By Neil King
Standing out in the crowded Dubai spa marketplace is never easy. We speak to Moira Pirzad about how her business, De La Mer Day Spa, offers something different to those looking for some personal pampering
If you needed any proof that the wellness industry is flying high in the UAE, simply search online using the words ‘spa’ and ‘Dubai’ and feast your eyes on the dazzling array of offerings.
From boutique parlours to 5-star hotels, spas are big business, and customers are spoilt for choice. Whether you’re in need of a quick manicure or foot rub during your lunch break, a new hair-style for a special event, or a day of quiet contemplation, Dubai’s spas have it all.
The trick, it would seem, is standing out from the crowd.
But with so much already on offer, how do you position yourself as something different, without coming across as gimmicky or try-hard?
Many have tried and many have failed. Special offers, outlandish treatments, and other novelties have often fallen flat in a market whose customers demand something more than a fleeting attempt to get them through the door.
Which is where De La Mer spa may be getting things right.
The women-only day spa on Jumeirah Road only opened in February 2013, but already it has received high praise from its growing number of customers – many of whom have become regulars, making the most of its various therapies and services such as massages, facials, yoga, hair styling, manicures, make-up, and more.
It’s special ingredient is something rooted in the real world, and important to more and more women who want to take good care of their skin and general health: An organic garden.
Growing and using its own fruit and vegetables for many of its treatments, De La Mer puts an emphasis on health, using nature’s bounty as much as possible in place of factory-generated products.
Meeting and spending time with the spa’s owner, Moira Pirzad, it also became clear she was a second selling-point for the spa. A genuine people person, Pirzad has helped create a truly relaxed atmosphere that isn’t lost on even a casual visitor such as myself.
But while she seems like an old hand at running a spa, Pirzad reveals the business only came about as a mixture of circumstance, personal experience, and family background.
Explaining how De La Mer started out, she says: “Women love spas, love treatments, and everything else. I’ve certainly enjoyed going to spas, and I know how popular they are.
“My daughter was in the business too, as a therapist, so there was always that interest in it, and when my husband got closer to retirement, we had it in the back of our minds to go into business.
“We looked around for a few things, and thought of a simple spa – not as a big as we have now, but something smaller to start off with.
“Then we walked into this place. It was a spa before us, but looked very different. There was no garden – just sand. As soon as we walked in we felt it was right. We felt calm and relaxed, like we’d walked into home, which is exactly what we wanted our customers to feel.
“So we took the plunge and opened last year.”
Putting their plan into action, Pirzad and her family used outside help to organise the legal side of the business – something she describes as “vital” given the often complex and confusing licensing process for those not well versed in its nuances.
“We had somebody who helped us with the licensing. Rules don’t seem to be set for all people – you can go to three people and get three different answers to the same question. But with the help we had it wasn’t too painful a process.”
Stocking the spa was an entirely more straightforward experience, Pirzad explains. Made easy by the popularity of spas in Dubai.
She says: “A lot of brands have sales people who will just walk in and introduce themselves, asking if we’d like to stock their products. That side of things is very simple.
“For the brands we wanted, we just rang them up and they came to look at the place to make sure it’s a good fit for them, and that was it really. It wasn’t the hardest part of the business to sort out.”
With the property bought and preparations well underway to launch the business, it soon became clear to Pirzad and her family that there was an opportunity to do something different with the land.
She says: “While we were doing the inside of the spa, my husband said we had a big space at the back where we could have a garden to hold events, and so on.
“It was his idea to change that space, and to do the organic garden. He realised we would be able to grow a lot of things ourselves, which would be a great benefit to the spa.”
The woman in charge of using the organic garden to create products for De La Mer is Tukta Tummaporn.
Having built up thirteen years of experience at 5-star spas in the UAE, Tummaporn uses even earlier experiences to put together the vital ingredients of De La Mer’s scrubs, facials and wraps.
“We grow up in Thailand knowing what ingredients can be used for different reasons, and what their benefits are” she explains.
“When I was very young I started to find out how to do organic products, because it’s normal there. I just brought that knowledge here, and use the garden in a way that I used our garden at home when I was small.
“Organic products have no harmful ingredients, and are especially good for sensitive skin. We have a consultation with the client before we use any of them, so we can make sure they get the right product. Each ingredient has different properties, so we want to make sure people are getting the right ones.”
Pirzad adds: “Using organic products is important to us because it’s what’s best for our client, and for the environment. It’s great that we have the garden to be able to make some of our own products, but for the products we have to bring in from elsewhere it can be hard at times.
“There are a lot of things that we can’t get as organic, but we do try our best.”
It soon became clear to Pirzad that the efforts of everybody involved in the spa were paying off.
She explains that as soon as they opened their doors they received nothing but praise for their services, with some people telling her that they had received the best massage or facial of their lives.
“It was incredible,” she says. “And unexpected too. But it’s so important because no matter what you do, it’s word of mouth that really gets you to where you want to be.
She suggests that part of the spa’s early success is down to her experience living in the region for alomst three decades.
“I’ve been here for 27 years, so I understand what’s important not only to expat women, but also Emirati ladies. We welcome everybody with open arms, and pay attention to their needs, be they cultural, religious, or anything else.
“I think that does make a difference, especially when there is so much competition out there. Small things matter and can make the difference between somebody feeling comfortable or not.”
This sensitive and personable approach is something Pirzad seems to have instilled in her staff – a small group of people she is justifiably proud to call “a really caring, hard working family”.
And while so many businesses in the region struggle with recruitment, Pirzad reveals the process was relatively smooth for her.
“We were actually quite fortunate,” she explains. “My daughter knew Tukta, and I knew her from before too. Her sister is also here, and her friend as well, and they are all very good. One nail girl used to do my nails and I hired her straight away. So it wasn’t too hard for us to staff the spa section.
“The hair section was another matter altogether. It was very tough, very hard indeed. It’s so important to get the right people in the hair room – the right people with the right skills.
“It’s a vital part of what we do, and I think the hair room is one of those things that your reputation hands on. Your reputation is everything, and with hair people don’t give you many second chances. If they’ve had a bad haircut, they are very rarely going to come back.
“We’ve actually got some very good girls in now, but it was a much harder part of the business to staff.”
With her team in place, Pirzad seems extremely happy with the way everybody works together and the energy they bring to the day spa.
“The staff are really like family. We’ve got a group together that really works together in the right way. If there’s ever a disagreement about something, or a squabble, it is passed over so quickly, and then everybody pulls together again.
“If anybody is off work for any reason, one of the other girls will step in to do their job – they work for one another and help each other out, which is really important for me. It shows how much they care about what they’re doing and the people they are working alongside.”
When it comes to looking into the short-term future, the central tenet of the spa – relaxation – means that Pirzad isn’t keen to expand too quickly, explaining she wants to ensure women get the experience they are looking for every time they visit.
“We can have eight or nine ladies at any time, and we want them all to feel at home,” she says.
“We want everybody who comes here to feel at peace – to feel totally relaxed. We don’t want to rush them, or make them feel cramped, or for them to think they have to rush off after their treatment.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have grander aspirations for the venue.
“I would love to see the spa become somewhere women not only stay for a tea or a coffee after their treatment, but also somewhere they can just visit for a chat now and again. I’d like to make a visit to the spa more of a social thing.
“It would be great to have mummy mornings, and things like that, as well as building a community of women who like to get together in a relaxed surrounding.
“Ultimately, we’re here for the benefit of the women.
“So far, what they have told us as feedback makes it all worthwhile. They say they’ve never known any place like this before, that they come here feeling stressed and leave totally relaxed and rejuvenated.
“That’s what does it for me, each and every time.”