Jeddah Al-Balad(downtown) marketing lessons

11092009727#1My city Jeddah is a beloved hot spot in Saudi Arabia. It lies on the red sea and is famous for many things to name a few: It is the gateway to both holy cities, It has the busiest yet not most efficient port in the country, it is the haven for our wonderful Aladdin like downtown  area, Al-Balad.

Now, the downtown area I am referring to is one of the most historical areas in our city and is being preserved and handled with extreme care. Its fishing location dates it back to more than 2000 years, Many caravans have travelled through the doors of Jeddah. The city grew into an important trading outpost as it was situated on the trading routes between Yemen and Europe. The city was fortified with limestone coral walls as early as 1000 AD, which was recorded by noted traveler, Nasir-I-Kusuro.

The earlier fortification had two gates, one facing the east towards Mecca and the other towards the sea. The fortification was strengthened in the 16th century to protect the city from the Portuguese attack with six watchtowers and gates. The gate Bab Makkah( Bab means door in Arabic) faces East, Bab Sharif faces South, Bab Al Bunt, Bab Sharaf and Bab Al Madinah face North, and Bab Al Magharibah face west. The King Abdul Aziz Historical Square, which is at the heart of the Balad, is where the people of Jeddah welcomed King Abdul Aziz and his army on the 23rd of September 1924.

That was a fast historical view of our wonderful city that never seems to stop growing northbound and in every direction I can imagine. Lets all come back to our present day.In the holy month of Ramadan people tend to celebrate and have more fun than the rest of year, in terms of religion it is the peak alongside Haj period, In terms of celebration it is the month which ends with our best festival called Eid which starts after morning prayers to announce its arrival and bid farewell to the holy month, and a time where people start to visit and meet with family and loved ones all around the muslim world.

During this month I personally enjoy going to Balad with my friends & Family sharing many laughs and buying some stuff just for the heck of it, the real joy is the experience. In a normal day you can get in and out of Balad in less than an hour, today you need 3 due to crowds flocking from all over town. As you leave the comfort of your car and the air conditioning you get slapped on the face with a bit of famous Jeddah( actually Jiddah) humidity. Another thing you can’t seem to not notice is the amount of people and sound pollution levels, very high!

The shoving and pushing and different walks of life are all part of the experience. People tend to go back in time to Alladin’s days, only he was in Baghdad, this is Jiddah. You see I love Balad for many things. My grandparents lived here in the very heart of the city, surrounded by the walls, they were children here, they grew up here, they had a family to run back to, they studied in al-Falah schools the very first, made possible by a famous merchant family that still enjoys Jiddah.

I assume my grandfather used to run around in the back alleys and jump in joy with his friends, who are long gone now. If you listen closely you can hear their innocent laughter and jokes, I miss them all. As I walk by the young boys and girls in the streets with my friends and brothers by my side, I can’t seem to get my mind off what this place holds in memories.

Until the 70’s and early 80’s Balad was it. If you wanted to be in business, that was the place. If you wanted to buy, that was the place. Head offices of the largest business families still have an address there, to prove my point. The place is so rich with history, so valuable, so priceless.

When i was young my father used to take me on his Balad visits, usually at the start of the month for shopping. We would walk for miles I think, then when he feels that I have had enough of walking, he makes us jump in to one of those old beaten down buses, for pennies, The nice thing was, I would get to sit in the front beside the crazy driver! nice memories.

Going back to the present day again, as you walk around Balad area your senses are on full alert, for good reason. The mixed aromas that fill the air are endless. Freshly grounded coffee, perfumes from around the world, spices heaped up in windows and original gum, just like the one my mother loves, new clothes, stinky clothes, food outlets cooking the night away. Do not forget the Kibdah( lets just say delicacy meat dishes) & Baleelah( Boiled hick peas in vinegar and red pickled carrot salad) places that seem to fill up the sidewalks and streets.

The sellers and buyers are actually having fun together.You can have 5 dollars in your pocket or five thousand, it does not matter, you will still have fun. Its not about the money, its about a mixture of old and new combined into one experience called “Al-Balad”.

What is truly striking when you sit down for your first round of food whatever that may be, you suddenly notice that you have been sold! someone out of the crowd grabbed you and started to tell you about his place that sells “ A product/service/food” and is hammering words into your head until you decide this is a nice guy, why not give it a try?

This salesman is a Saudi Salesman, not a foreigner, not a neighboring lebanese amazing salesman, he is a Saudi. And is doing great from the look of the full seats in his “ Territory”. What happened was like a classic example from a college textbook on sales.

This SSM( Saudi Salesman-Marketeer) was jumping in joy when he saw us and started joking and talking about his (Kibdah) you have to come its good for you, its the best, why go so far for another place when this is right here? its even good for growing hair he says, admiring my shaven head,”as If I care” I said jokingly. Im looking for “an aphrodisiac” I joked, “ Well I don’t know about that? but why not give it a try?” he signals to one of the food delivery boys and his job is done. That’s it, but who can forget his charm and Jiddah like hospitality with words we miss so much from the old days.

On a similar note, I happened to be in a BMW showroom a few weeks back checking out the new 7 series, my only problem was I was not in tip top shape, i was wearing my training suit after the gym. The salesmen in that place have been there too long and are used to a certain look and walk and design of people who might buy a car. They ignored me all the way to the door, not even a hello! I could have caused trouble only because the owner is one of our good friends, but why bother, maybe one day I will take this friend and visit Balad so he can send his sales force for a one day crash course in sales from the real Saudi pros!

There is a long road ahead of the Saudi sales forces out there, the car company is only one example, what about the hundreds of other outlets? We have what we need right here, all we need to do is polish the information and bring back our originality, the business people of yesterday had certain rules that are still being taught today in foreign lands, its a universal language, not a NASA project. Well maybe we need to put in as much work and effort on a nationwide sales mentality program, it could be more than a NASA project!

I end this note with 2 things: I have faith in our youth & I love Al-Balad moments.

Mamdooh Al-Radadi

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