By Kelly Ann Crane
Some studied hard at business school, others invested unrivalled passion to get things off the ground, while a rare few are just born entrepreneurs. The famous saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try; try; try again” could have been written for innovative thinker and determined businessman Lothar Hohmann.
The German-born, Dubai-based entrepreneur is living proof that when the cut-throat business world deals a bad hand it doesn’t mean it’s time to fold. Having found himself on the sour end of a destructive business partnership, the now 48-year-old cut ties and watched years of hard work invested in a timeshare company crumble before his eyes.
But rather than calling it a day, Hohmann picked himself up, dusted himself off and booked an ‘R and R’ trip to Las Vegas to gather his thoughts and plan his next move. To cut a long story short, it took Hohmann – a chef by trained trade –approximately 72 hours to “stumble” upon an idea that would one day make him a business force to be reckoned with. The answer to his entrepreneurial dreams was a laser-etched image in a piece of crystal in a busy shopping strip in Las Vegas.
“I saw something that fascinated me and I thought people would feel the same in Dubai,” said Hohmann. “I looked the first time and then I went back. I had some samples made and Precise was born.”
Precise Trading set up shop in 2002 in the Dubai Investment Park (DIP) with Hohmann at the helm. Today the company is an industry pioneer in sub-surface laser etching of high quality crystals in both 2D and 3D. At a time, many would be nursing wounds and drowning sorrows, Hohmann – one of four brothers, three of which operate successful companies in the UAE – had successfully identified a new product for a hungry market.
“I loved how it looked and how it was presented,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to show them to a member of the royal family who wanted to buy them from me.” Hohmann humbly declined and explained he wanted to bring the concept to the Dubai International Airport for transit and travelling passengers.
“He picked up the phone, called the executive vice chairman of Dubai Duty Free [DDF], Colm McLoughlin, and said ‘I’m sending you a German, give him a space’. Within a few months, we were operating from a small counter in the airport and it was a success from day one.”
An ideal spot at the heart of DDF – an airport retailer with a turnover of USD 1 billion – it wasn’t long before operations began to expand. Deira City Centre housed retail outlet number two before the potential in the corporate world began to make itself known. Emirates, Atlantis, The Palm, Jumeirah, Emirates NBD are just a handful of the corporate world giants, which utilise the services of Precise today.
“Laser-engraved optical 2D and 3D portraits is how it began, but as we started to get the hang of it, we expanded into trophies, awards, corporate gifts and mementos,” explained Hohmann.
Rather than settle for “so-so” as Hohmann puts it, he instead strives to push the boundaries of technology and quality. “I saw an opportunity and effectively it was a ‘copy and paste’ scenario,” he said. “But we brought the technology to the region and continued to develop it to beat the competition. The concept wasn’t something new, but what we stand for in terms of quality and finishing, that is something different.”
‘BELIEVE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE’
From the start, technology has played a crucial role in both Precise’s business processes as well as finished products, but it’s Hohmann’s ambition for perfection, which has provided the icing on the proverbial cake.
And here lays the true secret of Hohmann’s success. Discipline; thinking ahead; patience and having a good idea are a few of the virtues he lists in order to succeed in business. A tireless belief in the impossible is what he says really makes the difference.
“I had no idea about it. No clue,” he said. “I saw a gap in the market and it was gut feeling. It happens to me all the time. It’s a frame of mind or the people around you. I envisage something, ask the experts if it’s do-able, they say no and I find a way.”
Precise started with Hohmann behind a DDF shop counter and three sales staff. Now the company employs 125 people – all specialists in their individual field.
“You have to believe you can overcome [challenges],” he said. “If you bring something to the market that people don’t know, there’s a lot of reluctance and that can be hard to deal with. You have to keep focus, confidence and belief.”
The Precise portfolio has expanded to include retail and manufacturing rights for products including MiniYOU - a 3D caricature product with a selection of more than 400 prefabricated bodies; Body Art by Airtoo – a non-permanent, airbrushed tattoo with more than 350 design options; Hot Lockz – a straightforward, self-applied hair extension kit; InstantSkin mobile phone covers; water toy Big Squirt!; and most recently TIM (This Is Me) – a 3D digital print out of a human being and the 3Doodler.
“The biggest mistake I made was [to believe] an idea was enough,” Hohmann admits. “When you have an idea you see only the positives.” He recalled days when he thought about cost and profit alone saying he underestimated what he fondly refers to as “the rest”.
“I’m a positive and energetic person, [qualities that] get me into trouble,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back and see the bigger picture. I have learned a lot in terms of things to avoid. Growing too fast is a problem because you have to be able to sustain it and growing costs money.” Luckily for Hohmann he had the support of his family.
In September 2009, Precise consolidated manufacturing, production, warehousing, sales, marketing and administration functions in a purpose-built 15,000-square-foot facility close to the site of the new Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, an investment worth more than AED 10 million (USD 2.72 million).
The company maintains stocks of around 120 tons of raw crystal material to ensure a quick turnaround once orders are placed. The entire process is covered in-house from carpentry and dedicated design, graphics, engraving, manufacturing and shipping, as well as after-sales services.
Six years ago, Hohmann played with 3D printing in a bid to answer his own question “What can I do with [the] 3D data I have from the crystal business?”
Scanning technology wasn’t quite up to scratch and printing wasn’t cutting it when it came to 3D printing people.
But Hohmann kept plugging away and is now working with clients including Adidas, Red Bull, as well as theme parks around the world, to produce innovative marketing products.
“TIM is a head-to-toe, 360-degree, full-color 3D print-out of a person,” he said. “It takes just 1.2 seconds to scan a person and the file is converted into a 3D printable file.” A buzz word today – 3D printing will revolutionize the fashion, design, architecture and leisure world in the coming years, according to Hohmann.
“You’ll be able to scan the Internet for jewelry and print out a file of what it will look like before you buy it,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.” Hohmann is currently working on the 3D printing of prosthetic limbs for refugee children from war-torn regions.
With age comes wisdom according to the businessman. “Do I still have crazy ideas? Yes,” he laughed. “I try to keep my feet on the ground and I have different priorities now. I don’t spend enough time with my family. In the morning I’m the first to leave and the last to arrive in the evening. I’m trying to cut back. It’s tough. I’m working on it. We haven’t given up hope.”