February 2, 2009

On Going Local...


Whenever people talked to me about boycotting certain products because of their political or religious affiliations, I always rolled my eyes and said with my most defying tone “give me decent alternatives and I will boycott all the way”! No one could ever give me alternative brands for my list of products, and I think I can pretty much dare whoever feels like it.

My father and my baby sister boycotted for a couple of years (my dad still does to his best knowledge since he has no idea the kinds of products ma gets into the house). My sister ended up changing her mind because she thought it was futile since she was the only one in her big circle of family and friends who took the matter that seriously. My father still says that I have no principles “ma3andeesh mabda2”, truth is, I have my own set of principles, only they do not serve any of the well respected causes; they serve my own benefit.

Yes, I said it, I am selfish and I have every right to be.

So this post could either be a logical way of tackling the whole Going Local campaign*, or could simply be my own way of rationalizing not being able to completely support it. Either way, please take the time to read this through without prejudice.

First of all, I am not a 3o2det el khawaga kinda person; I am however a quality freak kinda person yet I don’t like overpaying for whatever I get. This could be very hard to prove (the not 3o2det khawaga part) since most of my stuff are not made in Egypt, but I think I will make my point clear as I go, or at least try.

Please take the time to observe the Egyptian market, and then take more time to observe the Egyptian brand names more closely. I know I have!

The Egyptian quality has no standards whatsoever. International franchises have issues with maintaining quality control over our Egyptian production. Compare any Egyptian made product of an international brand to that made in a Gulf country for example, you might feel the urge to cry! Moreover, go check all the "stock" stores, you'll find tags of international brands with the phrase "made in egypt"; in case you never wondered, those were attempts of those brands to produce in Egypt for cheap labor only the quality of the products were too bad to leave the Egyptian lands! That being said, you can imagine what it must be like with Egyptian brands that undergo less strict supervision!

In textiles, if the fabric has any sorts of stripes or patterns (God forbid), it’s almost impossible to follow that stripe or pattern from the front through the back with the side sewing (I am not sure of the technical name). Not to mention how recklessly buttons are "not" fixed, or how some sewing just un-sews for no reason whatsoever! And please, do not get me started on how un-standardized the sizes are; you can easily find a Medium item of clothing twice as big as the next Medium one, OR you can be a size 12 (US) and find your Egyptian brand pants to be size 48!!!!

As for shoes, although shoemakers all over the world (at least the hip and fashionable ones) hate feet, Egyptian shoemakers hate both feet and fashion! Poor leather, extremely poor “glue” or whatever it is they use to keep the shoe together! And the whole structure of the average pair of shoes looks just abusive, not to mention how shoemakers go to extremes to make a pair of shoes look tacky and cheap!

When it comes to food, we all go by buying Egyptian fruits and vegetables, and truth be told, they taste a lot better than those I’ve tasted elsewhere! But let’s talk about the manufactured foods, the whole biscuit and chocolate industry comes to mind, bringing along too much shame; yes yes, I know it’s good enough for its price, but can you see how Cadbury and Galaxy decreased their prices once they started producing locally, which of course will take us back to how different the products of both brands are when compared to their equals made in KSA for example!

I read on one of the comments on a blog that Salé Sucré has competitive chocolate delicacies, but it does not compete with the price of a locally made Galaxy Bar; I would go for Salé Sucré any time of the day, I would go for quality over price any time of the day, but that would not be competition; for me it would be a matter of preference, but it would be abuse for people who simply can’t afford decent quality and feel obliged deal with Corona’s sad and sorry excuse for chocolate just to support local brands!!

Now, that brings me to the other factor, price. I am not millionaire; in fact, I spend much more than I make and I maintain a certain living standard with my father’s help whom I know also maintains a higher living standard than his real income, like most of the upper middle class that seems to be diminishing. So I hate paying more, even though a lot of my friends say that I get ripped off on daily basis buying the things I buy.

The Egyptian products don’t give me any sort of satisfaction not just because of the quality issues discussed above, but also because the ones with quality that live up to my relatively high bar seem to overcharge for it! Yeah yeah, quality should cost more, I agree, but no one said a locally made brand should cost as much as an imported one. That would only tempt the average Egyptian consumer to buy an international brand, and then I wouldn’t blame them; if my country men are screwing my wallet for the quality they SHOULD provide, then screw them, I’m giving my money to the international brand.

I know it sounds selfish being said that way, but come on, any customer is entitled to serve their best interest, they taught us that in our first economics class! Which reminds me, competition is there for a reason; to best serve the consumer. International competition should teach local brand owners to live up to the same quality standards and yet offer their brands for a competitive price especially that they do not need to take into consideration factors like customs, shipping charges, currency value, that’s why international brands cost less than its price in Egypt when you buy them from their country even with the exchange rate and the ridiculous value of the Egyptian pound.

So if we decide to overlook all the above and go local, what would that do to our economy, aside from all the other political and religious reasons people keep throwing around? Would that mean that we endure the abuse done by owners of Egyptian brands who either overlook quality** or overcharge? Would that be our surrendering to the way things are? What would happen if everyone goes local and international competition diminishes to a minimum that would make Egyptian branding a scary monopoly? (speaking of monopolies, can't you see how monopolized brands terrorize a couple of sectors in our market?!!)

Before answering all those questions, please bear in mind that the distribution of wealth in Egypt is majorly screwed; successful business owners are not necessarily successful because they are the fittest or the best (with all due apology to the actual fit and good ones here). Moreover, keep into consideration that the Egyptian market is not as transparent as it should be and that some of the “Egyptian brands” are no longer owned by Egyptian owners (Chipsy comes to mind), which makes me think of how non-existing the consumers' rights are, but I can't get to that now!

I know the economies do not change between day and night, and I know that the core of the idea is really good, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the other implications and all the potential consequences of such change taking place; is that the change we want?

So yes, the idea of going local is pretty, but only as pretty as utopia I’m afraid and let’s face it, the way things are run in Egypt is anything BUT utopia!

Finally, I realize I only ranted without giving any alternatives. I hate doing that, but I'm afraid there is nothing for me to do that would change the way most of things are; my little part is to go local when I all my terms are met and to demand the level of quality I think I deserve when I can. I wish there was more for me to do, who knows, perhaps this will be read by someone who can do more!

* The idea is originally Juka's whom I've been following for almost a year now but without any contribution!
** I first read Will's lines on Global Voices of Egypt (don't have the link for that article now) and it I was glad someone spoke of it; it's the same as my point of view but it's only fair to give Will as much credit for it since he said it somewhere before I got to write that post.

Disclaimer: My above post does not by any mean deny the existence of good Egyptian products for affordable price; there are of course some. I couldn't help but think of that when I took off my shoes to find my Egyptian-made socks. Point is, there must be other good products out there, God help us all find them and may He help their owners maintain the quality and price!

18 comments:

Juka said...

Hey, would have loved to hear your voice around the blog.

Not sure if Gjoez passed on my reply on the economic points, in all cases I promise to provide a lengthier reply on my blog soon. Was just hoping to do it on the Going Local blog.

insomniac said...

hey :)

well, i would have loved to leave a comment, but every time i tried to leave a comment regarding the campaign it got lengthy and i thought it would be just rude to leave a long comment pointing out the "flaws" instead of saying anything positive :$

now i am actually more willing to go point by point with u if u like, and perhaps you'd talk me out of my cynical attitude ;)

i am following you blog with utter admiration nonetheless and hoping u'd have suggestions that would shut me up :))))

in case it's not obvious enough, i am so sorry i'm such a bubble burst-er; i just can't help how my mind works :$

Ice Queer said...

TOUCHE!
I've always wanted 2 explain that 2 ppl but couldnt find the right words, but u did it!

Lol I can't imagine scrubing my face with an Egyptian cosmetic product(EVA masalan hehe)

insomniac said...

thanks :)

u know, all hygiene products cannot be replaced by local brands, what does that say about local brands?? what does that say about the hygienic awareness in this country!!

Juka said...

No khales, I'm all for bubble bursting. Hmm ok, lets do it here we 2amry le-Allah!

Your intro, is exactly why I'm doing this, I was sick and tired of rolling my eyes at boycott singers. I'm not sure if you know what I do for a living, but I help companies enter new markets (new products or new geographical spaces). We do this through identifying the opportunities. This was my economic ulterior motive for this exercise. In a recession jobs don't come by easy, I wanted to shed light on areas fresh graduates can start their own businesses in, to provide affordable good quality goods and services that no-one else seems to be providing.

Egyptians, by genetic composition, assume bad quality of all Egyptian goods, look at our use of the term "balady". Out of fairness the majority of local producers historically have strengthened that belief through trying to abuse customers and force cheap products at high prices down their throats in a perfectly protected communist market. Yet in the current day and age, I honestly believe there are some quality Egyptian goods out there who nobody knows about and who the Egyptian customer for whatever reason wouldn't be caught dead buying.

I honestly don't know why Galaxy in Egypt tastes different from Galaxy in Saudi Arabia. I'm going to tally it up to 2azmet dameer. Yet I totally agree with you, we need harsher and more stringent quality requirements for goods that are sold locally. I've seen the stuff that gets exported in a lot of industries, if they can produce top notch products to meet EU standards, than Dr. Mahmoud's people in the Egyptian Standards Organization should put in a little effort to monitor domestic production.

I agree also on the sizing problem, yet that's the kind of thing we should try and get across to them. In a Dubai setting I don't even have to try on stuff at Zara and H&M, doing that in a Rojada would be a very at-your-own-peril activity.

I disagree on the shoes though, I think leather industries are one of the most reformed and improved in Egypt, perhaps because I know people in the Ministry of Industry and have been following the investments injected into the dying and tanning industries. My advise is shoes in Alex are better than Cairo, no clue why, check out Berar and S&N whenever you are there. Rim used to be really good too, there is one in Mohandseen. Have not tried them since school though.

I agree on the problems with locally manufactured chocolates (I don't quite think there are decent local brands, I'm willing to invest if you are). Yet I disagree regarding the biscuit industry, Egyptian brands are just badly distributed and badly marketed. Yet stop at any kiosk on your way anywhere and pick a random Egyptian biscuit type, they really are quite decent.

Do the really good (or those who perceive themselves as really good)rip us off and charge ridiculous profit mark-ups? Unfortunately a lot of them do. They figure if the consumers can pay that much for the international brand then they should get a little of the action. From an economic perspective, he's doing the right thing for himself, maximizing his profit. If people do shift to the imported, he will revise his pricing policy. With prices like those of Terranova and H&M the Rojada's of Cairo should really reconsider their pricing policies. The economy will then settle at an equilibrium where he is priced just right for you to find him good value for money vis-a-vie international alternatives.

For those who have a specific complaint about a monopoly who's actions are to your detriment as a consumer, please head to the Egyptian Competition Authority's website and file it. If they are getting our support they are also signing up for us chewing them up when they abuse us.

Basically, as an economist, and a self-serving consumer with an interest in quality, my solution which I'm proposing is buy local, at least once, give the local product a chance, should they fail the test go back to whatever alternative you were using/buying. I'll be happy if you find 1 product in a 100 worth supporting and which you decide to continue using/buying.

From the traffic on the facebook group it seems that product just might be instant coffee and creamer :)

insomniac said...

your comment was brilliant if i may say... and it makes me see how we moght be sharing the same opinion, only each one of us addresses it from a different angle, urs is more optimistic and mine is of course rather cynical...

well, it's only human nature that we have a selective memory when it comes to all our experiences and that we tend to remember the bad experiences... Egyptians are not genetically designed to think the Egyptian brand is flawed, they just have one hell of a huge collective memory of too many bad experiences... i guess we can agree that we Egyptians are our very own abusers!!

you said the key word when it comes to most of Egypt's problems: ellet dameer... which makes me doubt, HIGHLY doubt the government's role of pushing the "good" brands, and protecting us from the abusive brand owners, us being the consumers that is...

i am sorry, but from the way i see things here, you can get away with murder if you have the right connections, literally... so who cares about the quality of products!! and trusting the same government and its system to maintain order is not something i can easily do, after all it is the same government and its system that screws people in millions of ways either through ridiculous laws, wastas or rashawy... i mean how many gov. officials get bribes on daily basis to let people get away with violations, in all fields!!!

which brings me to the whole monopoly business :) again, i know it's a far off topic, but does any one has a chance breaking Ezz's monopoly in the steal industry?? how many cement companies are still surviving next to the "ONE AND ONLY" company??!!!

having faith in the the system will not protect the customer, especially with the whole elet dameer factor, the consumer must have leverage, and sadly our only leverage is the international competition, it's very VERY sad, especially that it does not change things to anyone's benefit really!

i am so taking your word for the shoes thing, i am suffering and so are my poor toes! and i think they stopped making my shoe size, it's like they import "2aleb el gazma" from china now... ok i am size 9 so yes i kinda have big feet :)

oh btw, i agree that the quality of Egyptian leather is good; however, the finish is rather BAD...

you're also right as far as the biscuits are concerned... i meant to say wafers mostly since my natural preference goes to wafers but i cal them biscuits for easier reference :) sham3dan and samba are.... indescribable!


i guess i would gladly go for the Egyptian brand when it's good enough, and i do... when it comes to restaurants i am all about local (except for chili's but i can so work on it), and i am all for the Egyptian sock industry, i mean it... ayna3am they have their disturbing issues (like sizes 37-40, those are what, 4 different shoes sizes!! and the band kinda wears off too soon, but i can live with that), there is really more, but if i go on, i'd find myself going up the price scale which is just inconvenient given that the same product/service could be offered for less....

i am starting to have an idea, i will let it simmer in my head for a while before i can discuss it, but i will surely talk to you about it once i am sure it can be done...

thanks juka for your informative comment, really appreciated :))

Shimaa Gamal said...

Well, I posted a comment on Jessy's blog about how going local might eventually harm the economy on the long run.
Belya and Jessy pointed that the initiative isn't really about going local all the way it is only about going local for only the things that worth. And that the initiative is more about improving the Egyptian products.
Personally, I buy Egyptian and sometimes I wish I were Chinese :) because of the Chinese products dumping our markets I think it might be easier if I became Chinese :)
Yet, I believe it is good to raise the awareness that people could ease the crisis knocking our doors by being more rational in their consumption behavior. To buy domestic products and help the economy, even only in the short run.
In the long run this will harm the economy, not only because we will encourage monopolies but also because even the low quality you are complaining about now will degrade. Wrong allocation of resources will lead to many problems.
But, even if in the long run this might harm our economy it is one of the ways that could delay the recession.

Anyway, if anyone of you is buying Ezz Steel, please buy imported :)
The Egyptian Competition Authority cleared him from monopolistic behavior but he is a monopolist.

Think of buying poor quality local products as a deduction to your pay check. Because if the recession will be as bad as everyone is saying you may end up losing the whole thing.

Umslopagas said...

Hmmm,

Well said Insomniac, looks like I've been too cuddled up inside my shell to actually notice what's going on.

I'd elaborate on your post, however, it'd be in direct breach of my employment contract :(

insomniac said...

shimz,

i agree that we should do what we can if it supports the development of our egyptian products, but not by compromising, never by compromising; otherwise, we'd only be harming ourselves on both the short and the long term....

competition is always good for the customer... and you're right, there are no guarantees to protect the consumer from the business owners' abuse in cases of monopoly or other unethical business practices... if supporting egyptian brands should never mean supporting the "corruption" of their owners... i have not yet figured out which is worse, shar barra wala sharr hena....


umslopagas,

now i am curious about what you had to say/elaborate, but i can ask you to say any of it :-/

but you can discuss around the matter without getting in specifics if it helps, enta adra!

Rasha said...

If I would try guess a percentage for the poor qualified Egyptian products, I would say about 80%.
and If I would try guess the percentage of Egyptians who can't afford super quality products that costs a lot, I would say about 90%.

Now, looking at my guessed percentages I find myself finding no problem really, you are blessed you find alternatives internationally to pick from...you can afford it whether it's Egyptian great quality or international.
Less advantaged people are equally blessed to find products that meet their expectations ( given the fact that they know no alternative ) whether in quality or price.
You can't really expect a whole country's industry to rise their standards and therefore their prices to meet the quality of the elite and not produce something humble enough for the poor.
This is how the market (life) is, was and will forever be...
we have kam supermarket gamed, alfa, Metro and such....and a million ba2al yenaseb elnas ely lesa betestakhdem Rabso mesh Arial...so, i find some Egyptian brand kwayeseen and i find lots mesh awi for my taste and i find that natural.
We all hope for better quality regarding everything and that's for sure...bas, fee perspectives tanya we should put in mind.
that is one long comment :D

insomniac said...

ya rasha i completely agree....

the whole idea of the campaign can only be applied among a certain class...

i know en fe rapso we fe millions of brands that provide low quality for an extra low price for the underprivileged [i hate how condescending that sounds :(]

but that's the point, if the "higher" class (and not the elite just yet) support local brands that do not offer decent quality and manage to offer average price, they will screw with the delicate economic balance that barely keeps the "lower" class balanced... betoo3 rapso and such (not necessarily all) will be tempted to upgrade their target at some point for more prestigious branding and will cease to serve the class that actually needs and accepts that kind of brand....

i know it will not happen it the black/white fashion i mention, but it will happen and it will do more harm than good given all the factors in the egyptian market....

am i making sense to you, because a lot of people are talking to me right now i am not sure i was clear enough for my own understanding!!

Umslopagas said...

You've been tagged ;)

Rasha said...

:)
I know exactly what you mean.
And the elite thingie is an understatement ya fandem ;)

The.I.inside said...

Going Local, didn't know that people are back to this. Every couple of years someone remember that we need to boycott and they launch the whole Help your bro's and sis's in palastine or iraq (or whatever country in the light at the moment) couple of month later ppl forget all about it. I'd love to jump in but as you clearly stated there is no any decent alternative. No reason to make me go local. I like to think that I don't have "3o2det el khawaga" but a lot of people believe that I do. the whole value for my money is a smart concept, but sadly I don't use it. My Principle in a nutcase is what I like I buy, whether it was made locally or importaed. I rarly even give it a thought. I just buy what I like. some local law quality brands I buy simply beccause I like the way they taste (I am weird that way) and sometimes the other way round .
Sorry Everyone I won't try to go local. I just go on buying whatever cross my path. sorry for the long answer.

insomniac said...

umslopagas,

will go check now! thanks!


Rasha,

i'm so glad you do, God bless you for always understanding the nonesense i say!!!


I,

i am wondering which local brands u like their taste...

btw, ur ok, the whole idea of being self-serving is doing what makes you happy :)

The.I.inside said...

I like the hideous Corona Dark chocolate. it's actually my second best after Droste Pastilles Extra Dark Chocolate. (which is very rare to find )

Rasha said...

Hats up for that "I"
Great chocolate taste!

insomniac said...

I,

I didn't even know corona made dark chocolate!!!

i am generally not a dark chocolate fan, but droste is one of the fine chocolates, i love their milk chocolate :))


rasha,

eb2y dawaa2eeny el cornona el dark de, bas emseky fe eedek el tanya lindt 3ashan nel7a2ny!!