Waxing lyrical: Hooof interview

Founders of new candle shop, Hooof, explain how they plan to exploit a niche opportunity
Waxing lyrical: Hooof interview
Hooof – so named to replicate the sound of blowing out a candle – was launched by Emirati entrepreneur duo Mohammed Al Marzouqi (right) and Saeed Al Hinaai (left).
By Neil King
Wed 23 Oct 2013 12:49 PM

Candles are big business, and they have been for thousands of years. Less a necessity now than they were in pre-electricity eras, the global market is still worth billions, with America alone selling $2.3bn worth every year.

Yet despite the figures showing clear demand, the candle market is remarkably underdeveloped in the region. Often relegated to the corner of a homeware shop, candles in the UAE aren’t given the prominence they are in other parts of the world. But the tide is turning.

A new showroom in Jumeirah, Dubai has opened which elevates candles to luxury status.

Hooof – so named to replicate the sound of blowing out a candle – was launched by Emirati entrepreneur duo Mohammed Al Marzouqi and Saeed Al Hinaai, young partners who have already established two other companies in Dubai and are always on the look-out for new opportunities.

“We had already started two companies when the opportunity to work with candles came to us,” says Al Marzouqi.

“We launched Lifeway Training, which does corporate training for government and individuals, and after that we started a character design cartoon company. My sister is very good with character design, so we wanted to support her talent as a different type of entrepreneur.

“The candles idea came from a factory in Egypt which has been making candles for 35 years. Because of the political situation there, their candles wouldn’t really do well there, so they were looking to establish a branch outside of Egypt.

“When we heard about it, and the quality of the candles they make, it took us less than 24 hours to decide to go for it. Their candles are awesome, and the idea is unique for the area.”

The duo reveal they faced stiff competition in securing a contract with the factory in Egypt, explaining that a Saudi prince bid for the rights to sell the candles.

But geography won the day. “They chose us because of Dubai, because it’s a brand in itself,” says Al Marzouqi.”

Once they had secured the candles, Al Hinaai and Al Marzouqi set about building their company. They decided that it was vital to get the visual side of the business right, giving the brand an exclusive allure.

“We had thought of different names before Hooof, but chose this one for two reasons,” says Al Marzouqi.

“Firstly, it’s the sound you make when you blow out a candle, and secondly it’s a short name which is easy to brand. We thought that was a really important part of choosing the name, so we decided to go for it.

“We have a designer who works with us to help with the store, and designing the candles as well. He always looks to do something different. He didn’t want the store to look like a shop, not like a house or a villa, or a company. He wanted the space to reflect the beauty of our candles.

“He has been working on it and improving it constantly. We opened in August, but were actually supposed to open much sooner. We delayed the opening because our designer was altering things and making it look just right. Even on the morning of the opening things were being changed!

“Now people love the look of the shop. On our opening day lots of people came to see it. I was quite surprised, but it was really great. People had heard through word of mouth that we were opening, and were amazed by what they saw. The brand really has to work for us this way, so that people will talk about it.”

The absence of a strong candle market has been a double-edged sword for Hooof. Having little competition gives them an immediate and distinct advantage, but it also means they need to educate people on the goods.

“There is almost no candle market here,” says Al Marzouqi. “You mostly see them when you go to shops where the candles are a secondary thing – pushed to the side. There aren’t really candle shops in Dubai.

“But this is a place for new ideas. People here are open to different concepts, especially when it comes to luxury items.

“When you talk about candles, there are so many different varieties, so many different styles and types. All of our candles are handmade, and we can do any design, any shape – it’s really up to the customer. We have lots of ways of making them – one technique means you can have a candle which melts on the inside but not the outside; another lets the candle last for a certain amount of time; another allows you to pick the scents. If you want to have a strawberry smell for the first 10 days, and then coffee for the next ten days, then we can do that.

“Any shape, size, smell, we can do it. People are starting understand the amount we can do.”

The designs on display in the showroom are inspired by the global candle market, with traditional Spanish and French candles sitting alongside those designed in-house.

Al Marzouqui explains that special occasions will also be catered for, with Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and UAE National Day allowing for specially crafted candles to go on sale.

Plus, there’s an extra edge to the business.

“We don’t just sell candles. We do event management and interior design. We don’t just recommend the candles but also work with them to do the whole design. We want to deliver a full service to customers, not just for them to buy candles from us.”

As Emirati entrepreneurs, the duo are quick to express their gratitude for the support they have received in establishing their businesses.

“We’re from the UAE and we’ve had great support from everybody. It’s been a real benefit for us, and we’re thankful for it.

“Saeed is a manager at du and I’m a pilot for Etihad Airways, but we’ve both always thought of other ideas that we found interesting. We’re friends from high school, and we have ideas from a lot of different fields. Most of all we shared a desire to start something new.

“Our friends gave us the idea for Lifeway, which started things off for us. Dubai is developing very fast and training is a very important field to develop the country. It’s been especially good for us as it’s helped us grow, as well as helping people around us and across the UAE.

“It’s a challenge to balance everything. It’s definitely not easy. We’re not leading a normal life. Our jobs need a lot of attention and effort, and we’ve had to sacrifice a few things, but we never regret it.

Starting Lifeways with their own savings, Al Marzouqi and Al Hinaai risked a lot to follow their business dreams, and they believe more people need to take the leap and do the same.

Al Marzouqui says: “A lot of people want to do something different. They have the feeling but they don’t find a way to do it. It is hard, but there are a lot of opportunities to be taken and people need to take their chance.

“Starting Lifeways with our savings was very risky because we put everything we had into it, but we are young and this is the perfect time to take a risk. We are positive people and we believe we can succeed.

“We want to make Hooof a successful brand and grow it across the region. The Middle East is our target – Dubai is just the start. Three companies is just the beginning for us and we’re only on step one.”

Their confidence echoes that of the UAE in general, where the number of companies continues to increase and diversify.

Al Marzouqi says he can be positive in the future of Hooof because of the rate of change the UAE has experienced in recent years.

“We are 42 years old as a country. When you compare that we places like Egypt, the UK and America, where they have had hundreds of years of history, we are doing very well.

“We’ve had less time to develop, but even o what the UAE has achieved in that time is incredible. Things have changed in just a generation. My father doesn’t know how to use a computer, yet his son is flying planes and opening companies using technology. It’s such a big change in a short space of time, which is really hard for a country to absorb.

“But if a country to do it, then we as individuals can do it. So I’m hopeful that we can succeed.”

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