Recently celebrating 17 years in business, Bodour Al Hilali started the first of her Belle Femme hair and beauty salons at the tender age of 19. Here, she talks about what she’s learned along the way.
Growing up, I was fascinated by beauty salons and the atmosphere in these exclusive spaces for women. When I was 19, I decided that this was something I was passionate about and wanted to venture into. Back then, in 1999, the best salons were located in hotels and very few salons outside these hotels provided luxury beauty services.
I wanted to open my own hair salon, mostly to create this unique ambiance for my friends and every other woman who was looking not only to do her hair but also to meet her friends in an exclusive feminine venue and pamper herself all day long.
Did you have any doubts or setbacks when you started?
I had a clear picture of how the salon would be and the experience that I would offer, but the challenges were more on the operational side since I was a young, inexperienced entrepreneur, still studying for my business major at university. My real challenge was to find the right team and build the right spirit in the different branches. I needed a team that understood the region and could communicate with clients of different nationalities, who believed in the same ethics as me and represented Belle Femme in the same way as I saw it. And I still want to surround myself with people who are humble, who want to continue learning, and are capable of handling any issue in the most professional way.
Did you write a business plan?
I did a feasibility study on my own. I did not hire any outside help, as I had just learned how to prepare business plans and feasibility studies at university and decided to implement one for my project, including finding the right location and working within my budget.
I approached my father to be an investor. He went through my plan and my feasibility study, which impressed him enough to decide to invest. But all the other branches and businesses that came afterwards were self-funded.
Why do you believe you have the optimum management team to run the business?
My management team has been with me from the start and has literally grown with the brand. They know the business as much as I do and fight for it as passionately and as fervently as I do.
That point was when clients started to come back and book appointments on a regular basis. Not only that, they were always referring us to their friends and family.
Client feedback has been the main source of improving Belle Femme services. We make sure that our professional technicians are undergoing training on a continuous basis, and that we always carry the latest products, techniques and services in order to offer our clients the best experience.
How has the business developed over time?
Belle Femme Beauty salons are now spread across Dubai, in Jumeirah, JBR, Bay Square and Arabian Ranches. And when I saw the demand for “beauty at home” services, I approached my best friend and we partnered to launch Belle Femme Beauty At Home in 2011, then Belle Femme Hair & Nail Lounge in 2015.
But my vision was always to develop the beauty business and not only to expand our branch numbers. So when this region became exposed to the rapidly developing beauty industry in the US, Belle Femme was one of the first in the region to open its doors to international celebrity hairstylists and colourists such as Jen Atkin and Tracey Cunningham.
I opened Hair Creators Academy specifically to train not only our employees but also employees from other salons, as well as individuals looking to develop a career in this business.
We were also the first to introduce master classes to the region, starting with Makeup by Mario in 2014, followed by the Master Class of Hair and Makeup with Khloe Kardashian, and Fouz Al Fahed as models for hair and makeup. The celebrity hairstylist and make-up artists for this class were again well-known celebrities.
We also organised a master class with Olivia Culpo and this year we had the biggest master class in the region: Makeup by Mario with Kim Kardashian.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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