20 October 2008

Back to the Past (Retail is obviously suffering)

After a trip to the future (see my last post), we managed to pass by Manama Souq. Now, for any of you who read my post about retail suffering and disagreed, you need to see this to believe it. Passing by a few retailers in the Souq, I came across this:

Looks like a normal shop right? Ok, maybe if it was 1985 or so. Although a pretty large shop in quite a prime area of the market, this is what the shop actually had in it's window:

I swear I remember that blender from when I was 8 years old. And when you think about it, the best stuff is usually what's displayed in the window... Which means I don't even want to think about the age of stuff they have inside!

Yeah, a mechanical can opener; so 80's. And it's actually the size of little TV!

It's 2008. They're still trying to get these things sold. Whoever said retail in Bahrain wasn't suffering, here's your proof that it is! lol...

16 October 2008

I've Seen the Future..

Looking for some some office space around Manama, one of the options was the Financial Harbor; quite a feat of engineering and design, the place was very reminiscent of some of the old cartoons and movies I used to watch years ago that portrayed the future. Narrow corridors, dimly lit, huge glass panes viewing an outside world that you can't access (mainly due to the poisonous atmosphere caused by years of pollution and nuclear testing). Think a mixture of the Jetsons, Total Recall, Minority Report, and a few other futuristic movies;

Look at that lighting up on the ceiling, isn't that just the least reminiscent of some sort of alien architecture? Just walking around in these dark, semi-empty tight corridors...

More narrow hanging alleyways, fully made of glass, giving you space to see the outside world, that you can't step into... (because of the toxic atmosphere, of course). Meanwhile, huge machines build self-sustained communities in large buildings, to secure the future of humankind...

More alien architecture... Narrow, dark corridors, you can almost hear the "Twilight Zone" music playing in the background... And it probably would not have looked out of place to see an alien walking by, or a man with a huge round glass helmet on his head..

There were a hell of a lot of lifts and escalators to get people from one place to another...

All dark, metallic, is this what the future looks like? So separated from the outside world through thick plates of glass; scary stuff... It was one hell of a relief to leave and see the real world again!

Driving on towards Manama souq, we stepped out of the future, and about 30 years into the past! More on this in my next post, tommorow...

14 October 2008

Fasten your Seat Belts

A quick visit to Geant/Bahrain Mall today prompted a bit of thought. Driving through the massive parking lot, something felt different, looked different. Nothing had been changed or moved, nothing added. But the place felt, empty:

Can you see it? This was a regular weekday night, and the parking rows by the main entrance were free. To be perfectly honest, since it's opening I don't remember a single day where the parking looked this empty; sure, there were the quiet days, but even then the rows closest to the door were busy.

The reason is pretty apparent; with the opening of City Center Mall, which offers everything from multiple food courts, all the brands you can think of, hypermarket, and everything else in between all packaged nicely in a huge shopping mall, the surrounding malls definitely take a hit. Bahrain Mall wasn't the only casualty; Seef Mall is obviously suffering with a few shops closures (that transferred to City Center) and reduced traffic even on weekends. So has Dana Mall. So has A'ali Mall. And so has the general retail industry in Bahrain.

So you would assume that, to have an actual thriving business, you should open up in City Center, correct?

Seems the answer to that is also negative. A quick trip to City Center verifies that the mall is so big that, even on a busy day, the place still isn't very busy. The number of customers in each mall has been spread so thin that you start to wonder about the losses some of these retailers are starting to face; especially with the over-inflated prices they pay for store rental.

Between 2005-2007, the population of Bahrain grew by almost 25% (most of which seemed to be happening under the table), sustaining all sorts of growth; growth in real estate, land prices, new retailers, etc. However, with the discovery of this last year, cases were opened into why this was allowed to happen without transparency and regulation, and this has caused the ridiculous boom in Bahrain's population growth to stop.

However, one thing doesn't stop; the continued opening of new retail shops, continued building of towers, business offices, and so on. But without the growth in population to sustain it.

Are we looking at the makings of another market crash? This time one that isn't affected by the outside forces of the US financial meltdown, but rather one that was inspired by our own naivety? Factor into that the slowly approaching woes of a global market depression, and it seems that we're heading for quite a bit of a rough ride.

Fasten your seat-belts.

9 October 2008

HalaBahrain - October

HalaBahrain; Bahrain's first & only online magazine, covering entertainment, events, places to go, things to do, and much more!

The October issue is now: read it online or download it at www.HalaBahrain.com (and don't forget to subscribe free to get it in your email every month!).

7 October 2008

The Wake Up Call

I'm in a 5-star hotel lobby reading a copy of Gulf News, the UAE's primary English newspaper, and one that caters to quite a large percentage of the population. The newspaper is made up of 36 pages; 21 of those are full page advertisements for properties or some sort of real estate projects. Out of the other 15 pages, 7 have smaller advertisements for real estate/properties, and every other page covers some sort of real estate news.

Opposite me is a table with three Arab businessmen in their thobs, and an Arab lady in a suit. One of the men is looking at what seems to be a blueprint for a project (sounds like a residential tower), and seems to be on the verge of investing a considerably large amount into it as the lady encourages him to sign the papers.

The table next to me is surrounded by English businessmen, five of them, discussing the specifics of a project with another thob wearing local. The conversation gets heated as they get excited about what is being offered; I don't quite catch what it is, but it sounds like some type of luxury resort. Smiles and laughs abound, as success shines in everyone's eyes.

CNN is showing on a large TV in a distant corner of the lobby. The headline 'Market Crash' flashes across the bottom of the screen, as the newsreader mentions another mortgage-related financial disaster on the other side of the globe. Images of laid-off employees followed by more reports of asset liquidations and expensive corporate bailouts.

Two different sides of the world, two different worlds in themselves. Scary to see how leveraged this region is, in terms of a sector related to the market crash in other regions. Scary to see how the market meltdown has started in the U.S., and slowly started to spread to the rest of the world. Scary to see overconfidence in a market so unbelievably fragile, with no effort being made to shield away from the impending disaster. And scary to see people asleep to the fact that this whole situation might blow over any day now.

Ignoring the obvious warning signs, the issues facing the global community that feel so far away, it's hard to tell we're heading for disaster, a disaster we're being naive enough to discount as an unrealistic possibility. More projects are being set up, more investments are being taken, and more risks are being thrown on the table, yet everyone sleeps to the fact that this dream isn't going to last for ever.

We might be in for that wake up call very, very soon.

4 October 2008

Bringing in the New...

Bahrain's a tiny little country; I guess living in such a small island, we've been accustomed to the fact that everyone knows everyone else, and somehow most people here are intertwined. This is usually a nice perk to living in a small place, especially when it comes to building relations, making friends, knowing where to find certain things, etc.

It does weigh a few things down though; being in such a small place also means that you know exactly what you're surrounded by. There are no suprises, there are no mysteries, and everything comes as it is. What this does to the average Bahraini mentality, however, is allow a form of acceptance of your surroundings to reign over; you adapt, you don't need to change, you're more relaxed, but somehow you're also more lazy.

In Bahrain, things usually stay the same until something big comes and shakes them out of proportion. If a road is built with a major design flaw, the design flaw stays, until it causes a major traffic accident forcing people to fix the road. If a specific building doesn't have enough assigned parking space, no new parking spaces will be built, until the tenants decide they've had enough of the issue and decide to leave forcing the owner to put new parking spots in (both true examples, by the way). The culture has managed to become generally reactive, pushing the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" to a whole new level (don't fix it unless you really really have to).

This goes for everything from medicine, to education, to entertainment, and so on. Interestingly enough, a show this weekend has shaken the entertainment scene in Bahrain, and we're probably on the verge of seeing something new appear.

Live entertainment in Bahrain is generally restricted to music events and nightclubs. There really isn't much to define entertainment besides that (except the rare circus act, or football match that isn't usually worth going to). The playing field has now been open to... Yes, Stand Up Comedy!

Stand-Up Comedy has been pretty popular in the USA and a bunch of other countries for quite a while, but in Bahrain, the concept hasn't even been thought of until this weekend, when we had The Axis of Evil perform their hilarious forms of sarcasm and wit. This isn't the defining point, however. The defining point is actually the fact that the show introduced a number of different talented local comedians; and they probably made the crowds roar almost as much as the professional comedians did.

So this strikes a question; are we ready for stand up comedy? Are we going to be seeing comedy club open up all over Bahrain?

Well, probably not, but we've actually been bombarded with such a strong performance by both Axis and our local guys that everybody enjoyed, that it makes you want to seriously consider going to future comedy events here, even if they weren't an international act.

So perhaps, slowly, we might see a few more comedy acts pop up here and there, and slowly, a few more. And maybe one day a comedy club? A comedy school? The developments can go on and on...

Sure, the comedy show could have been a flop; people might not have been interested, and it may not have taken off. But then again, that's the risk you take for bringing in something new; if it's fails, it fails. But if it succeeds, then you've really done something special.

The point here is that we're not just looking at the development of entertainment; we're looking at the development of a country. Pushing ourselves to come up with something new, something unique, something different, and essentially something to add value to Bahrain. We've seen a lot of people take things for granted, and just follow the same route everyone else takes, without really putting in anything new.

Isn't it time for that? More creativity? More ideas? We know we have the skill and the ideas, we just need to have the courage and energy to put it all together.

(for more on the comedy show, check out BahrainTalent)