In 2011, William ('Bill') and Maggie Jeans, Owners/General Manager and Director of Al Manahil Educational Consultancy and Al Manahil International LLC talked about their business importing and distributing English language books from their base in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. Sadly, Bill died in 2015 after a long illness but the business continues to thrive under Maggie’s leadership. Maggie Jeans was awarded an OBE in November 2016 for services to Omani-British relations.
What does the name of your shop mean? In Arabic ‘Al Manahil’ means ‘The Fount of Wisdom’, but we do not really have a shop. We have three offices: one is used as a storeroom, one has three of us working in it and ELT books for teachers to look at, and the third seats two of us, with a table where we can sit and talk to customers or have office meetings or lunches. We prefer to have as few books as possible in our offices, since our aim is to provide quotations, then buy the books and deliver them as quickly as possible in Oman after receiving an order.
Tell us about Muscat. Muscat has grown into an elongated town about 50 kilometres long, squeezed between the mountains and the sea. Our offices are on the first floor of a block of flats in the area of the government ministries.
Who works there? We are two British owners, two Omani men – one who is the office manager and deals with customers and ministries in Arabic, and the other who looks after consignments and deliveries. We also have a Philippina deputy manager who looks after delivery notes, chases payments and charms the customers, and a part-time Indian book-keeper. All of us do quotations, since almost every sale is preceded by a written quotation – usually in competition with at least two other suppliers.
What kind of books do you sell? We sell only books in English. About half our business is ELT and English learning materials, and the other half academic and medical books. Sales are roughly half to government institutions – colleges and the University, armed forces, hospitals and nursing institutes – and half to language schools, private colleges and universities. We do not sell trade books, but have set up a system to allow people in Oman buying through Amazon UK to have their books sent to our shipper in London, and brought to Oman with our weekly shipment of books. This is very much cheaper than sending them by post and it brings people to our office to collect their Amazon orders and so spreads the word about our services.
How long have you had the business? Maggie started the business in 1996/7 and Bill joined her after retiring from Sultan Qaboos University in 2000.
Where do your customers come from? We never see tourists, since they do not wander around our area, and few Omanis read books in English for pleasure. The end users are mostly students in colleges and English language learning centres, with some expatriates using the Amazon shipping service.
How would you describe the state of the trade? Oman has a large young population, having benefited from the amazing advances in health, education and prosperity in the last 40 years. The government considers that learning in English is the key to providing jobs in the future, and so the learning of English, and the use of English-language textbooks, expands year by year. This may change with the advent of e-learning, but books are still the basis of learning here.
Is there anything you dislike about your work? Doing enormously long quotations. It is so much easier to order one thousand copies of a single title, compared to single copies of one thousand titles! Also, having worked in schools, hospitals and universities all our lives, we had not realised how tied one is by having a small business of one’s own.
How do you choose stock? We only buy to order, so we do not have to make the decisions, nor have money sitting on shelves.
Do you ever organise events? We sometimes have visiting authors and arrange events for them in a suitable venue. Raymond Murphy and Jack Richards of Cambridge University Press and Sue O’Connell of Pearson have given seminars here, and we have had notable evenings with both Henry Hemmings (‘In Search of the English Eccentric’) and Tim Macintosh-Smith the travel writer, at the British Embassy. We enjoy the visits of publishers’ representatives and the contacts they put in touch with us and have had a number of visiting artists.
What are your current bestsellers? In ELT the new course book Unlock from Cambridge University Press is in competition with Q: Skills for Success from Oxford University Press, which has replaced Headway. Pathways from Cengage National Geographic Learning sells well along with the latest edition of Cutting Edge from Pearson. Accounting books for the ACCA examinations from BPP and Kaplan are steady sellers. We also supply books to Oman's new National Museum gift shop, which is a new venture for us.
How do you get the books to Muscat? We have an excellent shipper – Charles Kendall Freight, based in London, close to Heathrow. They consolidate our orders and send them by air to Muscat once a week. They also ship items for the Sultan’s Armed Forces, and we once received two mortars mixed up with boxes of books, which rather surprised us! We have a shipper in New York, and receive a shipment from the USA about once a month.
Batch and Your Business
How long have you been using Batch? We have used the service almost from the time it started in 2000, and find it immensely helpful to pay multiple suppliers by one bank transfer, and to be able to look at details of invoices when necessary.
Is there anything we could do to improve our service to you? We would welcome the addition of more publishers to those using the Batch service in the UK. We would also like to be able to pay publishers charging us in USD via batch.co.uk. [We now deal in dollars.]
Al Manahil Educational Consultancy and Al Manahil International LLC
PO Box 552
Suite 105, Bait al a'ali
Off Al Elm Street
Tel/fax: (968) 24487707 and (968) 24485757