Dubai: An evening stroll down the narrow lanes of Meena Bazaar and you cannot miss the glitter, the desi glamour - that hits you straight away. A haven for South-Asian businesses, majority of the bustling shopping area is shaped by the entrepreneurial and service efforts of Indians who arrived decades ago.
One such family is the Jethwanis, owners of Meena Jewellers in Bur Dubai’s Meena Bazaar.
Cousins Sanjay and Vinay who run the jewellery chain as co-owners, talk to Gulf News about life in Dubai, from humble beginnings to now running a billion dirham empire.
“We came to Dubai in 1993. We were running a textile and jewellery business in Hyderabad, India. The business was more geared towards the textile business than jewellery. But when we came to the UAE, [we realised that] Dubai’s gold was sought after from not just the emirates but all over the world. It seemed like a good business to be in and so we dived in,” said Sanjay Jethwani.
He added that, at the time, owning a space in Deira was comparatively more expensive than Bur Dubai. And so Bur Dubai was chosen by the brothers to start the business. Today, Meena Bazaar is synonymous with Meena Jewellers. It is the first stop for many to shop the yellow metal in Dubai.
Cousins Sanjay and Vinay took over the jewellery business from Lakshmandas (Sanjay’s father and Vinay’s uncle). Their first store was a tiny shop in the Bazaar. The brand's name, Meena Jewellery, came from Sanjay's mother’s name, Meena.
Sanjay said, "When we started out, there were eight jewellery stores in Meena Bazaar including us. Today these stores have disappeared, but we have managed to remain and we have survived. Now there are hundreds of jewellery shops in the Bazaar, that is a different story altogether.”
Vinay added that a lot of hard work has gone into making Meena Jewellers a strong brand.
He said, “When we took up our first space in Dubai – we were just three staff members including my brother Sanjay and another colleague. We would open the shop ourselves, clean the store and ready the place for visitors to come. We gave it a personal touch and that is how we have been able to build it into such a big brand.”
“There were no weekends. We worked seven days a week. The market was new and we had to learn the rules and the ropes of running a business. Back home we were into textile business. But after coming to Dubai, we realised there were too many retailers already established in the market. Gold was thriving and we decided to enter the line full swing,” said Sanjay.
DSF helped turn things around
He said things started turning around for the Jethwani cousins when the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) began in 1994. Sanjay added, "The entire street would be decked up and lit so beautifully for the festival. Gold buying was big during the month. The reputation of gold purchases in Dubai was also massive. People trusted the gold they bought from Dubai. Not just that, prices were so competitive in Dubai for gold compared to the rest of the world. All this pushed our sales and pushed us to serve our clients better.”
“People especially tourists would flock the Deira Gold Souq or the Meena Bazaar for gold and silver purchases. This pumped up our business big time,” he recalled.
Meena Bazaar home to several gold shops
Today, Meena Bazaar is home to several gold shops of brands including Joy Alukkas, Malabar Gold, Kalyan Jewellers, Damas, Pink City by Anita Dongre, Siroya Jewellers and much more. These shops cater to needs of every segment of the South Asian society.
Sanjay said, “The shopping districts of Bur Dubai were founded on the hard work and perseverance of several Indian families who arrived in the UAE in the late 60s and early 70s. Back then, Bur Dubai and Deira were shopping districts that were home to some textile and electronic stores.
"However, a handful of traders found benefit after entering the gold business. Even though the gold hub of Dubai was the Deira Gold Souq, several traders found interest in opening their stores in Meena Bazaar. We were one among them." The brand's name, Meena Jewellery, came from Sanjay's mother’s name, Meena.
And yet, the co-owners claimed, Meena Jewellers has created a branding of its own, standing tall among other jewellery brands.
So what sets them apart?
“Jewellery is stringed by thousands of emotions. Some are expressions of love, style and some add sparkle to one’s personality. These celebrated emotions make each piece of jewellery precious and exclusive in every right. May be it is this emotional attachment only that makes jewellery fantastically different and stylish in every right,” said Sanjay.
Vinay explained that what sets them apart is the fact that Meena Jewellery strives to build relations with their customers.
“Customer service is key. Of course our prices are very competitive as we work on volumes. The quantity of jewellery pieces we house in show rooms is way more than others. Its quality, quantity and good customer service that is driving our loyalists and their friends and several tourists to our stores,” said Vinay.
“We have customers coming to us from different parts of the world to shop gold for Indian weddings. It’s incredible.”
How do you keep costs low?
"We import directly from suppliers. And we import large quantities. This way we are able to source jewellery pieces at low price and thus we are passing it on for lower rates. Plus we ensure that we have a special connection with our customers. We take care of everything they want. That is how we keep getting them back as well."
Gratitude to the UAE government
“Our success has come with hard work and the UAE government’s policies. The leaders of this country have a vision. The vision has been to expand and grow and this is what UAE has achieved. In all this various stakeholders involved have also grown. As the UAE grew, we too have grown,” said Sanjay.