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Similarities between a typical architect and a Moroccan storekeeper

A little detail makes the difference when competing in overcrowded industries

I know that sometimes some architects are blind at the moment of taking decisions about our firms, specially those decisions related to modify their business model. It´s usual that they are so concentrated in their professional activities that they don´t like taking management decisions. But sometimes there is no other choice, specially when they have to become more competitive in order to increase their sales. Maybe they as architects refuse to compare ourselves with other sectors because they are different- they conform an special sector, they are “artists”. But if they are not able to carry on some changes to achieve more jobs then it is probably that they will have to close. How could an architect make the difference now, when this industry has become so crowded and competitive in our first world countries?

Author | Germán Cintas Araújo.

Two weeks ago I stayed in Marrakech (Morocco) for a few days in a business trip. I don´t know if you have ever been there, but if you walk along its main Square- Jama el Fna- you will surely feel lost in a medieval Arabian marketplace. No picture nor words can describe this environment: snake charmers, spices stalls, street water sellers, rogues (you have to be aware of your pokets), etc. And if you go into the streets that make up its souk you would probably get lost, being unable to understand the logic of this maze.

But there is a bit of logic within this urban maze. If you have ever studied about traditional Arabian culture you will know that all the business sectors in the city are grouped into “guilds” which  concentrate in urban districts. So there is a district for the tanners, a district for the leather crafters,  other for the carpet traders, etc… You can realize that any store that you can see along any street in certain district exhibits exactly the same products with the same (initial) price than the others. There is no difference between one store and the next. Even more, there are too much stores and products to sell to a few tourists.

So, if a street is crowded of stores whose products are identical, with the same business model; if prices are the same for the same few tourists, what is the differencial factor for success? How can a seller of spices ensure the sale of his amber, his cinnamon, his incense? In general you will observe that everyone is trying to sell you its gender in a very aggressive way. If you go walking down the street and you stop for watching something that you find attractive then you would probably realize how several people appear suddenly, standing in front of you, trying to sell it , haggling all the time, until you fall exhausted.  Note that this situation is something that happens even when buying bread, when having a coffee or when renting a car. As this is the usual tactic to sell in Marrakech, you finally get tired and prefer not buying anything.

But sometimes, if you stand in front of a Tuareg blue silk scarf, a Nigerian handmade copper bracelet or a hand carved ebony door from Sudan, maybe that the seller stands in the darkness looking at you out of the corner of his eye, waiting patiently. And when you had spent a time watching, touching, smelling, he would slowly approach you, samiling, asking you about your nationality in your own language, no matter which one it could be. He would talk you slowly about the magical origin of the artifact you were looking at and about all the other objects around you. He will offer you a green mint flavored tea while explains to you how the Malian stone crafters shape their ritual malachite orbs o maybe he will talk you about  the way the elderly women weave carpets using hands and feet at dawn in the desert. After about one hour you would probably leave his store, having bought things you would never use in your whole life, but you would feel happy with your purchase.

Working as an architect or as a storekeeper is the same when operating in an overcrowded industry. The difference maybe consist on something so easy as developing a single skill that could allow you to identify your customer in order to help him and satisfy his desires, no matter if that skill simply consist on being a good storyteller.

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