Marketplace Middle East - Blog
Just the Socks, please...
From CNN Correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh.

This week, MarketPlace Middle East airs my report on the privatization -- and revitalization -- of iconic Egyptian department store, Omar Effendi.

Way back in the day, Omar Effendi was THE PLACE to shop. The latest fashions, VIP service, gorgeous architecture -- sort of like a Macy’s or Saks of Egypt. Mind you, we are talking the early-- and mid-- 1900's.

Sadly, by the time I first walked though an Omar Effendi store in the 1990s, the government-run chain was infamous for the tackiest fashions, bad service, and rundown, dusty showrooms with wires hanging out of the ceiling.

The worst part of the Omar Offendi experience then: the time it takes to get out of there. Find a set of sheets to purchase, for example. Pull the king size whites off the shelf and an employee takes it from you. He slowly walks out of store showroom, with a promise to get another set from the ‘stock room’ in ‘just a minute.’ Meanwhile, you are instructed go to the counter to get an invoice. Then take the invoice to another counter to pay. Once you pay, you take the invoice back to the first counter to get it stamped. Then take the stamped invoice to a new counter to pick up the sheets. And hope that after all this time, the employee who ran off with your display sample sheets has returned from the stockroom with the color and size you requested. What? No king size left? Only queen sheets in purple? Maalesh (no worries)!? God willing you’ll have king size tomorrow? What’s that all about?

That’s the horror of a state-run businesses: everybody has got a job -- but nobody’s really working.

Little more than a year after Omar Effendi was privatized and the chain became a beneficiary of a multi-million dollar investment scheme in 2007, I went back to the same department store branch. And, oh how things have changed. Things look, well, fresh. The electronics department had banks of televisions that actually worked. Men’s clothing on clean shelves and metal hangers – available in more sizes than old-school kabiir (big) and gamousa (cow). Employees acted like they actually cared.

So I tried to buy a pair of socks. But when the Omar Effendi employee tried to take them out of my hands -- and pointed me to a counter, my eyes started to roll. Apparently, some things are slower to change. This time, however, a simple, kindly-worded protest nipped the counter-game in the bud. Pay at one counter. Get change. Socks in bag. Walk out of store. In less than ten minutes.

This ain’t your father’s Omar Effendi. Watch our profile on OF’s turnaround in the making by clicking on my story link here, or if you’ve had a similar Omar Effendi experience, tell us about it
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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