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I have just returned from Muscat, the capital city of Oman where I met AlShaima our franchisee in the newest country to introduce Edible Arrangements. It’s always exciting to add another country to the growing lists of places where Edible Arrangements can touch people’s lives, but I was so impressed with AlShaima I couldn’t wait to share her story here.
She is such an inspiration! After studying Business Management at Bahrain University, AlShaima returned home to Muscat to start her own business in 1998. She wanted to start a flower and gift shop. I know the feeling – I got my own start owning first one, and then four flower shops! But AlShaima’s vision was a little different. She wanted to be a full service gift shop, so she offered flowers, balloons, chocolates, wrapping and other gifts. She says she simply opened the kind of store that she would want to shop in, and didn’t really have a business plan or marketing strategies in mind – she just, as she puts it, “thought of it on paper.” I have a feeling that her business schooling contributed more than she might realize, but her ambition, confidence and the decision to just “go for it” were a big part of her success.
That confidence was tested in June of 2007 when her shop was devastated by Cyclonic Storm Gonu. Intense tropical cyclones like Gonu are extremely rare over the Arabian Sea, but this totally unexpected storm made its way from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Oman where AlShaima’s shop was completely wiped out. With no insurance, AlShaima decided to try working at what she describes as “an annoying job” (she doesn’t say where, out of respect for her former employer) but she soon decided to reopen her flower and gift shop. She cites the old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” when she speaks of Cyclone Gonu, and she is not exaggerating, since the storm caused more than 50 deaths and over 4.2 billion (US 2007 dollars) in damage in Oman.
She soon took over the location next to her store so she could expand, and increased her customer base because the same customers who shopped at the adjacent store now came to her shop. With her new store doing well, she was looking for something new to stay fresh and competitive. When she first saw Edible Arrangements, AlShaima had the universal reaction– “Wow, what is this?” Just as she had when she opened her first business, AlShaima thought, “let me try it.” She says her first week was like a miracle, customers were immediately drawn to the product and I suspect that AlShaima’s warmth and amazing personality helped to bond customer relationships. AlShaima’s daughters attend an American school in Oman, headed by a Canadian superintendent, who was thrilled to see Edible Arrangements come to Oman since she knew EA from Canada. She likes the idea that Edible Arrangements are beautiful like flowers, but environmentally friendly since they are not wasteful.
To celebrate the Muscat opening, AlShaima is donating gross profits from her EA store’s first week to famine relief in Somalia, in cooperation with the Oman Charitable Organization. AlShaima’s connection to the Oman Charitable Organization is close: her father took on the role of CEO of the governmental organization after retiring from the government ministry. AlShaima makes the connection to her work and her father’s this way: “Edible Arrangements is all about giving – that’s why we thought it was important to start our business with a gesture that reflects the generosity of our customers. We also wanted to show our support for and contribute to the valuable work of the Oman Charitable Organization in Somalia in a time of such great need.”
AlShaima keeps busy with her three daughters, aged 10, 7 and 2, her businesses and, after taking some marketing courses, she is now pursuing her MBA from Hull University in the UK. Every six weeks a new study module is flown in to Muscat from the UK. Even though she has built businesses before, she says she’s back to “Square One” with her new Edible Arrangements business. She opened her first store, right next to her flower shop in a busy mall in Muscat, and at the same time was working on her second EA store in the city. And she has plans to open a third store in Salalah, on the southern coast of Oman next year. The lifestyle there is very different: the city is the second largest in Oman, but is more rural and significantly less cosmopolitan than Muscat. There are fewer western influences, English is not spoken in Salalah and the people are quite reserved. Despite the cultural differences in the two locations, AlShaima is convinced that Edible Arrangements will be well received. People are already calling, inquiring when EA is coming to Salalah. With her drive, confidence and business savvy, AlShaima is sure to be successful throughout Oman!