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The State of Libya

posted: 21 February, 2016

Artillery fire fizzes over our heads towards the city limits and the desert beyond. Automatic gunfire is let loose and the noise rushes through the streets and hotel corridors as if it were itself trying to escape.

That this massive show of firepower is dismissed as high-spirited shenanigans – celebratory gunfire in response to the capture of one of Muammar Gaddafi’s more villainous sons – is of literally no comfort to your correspondent as he cowers under the bedclothes for protection.

I am in Libya because of a phone call. This is usually how it starts. Some guy decides he wants to become North Africa’s leading retail franchising business, and we have to decide whether to decline politely, run for the hills, or to go with it.

Perhaps it’s something to do with being based out in the wilds of Scotland, but these sorts of calls usually have us reaching for the safari suit and fly-swat.

It’s more attitude than strategy, but Woody Allen was really onto something when he said 80% of his success was down to showing up!

When we were introduced to Al Rowad, they were a little-known but well-respected shipping agent and freight-forwarding business based out of Misurata, willing to bet on the growth of domestic retailing. They are now well on their way to becoming the leading franchise partner of globally recognised brands across North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean.

Taking them from “good idea” to the opening of their first store in December 2015 neatly covers the scope of the project, but the challenges were enormous – the first of which was simply to convince ourselves the project was even possible.

In late 2013, Libya was experiencing a fragile recovery from civil war and it was far from clear what lay ahead. The retail market, though thriving, was small and limited to one or two streets in the capital, Tripoli. Our client, although a trusted partner of various global shipping firms including Maersk, had no meaningful retail credentials to offer.

The political, economic, and security situations were completely unpredictable, but we were stunned by the motivation and commitment of Al Rowad’s leadership. On his hopes for his company and country, Mr Bashir Al Shabah, owner and founder of Al Rowad, said:

“The economic and cultural benefits of a thriving commercial sector where people are free to express their choices are clear to me. But there remains much work for us to do; to rebuild our cities, to restructure our economy, and to restore the confidence that was hidden for so long but which still characterises our people.

Retailing has an incredibly important role to play here and I am excited by the opportunity this presents for my colleagues, our partners, and for Libya as a whole.”

There was always a solid commercial base to build a retail business upon – an existing domestic and international logistics network, ownership of prime real estate, and, importantly, a progressive business culture – but it was impossible for us not to get behind a mission statement like that and got on the first plane to Tripoli.

The project engaged each of the four services we provide. We developed a compelling business case for retail expansion in North Africa and put in place attractive reasons why retailers should choose Al Rowad as their partner. We prepared research and developed the strategy. We hired the executive team and have brokered franchise deals which have set Al Rowad on course to become the leading operator in their region.

Here’s what our Libyan client had to say.

“Retail Management Consultants needs to change their name, as to us they’re certainly not a consultant, they’re a partner. They’ve been instrumental in assisting us in building our retail business, connecting us with top international retailers, recruiting industry veterans to manage these brands, and conducting critical research for new markets we plan to develop. They believe our success is their success, and it’s clear in their work ethic, they’ve worked around the clock to deliver our goals.”