The Hind sisters and Nadia Wassef had always shared the dream of opening a bookshop with all their Egyptian roots and at the same time open to the world, giving books back the status they deserve. In the western world this idea would not be noticed, but in Egypt it is different. “All the bookstores are old, they don’t offer customer service, and after the socialist revolution of 1952, books were sold en masse without print quality,” Hind recalls.
As a result, numerous bookstores were forced to close during the 1970s, “but we found that these closures did not affect the hunger for reading among the upper class, who continued to buy books when they traveled to Europe or the United States.”
In March 2002, with an initial investment of 143,000 euros, they opened their first bookstore, Diwan Bookstore. And thanks to the help of a venture capital firm (which just valued the company at €3.37 million), they hope to finish this year with 11 active bookstores in Cairo. “We offer a quality service that includes searching for specific editions, home delivery, clear categorization of books, a wide range of children’s, youth and adult literature in four languages (Arabic, English, French and German), multimedia areas and stationery and canteen,” explains the entrepreneur.
Localization and marketing, key to success
Interestingly, almost all of Cairo’s bookstores are located in the center of the city, the most economically disadvantaged area. “In the beginning, our customers were quite high status, so we went to richer places where, paradoxically, there were no bookstores. Recently, we are opening up to a more popular class and have just opened a store in the university, which has a population with wide social and economic disparities,” says Hind.
To make themselves known, they admit that investing in a good logo and quality bags in which to give the books to their customers has worked best for them. “They’re very durable, so we see them all the time in Cairo and we’ve even seen them on the New York and London subways,” says this entrepreneur, adding that book signings, children’s activities and college visits have done the same have been other successful marketing strategies they have used to grow their business.