Lorena Montalvo Rodriguez did not expect to meet her business partner at a prenatal class in Abu Dhabi.
More than four years later, the 31-year-old Spanish teacher is a co-manager of the maternity shop Mamis – Spanish for “mum’s” — with her prenatal class friend Yesika Suarez, a 34-year-old Polish-Venezuelan engineer at a gas company.
“We have been friends for four and a half years and she was the first person who I thought to have Mamis with,” says Ms Rodriguez, a mother of two. “It was my idea, but I wanted to have somebody to share the shop. I asked her, and she is as crazy as I am, and we jumped together.”
■ For SMEs who want to place an ad free of charge visit: www.thenational.ae/small-business-ads
Both women struggled when they were pregnant and as nursing mothers to find clothes that fitted them and their sense of style. They decided to set up a maternity shop in Abu Dhabi’s Al Seef Village mall with the help of three employees.
“When I was pregnant, I couldn’t find nice clothes to wear during pregnancy,” says Ms Rodriguez. “You want to look feminine as well. So I started thinking about opening a shop.”
The shop, which opened in February last year, had a tough first few months with challenges including getting a loan for financing, to getting all the required legal papers.
Getting a licence and hooking up electricity was also a chore. It took two months to get electricity approval, for example.
The search for a local sponsor also took time because of the novelty of the shop and a lack of brand awareness about maternity and nursing clothes.
“The sponsor we found is a friend and he is helping us a lot,” says Ms Rodriguez.
Both business partners had to take individual loans to finance the business, which has yet to make a profit. It took them 11 months and about Dh800,000 in investment to open the shop.
To get the loans, they had to visit a number of banks.
“Our first priority is to pay the loans,” says Ms Rodriguez. “Our target is to make profit in two years or so.”
Legal hurdles also emerged because both Ms Rodriguez and Ms Suarez, also a mother of two, were working.
They had to set up an offshore company as they both wanted to continue working in their previous jobs.
The biggest expense, though, was finding an affordable interior designer capable of translating their style. It took an investment of about Dh400,000 to get the interior design done. Rent is also expensive and both partners had to search for a mall with reasonable rent and proximity to their target customers – families.
“We fell in love with this mall. It is tiny and cute,” said Ms Rodriguez. “Rent is 35 per cent cheaper than other big malls. People who live in villas and compounds are our target families.”
Clients are mixed at Mamis. Approximately 40 per cent are Emiratis, 30 per cent westerners and 30 per cent non-Emirati Arabs.
But the young shop faces competition from stores such as Destination Maternity in Al Wahda Mall and from online retailers such as Mumzworld.
The cost of importing the clothes, mostly sourced from Australia and Poland, is also expensive. Customs clearance and transport make up at least 10 per cent of the cost of items sold.
One big problem is marketing the shop, which is little known. The brand is active on Facebook and visits are made to customers at hospitals and nurseries to spread the word about the shop.
Ms Rodriguez’s keenness to take chances is nothing new. She moved to the UAE when she was 22 years old without any set plans.
“I was one day sitting in my room in Barcelona and saw an advertisement on the internet that a French family were looking for a Spanish au pair who would like to move to Abu Dhabi for nine months,” says Ms Rodriguez. “I didn’t know where Abu Dhabi was exactly, then I checked the map and saw Abu Dhabi and said: ‘Why not. I am young, not married and free and I don’t want to get stuck in a job right now but want to have an adventure.’”
We are on the lookout for SME success stories. If you want to have your business profiled, contact us at email@example.com
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter