The past two days have been spent running around gathering all of the equipment, packaging and other supplies needed to get the store open on Thursday. Each morning we trek across the desert from Al Ain to Dubai, not on camelback across the dunes, but barreling down a superhighway at 140 km/hr in a luxury SUV.
Except for the scenery rushing by our windows, the situation is identical to what is going on in hundreds of millions of cars all over the globe. iPhones constantly buzzing, deals being negotiated and meetings being arranged. As Swaidan juggles it all, we switch back and forth from business planning to learning from him about the history, culture and customs of the region, and it has been fascinating. Our host and partner is a kind, warm, generous, brilliantly intelligent man with a wonderful sense of humour. A fortyish father of 4, Swaidan went to England to get his engineering degree, then moved on to Australia for his Masters degree before settling down in his homeland. He has, and has had a number of business interests from construction to retail and more. He is among the most worldly people I have known, due to his having lived abroad and his extremely frequent travels to Europe and America.
Driving into Dubai is quite the experience. The architecture is absolutely magnificent. Each building is unique, colorful, and exciting. They have done a fantastic job. And of course the fabulous Burj, the world tallest building (for now) is totally surreal.
Our days begin in the wholesale shopping district, where we have purchased everything from stems for our cookie bouquets, to the pans we need for baking. Right beside the spice market are streets of small extremely specialized shops that are showrooms for wholesale traders.
As more than 75% of the population here in the UAE is non-native, the primary language of communication is English, which makes it very easy to follow along in the negotiations. We poked around in the various showrooms until we found an item we were looking for, negotiated the price and paid. Then it was back in the car to drive past the gleaming buildings toward suburban Sharjah and Ajman, to dusty industrial areas to pick up what we ordered. But just before heading there, there was a brief pitstop at the Dubai mall for a bite of lunch and the jaw-dropping experience of the largest mall in the world, with its ice skating rink, waterfalls and thousands of stores. It also gave us a chance to taste Ben's cookies, our main competitor in this market. We have nothing to worry about in a head-to-head taste test.
As the sun was setting, we hit the road back to Al Ain. Just after we crossed from The Emirate of Dubai to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (in which Al Ain resides), there is a gas station/ rest stop that we have stopped at each of the past three nights. In most ways, the rest stop is like any other in North America. But none of our rest stops also have a mosque attached to it.
After an hour of shouting at the contractor who still has a long list of details to complete, (something that is very much the same with contractors in our country), Swaidan is able to reduce his stress level by praying in the mosque, and we take the opportunity to have some fine espressos and cappuccinos, provided to us from an automated machine.
We continue on to Al Ain and head down a back road where we drive into a dilapidated courtyard to enter a print shop that truly looks Third World from the outside. Inside we meet with two of the kindest and most talented in-house designers that I've ever worked with. Added to the list of the boxes and bags that they are already working on, we asked them to put together a flowerbox for our cookie bouquets, business cards, gift cards and more. The next day, samples are ready for approval. The following day they will produce in order to have everything done in time for opening. And everything is of a superb quality at a very competitive price. This is clearly a different level of service then we get from any box manufacturers back home.
I could really tell that Swaidan had become accustomed to spending extended days with a husband and wife team. As we examined the box sample, Gina was adamant that one of the dimensions should be increased from 18 cm to 20 cm. I was insisting vehemently that the 18 cm size was perfectly fine and that more would be excessive. Finally Swaidan suggested firmly that we should make it 19 and go home. A man who truly understands the art of negotiation, as well as marriage and the need for compromise!