Emirati brothers find the picture-perfect first business

Emirati brothers have their first exposure to entrepreneurial life after opening a photography studio franchise in the UAE that supplies framed portraits within 90 minutes.

Hamad Al Shirawi, right, and his brother Abdulla have set up a business together which is the first branch of ‘Picture People’ to open outside of North America. Reem Mohammed / The National
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The Al Shirawi brothers stumbled across the idea for their first entrepreneurial venture.

“My brother Abdulla and I were in Florida in the US a couple of years back in one of the malls and we both kind of coincidentally met at the same store,” says Hamad, 26, an Emirati, of the first time he saw a Picture People photo studio, a brand with more than 250 photography studios in North America.

“I was calling him and telling him to check this place out,” recalls Hamad. “What attracted me was the flashes from the camera. We went in.”

Once inside and intrigued by the concept of receiving custom framed portraits within 90 minutes, they decided to try it for themselves.

Coming from a large family of six siblings, the men had their portraits taken regularly back in Dubai and wanted to compare it with the experience they were used to. At the time it was no more than an interest in the process. But it got them thinking.

Neither of the brothers had entered the family business, instead choosing their own car­eer paths. Their father Hisham Abdulla Al Shirawi is one of the chief executives of a company their grandfather co-founded, the Al Shirawi Group of Companies. While Abdulla became a credit trader for National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Hamad works in marketing for Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. They did, however, want to launch their own business.

“We just wanted to make sure when we started something it would make sense and it was not just a fad or a trend in the market,” says Hamad.

“And honestly I have to say, this is not a common Emirati business. Our competition is mostly with business owners who are not Emirati. As Emiratis we don’t have to stick working with things that are comfortable for us or what we are used to.”

They established Lahadhat Photographic Co and opened their first Picture People franchise store in the UAE last September in a villa in Jumeirah, Dubai. But they have no intention of stopping there.

“Our plan is to gradually open when the time is right and expand in the region,” says Hamad.

“We have the rights to the whole region, so all the way from India, to Morocco, to Turkey.”

They started with Dubai because they are based there, and they also felt Picture People could do well in the UAE due to its ability to supply portraits fast.

“It’s unmatched anywhere in the world,” says Hamad of the 90-minute turnaround from the picture being taken to the framed portrait.

He claims that other UAE photography studios take four to six weeks to produce portraits for a customer to view.

“Then they say come and pick them up in two or three weeks,” he adds. Providing a solution to this gap is a key consideration when setting up a business, says business set-up expert Sylvia Youssef.

“It is important that whoever sets up the business comes up with a model that actually solves a problem,” says Ms Youssef, the founder of company formation specialists How2uae.

Ms Youssef says you also have to ensure there is a demand for the product or service by carrying out market research.

“Things become very redundant, business models become very redundant, because a lot of people copy the different models. So unless you stay above and ahead of the times in the market, you will find your services will become redundant very quickly. While it may work and it may be a phase people are interested in, entrepreneurs also have to look at the long term, how they are going to sustain it,” she adds.

The brothers have tweaked the Picture People business model to ensure it is both sustainable and culturally relevant here. Instead of having viewing stations in the halls for everyone to see, as the concept has in the US, the UAE branch’s studio has viewings take place in a corner, protecting people’s privacy. There are also changing rooms in all the studios and all the staff are female.

The brothers may now be entrepreneurs, but neither has ­given up their day job to start their business. There was no need.

“It’s because I have such an excellent team,,” says Hamad. “We sent the operations manager to the US for two months to pro­perly learn and get exposed to Picture People in the US. It was best to send her to get exposed to it and then come back and be sure you have the continental twist.”


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