By Kelly Ann Crane
Never underestimate an instinct to survive – especially in business. Whether it is lions battling it out across the savannah or grown men throwing down the daily sales gauntlet, survival of the fittest is a concept that runs through every thread of life, not excluding the busy world of business.
However, while the majority of entrepreneurs fight for every morsel of trade in a bid to make money or gain power over competitors, the rare few create something special from a basic instinct to put food on the table.
In 1993, Anil and Kiran Pethani left a small village in India for the bright lights of Dubai, a place they deemed “a land of opportunity”. The brothers had little to no money, but a simple aim – to feed their families and provide an education for their children.
Today, more than 20 years later, the determined duo own and run Cara Jewellers, a custom maker of jewelry and one of the most popular in the UAE.
“My expectations were very little, which helped,” laughed Kiran, 39. “I’m not a highly-educated man. I just wanted to provide for my family and knew I could do better than what I had experienced in the jewelry business so far in Dubai.”
One would think such confidence only from a man trained in jewelry design and production… think again. With no formal training of any kind, Kiran accepted a job as a jewelry salesman in a shop in Dubai’s Gold Souk in order to collect a salary each month. It was here the Pethani brothers honed an eye for design, manufacturing and most importantly, customer service.
“You don’t have to go to Harvard or any other fancy university as long as you remember the golden rule,” Kiran said. “The retail cliché must be engraved in the back of your mind; tattooed on your forehead – the customer is always right. Without this you have nothing.”
PASSION TO SERVE
From the outset Kiran and Anil were driven by a passion to please others over anything else. “Our salaries were small and we took care of everyone else first but it didn’t matter,” he said.
“As long as we fed and watered our loved ones we rarely made decisions in the office that would have made us multi-millionaires. Every choice we took was usually to benefit a customer or a member of staff.”
Unbeknown to the brothers, it was these very choices that would eventually make Cara the Gold and Diamond Park’s landmark jewelry store. In 2004 loyal customers who had been purchasing items of jewelry from Kiran and Anil for years, gifted the pair a lump sum of money to start their own business.
“I was terrified,” Kiran said. “But I was also grateful to be given an opportunity. I was shocked these people believed in us enough to hand us money and I knew I had to honor their wishes. We started small and we gave it everything. I was scared in the beginning because I didn’t know how I would ever repay them.”
However in just six months, the loans had been paid off – with interest – and Kiran advises other entrepreneurs to do the same. “It’s wonderful to have money to drive your business but you also have to be careful you don’t bite off more than you can chew,” he said.
“Don’t start a business, call yourself the managing director and take a high salary – that’s not how it works. Live as you were before and put everything back into what you are trying to build. Greed will kill you before you even begin.”
For 10 years from a small shop in the Gold Souk, Kiran and Anil gained knowledge on trading diamonds, gold, certified stones and other luxury items. They also gained experience in the manufacturing of high-end jewelry and custom pieces. Today Cara has two large sales units in the Gold and Diamond Park (G&DP), as well as four manufacturing units on site.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Although G&DP is not a free zone in its own right, a long-standing agreement between Emaar Properties PJSC and Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) guarantees free zone advantages to companies that operate in it.
"Starting up in a free zone was the best option for us," Kiran continued. "To open a business in the Gold Souk would have set us back millions of dirhams. The G&DP was much more affordable. Procedures are in place in order to gain visas and sponsors and it made the park an ideal location.”
Kiran says finding the right location is key for any retail business in Dubai and in 2008 launched the “book-a-driver” service in order to encourage customers to the store.
“I understand people will charge us with developing such a service to get people in and make more money, but I can put my hand on my heart and swear the initial thought process was simply to make life easier for our customers. That is the honest truth.”
In the first year, Anil and Kiran worked alone in the shop, by 2006 the workforce had grown to just under 25 and in early 2015 the factories and shops reached an impressive total workforce of more than 150 people.
Within 12 months of opening their doors, Kiran rented his first factory and began hiring. “I didn’t know much about accounting and cash flow but I wanted to reduce my costs so I had to control,” he said. “I didn’t want to get in over my head and it was expensive to use other jewelry manufacturers to create what I needed. I knew the only way forward was to design and create in-house. It was the best move we ever made. It gave us control of our own destiny.”
Keen to expand into the European jewelry market, the Pethani brothers chose Ireland to house their first European store. “Nobody is perfect,” he said. “We have made many mistakes along the way, but luckily we always learned from them. It meant staying positive and being true to ourselves. Sometimes people let you down and you have to pick yourself [up] and carry on. But I will continue to be loyal and that will always stand me in good stead.”
Today, Cara is known as a leading trader and manufacturer of luxury jewelry in Dubai. In spite of their success, the brothers remain true to their tradition of creativity, innovation, leadership and the unceasing drive to please their customers.
“Be patient and straightforward,” Kiran said. “Don’t get hung up on expensive-looking business plans. Be true and real and work hard and you will see the rewards in the end. We did.”