Forbes Magazine: Navajo Rug Gallery Weaves Ancient Art And New Technology Together With Bitcoin
Navajo Rug Gallery Weaves Ancient Art And New Technology Together With Bitcoin
Steve Getzwiller is a 7th generation rancher who grew up just east of Tucson, Arizona. As a child, he spent a lot of time at the Amerind Foundation in Dragoon AZ, a museum and research center for Native American arts and culture. Inspired by the director of the foundation, Archaeologist Charles C. Di Peso, Getzwiller went on to study anthropology at the University of Arizona, and became a potter and turquoise trader. But his real passion was Navajo Rugs, and as soon as he could afford to, he became collecting them and wholesaling rugs to top galleries around the U.S. to be able to afford more expensive ones for himself.
In 1995, Getzwiller launched an online website, and in 2000, he opened his own physical gallery, The Nizhoni Ranch Gallery, in Sonoita, AZ. Today, he does about $1 Million of business a year, half through the website and half through his physical store. Getzwiller's Navajo rugs are sold around the world to collectors, business people and rock stars.
Steve Getzwiller, Owner of Nizhoni Ranch Gallery
The Personal Touch
Navajo weavers today are carrying on a 300-year-old tradition of weaving blankets and rugs. Their unique upright loom uses a traditional weaving technique that cannot be mechanized. The loom is warped with one continuous wool thread and the weft is woven through it, one thread at a time. “It is a very time consuming and meticulous process,” Getzwiller explains, “Small rugs can take a full week to weave, while larger Navajo rugs can take years to complete.”
Navajo weaver Cecelia Nez will work on a rug for years.
By their intrinsic nature, these rugs cannot be commoditized. Their weaving is personal and the resulting rugs are works of custom art. Getzwiller emphasizes these qualities in every aspect of his business and they inform his marketing. Each rug comes with a weaver’s profile and background information on the traditional process used.
In the store, Getzwiller works to highlight various artists. On March 11, for example, the gallery will host Elsi Bia and her 11-year-old grand-daughter at The Timeless Treasures of Two Grey Hills opening. They will be demonstrating Navajo weaving at an upright loom. Another granddaughter, Natalie Tso, will be weaving her first rug. Getzwiller notes: “We try to keep these demos fresh and exciting, and not only present historic material, but also present and preserve the art of Navajo weaving today.”
As part of his commitment to the personal, he also emphasizes customer service. He focuses 100% on customer service, treating every sale as a personal relationship to be nurtured. “Even all our sales online have the personal touch, as each sale is completed with a conversation with the client and subsequent follow-up,” he explains.
We don’t outsource any of our customer service. We try to answer an inquiry within minutes if possible — and follow up with information immediately. Customer service is our top priority. All sales are totally guaranteed of course, as satisfaction upon receipt of a piece of unique art like these rugs is crucial. The client must feel at ease when making a large purchase from pictures. We have a small staff, so the client experiences a personal touch and often has a favorite person in the gallery that they work with on a first name basis.
It may seem strange that a business so rooted in history and pre-industrial technology would accept bitcoin, but for Getzwiller it makes complete sense. His son was an early adopter, buying Bitcoin back in 2011, and he sees the crypto-currency as a natural next step for online sales.
“Although retail adoption has been lethargic, Bitcoin's rates of adoption and price have been anything but that in the past seven years. We see the future impact of BTC as a relied upon and trusted payment method. More art galleries around the globe are starting to accept the digital currency. We want to stay in step with those galleries and businesses on the cutting edge. We feel the energy of the Bitcoin phenomenon even in our remote ranching community. As I like to say, the world really is getting smaller!”
When asked if the transition to Bitcoin was difficult, he replied, “NavajoRug.com was one of the first online rug galleries anywhere. The complexity of using crypto currencies for most of us involves the same learning curve we experienced when we first embrace the Internet and email as outreach tools. We are proud to be one of the first such galleries to accept Bitcoin. Early adoption may prove to be as ground-breaking as the second iteration of the Internet.”
Kate Harrison , CONTRIBUTORI write about green businesses and how to help startups succeed. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
March 7, 2018
- Ben Schmid