economies of countries like India and China:
...the path of least resistance doesn't just apply to electricity, it applies to the foods people eat, it applies to the modes of transportation they use, and the culture they adopt. The American lifestyle, in comparison to the struggles of most 3rd world citizens is "the easy life" and nobody with a strong sense of self-interest is likely to forego it for the sake of environmentalist tendencies...
Even if wealthy Westernized nations suddenly caught the environmentalist bug, I pondered whether it would make a difference:
[h]ow is that going to not only offset the billions of new drivers, TV watchers, and french fry eating, starbucks drinking customers in India and China, not to mention the rest of the world? Indeed, how is that going to actually roll back CO2 generation, per capita, globally, to levels in the ... 1940s?!
Last week, I came by the following article: "Gas comsumption to jump by a quarter in China by 2010".

Here's an excerpt:
One of the factors keeping the world price of oil at historically high levels is continually increasing demand and relatively static supply. One of the biggest drivers of that growth is the ever-increasing population of cars in China, which, along with India, has been the fastest growing markets. ... By 2010, gasoline consumption is anticipated to increase by almost twenty-five percent relative to 2006. Given the twenty-seven percent increase in car sales last year that is probably a very conservative estimate.
Let's do a quick math problem:

Assume the US consumed 20M barrels of oil per day in 2006.
Assume China consumed 6M barrels of oil per day in 2006.
Assume China's oil consumption grows at a rate of 25% every four years.

A simple ratio tells us China_2006:China_2010::6:7.5

Since we know that US_2006 + China_2006 = 26M barrels/day, and China 2010 is 7.5M barrels/day, the US would have to cut overall consumption to 18.5M barrels of oil/day in 2010 to maintain ceteris paribus. In other words, the US needs to cut oil consumption (and as a rough analogue to this, carbon dioxide emissions) by 7.5% over four years just to keep the glaciers melting at the rate they are now to make up for the difference in global warming the Chinese are expected to generate.

Fri, 06 Apr 2007

Microsoft Gets Serious

Two articles caught my eye in the past two days, and thought I'd share the conclusion I've come to about them. First, was a blog entry by Paul Graham, who provocatively suggests "Microsoft is Dead":
"What killed [Microsoft]?... The most obvious is Google. There can only be one big man in town, and they're clearly it. Google is the most dangerous company now by far, in both the good and bad senses of the word."
While I think the title overstates the situation a bit (I'd replace "dead" with "hopelessly hamstrung"), it's an interesting read with some solid reasoning for the premise.

Then, this morning, the Seattle Times mentions that Microsoft is gobbling up real estate in Bellevue (Hey, downtown Bellevue: Make room for Microsoft), to house up to 4,000 employees (quick back of napkin math: 4K employees * $100K human resource cost (salaries, benefits, taxes, stock options, etc.) * 2 (assuming salaries are roughly 1/2 the cost of doing business)-- and you end up with what amounts to what is on the order of $800M of "opportunity cost").

So it seems Microsoft has either uncovered (only slightly less than literally) a gold mine, or they are preparing for "war of attrition" mode like they were when they sensed an impending threat from Netscape prior to the browser wars.

I conclude that Microsoft is "taking the gloves are off", and is getting ready to go to blows with Google. Maybe it was the bidding war for DoubleClick that finally motivated Microsoft to take notice?

Name/Blog: Kirk (Biff's friend)
Title: Office space
Comment/Excerpt: Nah, Microsoft is just trying to find space for all their people. A large percent of employees are currently doubled and tripled in offices.


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